J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2024

“On the Conduct of the Comittee of Correspondence”

On Monday, 27 June 1774, the political argument over Boston’s committee of correspondence came to a head.

Merchants and friends of the royal government felt that the committee was wielding too much power, dragging the entire community into a costly and treasonous confrontation with the Crown.

Parliament’s Boston Port Bill was stifling every Bostonian’s livelihood, but that problem could go away at the (admittedly significant) cost of £9,660.

The committee’s Solemn League and Covenant boycott was going further than any non-importation measure so far, not only proscribing more goods from Britain and making people pledge not to do any business with people who did import goods. Was that going too far for the country folk?

The Boston Whigs, who had established the standing committee of correspondence back in November 1772, stuck to their position that for the people to make any retreat or compromise would be giving up their British constitutional rights.

The Boston town meeting resumed in Faneuil Hall at 10:00 A.M. His work with the Massachusetts General Court in Salem done (since the Massachusetts General Court in Salem was done), Samuel Adams was once again in the chair.

A motion passed that the meeting should review all the letters the committee of correspondence had written to other towns and colonies about the Port Bill.

But then came another motion: “that this Meeting be adjourned to the Old South Meeting House, the Hall not being sufficient to contain all the Inhabitants assembled.”

The committee chosen to go to Old South and ask if the town could use that space consisted of William Molineux, town clerk William Cooper, and Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr.—all radical Whigs. That alone signaled that their party had the votes to control the meeting. But what if more people came for one side or the other?

In Old South, the meeting reaffirmed its earlier vote to review the correspondence. Cooper began to read the letters aloud. After a while the crowd became bored, and they amended their earlier vote to cover only the Solemn League and Covenant, the letter sent out with that proposal, and “any other Letters that may be particularly called for.”

Eventually someone moved “that some Censure be now passed By the Town on the Conduct of the Comittee of Correspondence; and that said Committee be annihilated.” That would be a total repudiation of the committee and its work.

Adams stated that “he had the Honor of being a Member” of that committee, so someone else should moderate that discussion. By stepping away from the podium for a while, Adams not only made a point of being scrupulously fair but also allowed himself to speak, since the moderator usually didn’t express opinions on motions.

As the temporary chair, the meeting chose Thomas Cushing—merchant, speaker of the House, and another member of the Boston Whigs (though in the moderate set). Again, that showed how that group was in control of this body.

Nonetheless, the debate went on until dark, and still the opponents of the committee said “they had farther to offer.” The meeting voted to adjourn until the next morning at 10:00 A.M.

TOMORROW: The speakers and the vote.

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