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his clients, and at the same time vindicated the rights of the people; the result of being guided entirely by the polar star of moral courage.
The same year he was elected to the legislative body, then called the “General Court,” and was a bold opposer of the arbitrary measures of Lieutenant-governor Hutchinson, who undisguisedly followed the directions of the ministry in violation of the charter of the colony, in all things that were necessary to carry out the plans of the British cabinet, pleading his instructions as an excuse.
Mr. Adams was one of the committee that prepared an address to him, the style of which induces me to think it was penned by him. From the following extract the reader may judge. After vividly portraying the violations of right complained of, the address concludes, “These and other grievances and cruelties, too many to be here enumerated, and too melancholy to be much longer borne by this injured people, we have seen brought upon us by the devices of ministers of state. And we have, of late, seen and heard of instructions to governors which threaten to destroy all the remaining privileges of our charter. Should these struggles of the house prove unfortunate and ineffectual, this province will submit, with pious resignation, to the will of Providence; but it would be a kind of suicide, of which we have the utmost abhorrence, to be instrumental in our own servitude.". A blind obstinacy on the part of the ministers increased the opposition of the people and operated upon them with all the power of centrifugal force, inducing them to refuse obedience to the king's officers. Alarmed at the boldness of the people of Boston, Governor Barnard had ordered the general court to convene at Cambridge. This was contrary to the charter which fixed its place of meeting at the former place. The members convened but refused to proceed to business unless they were permitted to adjourn to the proper place, to which Lieutenant-governor Hutchinson, who had succeeded Governor Barnard, refused his assent. A war of words and paper ensued, in which the patriots were uniformly victorious. Mr. Adams was a leader of the sharp-shooters and made great havoc among the officers of the crown. They induced the senior member of their council, Mr. Brattle, to enter the field against him with pen in hand. The conflict was short, Mr. Adams put him hors de combat, and showed the people the fallacy of every pretext set up by the hirelings of the ministry. In 1771, Mr. Hutchinson was appointed governor, and the next year consented to the return of the legislative body to Boston as a balm for the wounds he had inflicted. But in this he gained no popularity-it was deemed an involuntary act forced upon him by the popular will, or a mere stratagem to quiet the public mind. There were other sources of complaint. The troops in the castle, that were under the pay and control of the province, had been dismissed and their place supplied by fresh regulars from the mother country: the governor and judges received their salaries from England instead of from the colony, as had always been the usage, thus aiming to render the military, executive and judiciary independent of the people whom they governed, which operated as a talisman to destroy all confidence and affection for these officers on
the part of the citizens. The tax on tea was another source of grief that touched more tender chords. Woe unto the ruler that rouses the indignation of the better part of creation. He had better tempt the fury of Mars, or try his speed with Atalanta. Tea soon became forbidden fruit, and several vessel loads were sacrificed to Neptune as an oblation for the sins of ministers and an oblectation for the fishes of Boston harbour. Royal authority increased in insolence, and the patriots increased in boldness. At the commencement of the session of the general court in 1773, Governor Hutchinson sustained the odious doctrine of supremacy of the parliament in his message, which was promptly replied to and denied by the members of that body. A reply was as promptly returned by his excellency, which was prepared with more than usual ability. Mr. Adams, although not a member at that time, was employed to write a rejoinder, which was adopted without any amendment. It paralyzed the pen and closed the mouth of the governor. It was an exposition of British wrongs and American rights so clearly exhibited, that no sophistry could impugn it or logic confront it. So highly was it appreciated by Dr. Franklin, that he had it republished in England and freely circulated. It was a luminary to the patriots and confusion to their opponents.
Shortly after, Mr. Adams was elected to the general court and placed on the list of committees. So vindictive was governor Hutchinson, that he erased his name an act that recoiled upon
himself with redoubled force and aided to hasten the termination of his power in the colony. In less than a year from that time he was succeeded by governor Gage, who was still better calculated to hasten on the revolutionary crisis—because more authoritative and ministerial than his predecessor. With the commencement of his limited administration in 1774, the Boston port bill took effect. The consequences that followed are familiar to the reader. Governor Gage embraced the first opportunity to pay a marked attention to John Adams. His name was placed on the council list at the first session of the legislature, after his excellency assumed the helm of government, who at once placed his indignant cross upon it. He also removed the assembly to Salem. "The members proceeded to the preliminary business of the session, and among other things requested the governor to fix a day for general humiliation and prayer, which he peremptorily refused to do. Here again tender chords were touched. The people en masse venerated religion, and an insult upon that or an interruption of its usual and ancient usages, was like adding pitch to a fire already vivid and flaming. The house then proceeded to consider the project of a general Congress, and in spite of an attempt by the governor to dissolve it, the door was locked against his secretary, patriotic resolutions were passed, and five delegates appointed to meet a national convention, one of which was John Adams. So bold had been his course that some of his warmest friends and most ardent admirers advised him to decline his appointment, as the adherents of the crown had already hinted that he evidently aimed at establishing an independent government, which they considered endangered the peace of the country and his life, as the British could and would enforce every measure they chose to adopt. But John Adams had weighed well the subject of rights and wrongs and took his stand within the citadel of MORAL COURAGE, against which the gates of hell can never prevail. He had resolved to nobly
, perish in defending the liberty of his country, or plant the standard of freedom on the ruins of tyranny.
At the appointed time he repaired to the city of Philadelphia and took his seat in that assemblage of sages whose wisdom has been sung by the ablest poets, applauded by the most eloquent orators, and admired by the most sagacious statesmen of the two hemispheres. On reading the proceedings of the American Congress of 1774, Lord Chatham remarked, “that he had studied and admired the free states of antiquity, the master spirits of the world—but that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity and wisdom of conclusion, no body of men could stand in preference to this congress.”
Mr. Adams, for whom his friends felt so much anxiety for fear his ardour might lead him to rashness, was as calm as a summer morning, but firm as the granite shores of his birth place. With all his ardent zeal he was discreet, prudent and politic. He was the last man to violate constitutional law, and the last man to submit to its violation. He kept his helm hard up and ran close to the wind, but understood well when to luff and when to take the larboard tack, and when to take in sail. His soundings were deep and his calculations relative to future storms were truly prophetic. He was one of the few that believed the ministry would induce the king and parliament of the mother country to remain incorrigible, and that petitions would be vain, addresses futile, and remonstrances unavailing. That this Congress adopted the proper course to pursue, he was fully aware—that dignity might grace the cause of the people and justice be honoured. The following extract from a letter written by him at a subsequent period, shows his, and the conclusions of others at that time.
“When Congress had finished their business as they thought, in the autumn of 1774, I had with Mr. Henry before we took leave of each other some familiar conversation, in which I expressed a full conviction that our resolves, declarations of rights, enumeration of wrongs, petitions, remonstrances, addresses, associations and non-importation agreements, however they might be accepted in America and however necessary to cement the union of the colonies, would be waste water in England. Mr. Henry said, they might make some impression among the people of England, but agreed with me that they would be totally lost upon the government. I had just received a short and hasty letter, written to me by Major Joseph Hawley of Northampton, containing a few broken hỉnts, as he called them, of what he thought was proper to be done, and concluding with these words, “after all we must fight.' This letter I read to Mr. Henry, who listened with great attention, and as soon as I had pronounced the words:-after all we must fight—he raised his hand and with an energy and vehemence that I can never forget, broke out with—by G-d I am of that man's mind.'
The other delegates from Virginia returned to their state in full
GENUINE moral courage is a sterling quality that ennobles and dig. nifies the man. It invigorates the mind like an impregning cloud shedding its gentle dews on the flowers of spring. It is a heavenly spark, animating the immortal soul with the fire of divinity that illuminates the path of rectitude. It is an attribute that opposes all wrong and propels its subject right onward to the fearless performance of all right. It is based upon virtue and equity, and spurns vice in all its borrowed and delusive forms. It courts no servile favours -it fears no earthly scrutiny. No flattery can seduce.it, no eclat can allure it, no bribe can purchase it, no tyrant can awe it, no misfortune can bend it, no intrigue can corrupt it, no adversity can quench it, no tortures can subdue it. Its motto is—"Fiat justitia, ruat cælum." [Let justice be done though the heavens should fall.] Without it, fame is ephemeral and renown transient. It is the saline basis of a good name that gives richness to its memory: It is a pillar of light to revolving thought, and the polar star that points to duty and leads to merit. It is the soul of reason, the essence of wisdom, and the crowning glory of mental power. It was this that iniluenced the signers of the declaration of independence and nerved them for the conflict.
No one among them was more fully imbued with it than John Adams. He was a native of Quincy, Massachusetts, and born on the 19th of October, (0.S.) 1735. He was the fourth in descent from Henry Adams, whose tomb bears this singular inscription—"He took his flight from the dragon persecution, in Devonshire, England, and alighted, with eight sons, near Mount Wollaston.” In childhood the career of John Adams was marked with a rapid developement of strong intellectual powers, which were skilfully cultivated by Mr. Marsh, at Braintree, a celebrated and successful teacher. At the
of six, teen years he entered Harvard College, at Cambridge, where he became a finished scholar and graduated at the age of twenty. He gained a high reputation for frankness, honesty and untiring industry, and was greatly esteemed by the professors and his classmates.
From college he proceeded to Worcester, commenced the study of law under Mr. Putnam, and finished with Mr. Gridley, supporting himself in the mean time by teaching a grammar class. At that early age he possessed wisdom to perceive right, and moral courage to pursue it. "In view of the past and present, he made a philosophic grasp at the future, as will appear from the following extract from a letter written by him on the 12th of October, 1755, shortly after he took up his residence at Worcester.
"Soon after the reformation a few people came over into this new world for conscience sake. Perhaps this apparently trivial incident may transfer the great seat of empire into America. It looks likely to me, if we can remove the turbulent Gallics, our people, according to the exactest computations, will, in another century, become more numerous than England herself. Should this be the case, since we have, I may say, all the naval stores of the nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas, and then the united force of all Europe will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves-is to disunite us.
• Keep uѕ in distinct colonies, and then some men in each colony, desiring the monarchy of the whole, will destroy each other's influence and keep the country in equilibrio."
This broad and expansive view of the future, conceived by a youth, was very remarkable. He saw the one thing needful to render our nation powerful—the creation of a navy-for which nature has given us all the stores. The paralysis that pervades our government in its naval improvements has long astonished the nations
of the old world, and a few of our own statesmen. The time will arrive when our country will be made to feel most keenly—that “a navy is the right arm of defence."
After pursuing his studies three years, Mr. Adams was admitted to the practice of law. He then commenced his professional career at Braintree. Questions of constitutional right and law had already become the subject of investigation and a root of bitterness between the colonists and the officers of the crown. The latter, that were engaged in the custom-house, claimed unlimited power to search the private dwellings of all persons whom they suspected of having dutiable goods. This suspicion, or pretended suspicion, often arose from personal animosity, without a shadow of evidence or reasonable cause. The right of search was of course resisted as arbitrary, unconstitutional and assumed. This led to an application to the superior court for “writs of assistance,” which may be considered as one of the first germs of the revolution. Mr. Gridley, who had led Mr. Adams to the bar, and was then his friend and admirer, maintained the legality of the proceeding, not upon the ground of constitutional law, but from the necessity of the case in order to protect the revenue. Mr. Adams took a deep interest in the question, which was finally argued before the superior court at Boston, by Mr. Gridley for the crown and Mr. Otis for the people. In listening to the latter gentleman, a fire of patriotism was kindled in the bosom of Mr. Adams, that death alone could extinguish. He asserted in after life, that Mr. Otis's oration against writs of assistance, breathed into this nation the breath of life. * * * American independence was then and there born.
Every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take up arms against writs of assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain.”
The court publicly decided against the writs, but secretly issued