Massachusetts Circular Letter [February 11, 1768] - History

Massachusetts Circular Letter [February 11, 1768] - History

Province of Massachusetts Bay, February 11, I768. SIR,

The House of Representatives of this province, have taken into their serious consideration, the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents, by the operation of several acts of Parliament, imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies.

As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your House is deeply impressed with its importance, and that such constitutional measures will be come into, as are proper. It seems to be necessary, that all possible care should be taken, that the representatives of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other. The House, therefore, hope that this letter will be candidly considered in no other light there as expressing a disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony upon a common concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the sentiments of your or any other House of Assembly on the continent.

The House have humbly represented to the ministry, their own sentiments, that his Majesty's high court of Parliament is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire; that in all free states the constitution is fixed, and as the supreme legislative derives its power and authority from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it, without destroying its own foundation; that the constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance, and, therefore, his Majesty's American subjects, who acknowledge themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the British constitution; that it is an essential, unalterable right, in nature, engrafted into the British constitution, as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent; that the American subjects may, therefore, exclusive of any consideration of charter rights, with a decent firmness, adapted to the character of free men and subjects, assert this natural and constitutional right.

It is, moreover, their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the Parliament, that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights; because, as they are not represented in the British Parliament, his Majesty's Commons in Britain, by those acts, grant their property without their consent.

This House further are of opinion, that their constituents, considering their local circumstances, cannot, by any possibility, be represented in the Parliament; and that it will forever be impracticable, that they should be equally represented there, and consequently, not at all; being separated by an ocean of a thousand leagues. That his Majesty's royal predecessors, for this reason, were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislature here, that their subjects might enjoy the unalienable right of a representation: also, that considering the utter impracticability of their ever being fully and equally represented in Parliament, and the great expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial representation there, this House think that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there.

Upon these principles, and also considering that were the right in Parliament ever so clear, yet, for obvious reasons, it would be beyond the rules of equity that their constituents should be taxed, on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages arising to Great Britain, from the acts of trade, this House have preferred a humble, dutiful, and loyal petition, to our most gracious sovereign, and made such representations to his Majesty's ministers, as they apprehended would tend to obtain redress.

They have also submitted to consideration, whether any people can be said to enjoy any degree of freedom, if the Crown, in addition to its undoubted authority of constituting a Governor, should appoint him such a stipend as it may judge proper, without the consent of the people, and at their expense; and whether, while the judges of the land, and other civil officers, hold not their commissions during good behaviour, their having salaries appointed for them by the Crown, independent of the people, hath not a tendency to subvert the principles of equity, and endanger the happiness and security of the subject.

In addition to these measures, the House have written a letter to their agent, which he is directed to lay before the ministry; wherein they take notice of the hardships of the act for preventing mutiny and desertion, which requires the Governor and Council to provide enumerated articles for the King's marching troops, and the people to pay the expenses; and also, the commission of the gentlemen appointed commissioners of the customs, to reside in America, which authorizes them to make as many appointments as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what sum they please, for whose mal-conduct they are not accountable; from whence it may happen, that officers of the Crown may be multiplied to such a degree as to become dangerous to the liberty of the people, by virtue of a commission, which does not appear to this House to derive any such advantages to trade as many have supposed.

These are the sentiments and proceedings of this House; and as they have too much reason to believe that the enemies of the colonies have represented them to his Majesty's ministers, and to the Parliament, as factious, disloyal, and having a disposition to make themselves independent of the mother country, they have taken occasion, in the most humble terms, to assure his Majesty, and his ministers, that, with regard to the people of this province, and, as they doubt not, of all the colonies, the charge is unjust. The House is fully satisfied, that your Assembly is too generous and liberal in sentiment, to believe that this letter proceeds from an ambition of taking the lead, or dictating to the other assemblies. They freely submit their opinions to the judgment of others; and shall take it kind in your House to point out to them anything further, that may be thought necessary.

This House cannot conclude, without expressing their firm confidence in the King, our common head and father; that the united and dutiful supplications of his distressed American subjects, will meet with his royal and favorable acceptance.


Massachusetts Circular Letter to the Colonial Legislatures February 11, 1768

Library of Congress

In response to the Townshend Acts passed by Parliament in 1767, Samuel Adams, on behalf of the Massachusetts legislature, wrote the Massachusetts Circular Letter to assert that Great Britain had no right to tax the Thirteen Colonies without their representation in government. The letter garnered a response from the North Carolina legislature and forged early ties between the colonies who were growing disillusioned with British rule.


The House of Representatives of this province have taken into their serious consideration the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents by the operation of several Acts of Parliament, imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies.

As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your house is deeply impressed with its importance, and that such constitutional measures will be come into as are proper. It seems to be necessary that all possible care should be taken that the representatives of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other. The House, therefore, hope that this letter will be candidly considered in no other light than as expressing a disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony, upon a common concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the sentiments of your or any other house of assembly on the continent.

The House have humbly represented to the ministry their own sentiments, that his Majesty's high court of Parliament is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire that in all free states the constitution is fixed, and as the supreme legislative derives its power and authority from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it without destroying its own foundation that the constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance, and, therefore, his Majesty's American subjects, who acknowledge themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the British constitution that it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution, as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent that the American subjects may, therefore, exclusive of any consideration of charter rights, with a decent firmness, adapted to the character of free men and subjects, assert this natural and constitutional right.

It is, moreover, their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the Parliament, that the Acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights because, as they are not represented in the British Parliament, his Majesty's commons in Britain, by those Acts, grant their property without their consent.

This House further are of opinion that their constituents, considering their local circumstances, cannot, by any possibility, be represented in the Parliament and that it will forever be impracticable, that they should be equally represented there, and consequently, not at all being separated by an ocean of a thousand leagues. That his Majesty's royal predecessors, for this reason, were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislature here, that their subjects might enjoy the unalienable right of a representation also, that considering the utter impracticability of their ever being fully and equally represented in Parliament, and the great expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial representation there, this House think that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there.

Upon these principles, and also considering that were the right in Parliament ever so clear, yet, for obvious reasons, it would be beyond the rules of equity that their constituents should be taxed on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages arising to Great Britain, from the Acts of trade, this House have preferred a humble, dutiful, and loyal petition, to our most gracious sovereign, and made such representations to his Majesty's ministers, as they apprehended would tend to obtain redress. They have also submitted to consideration, whether any people can be said to enjoy any degree of freedom if the Crown, in addition to its undoubted authority of constituting a governor, should appoint him such a stipend as it may judge proper, without the consent of the people, and at their expense and whether, while the judges of the land, and other civil officers, hold not their commissions during good behaviour, their having salaries appointed for them by the Crown, independent of the people, hath not a tendency to subvert the principles of equity, and endanger the happiness and security of the subject.

In addition to these measures, the House have written a letter to their agent which he is directed to lay before the ministry wherein they take notice of the hardships of the Act for preventing mutiny and desertion, which requires the governor and council to provide enumerated articles for the king's marching troops, and the people to pay the expenses and also, the commission of the gentlemen appointed commissioners of the customs, to reside in America, which authorizes them to make as many appointments as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what sum they please, for whose malconduct they are not accountable from whence it may happen that officers of the Crown may be multiplied to such a degree as to become dangerous to the liberty of the people, by virtue of a commission, which does not appear to this House to derive any such advantages to trade as many have supposed.

These are the sentiments and proceedings of this House and as they have too much reason to believe that the enemies of the colonies have represented them to his Majesty's ministers, and to the Parliament, as factious, disloyal, and having a disposition to make themselves independent of the mother country, they have taken occasion, in the most humble terms, to assure his Majesty, and his ministers, that, with regard to the people of this province, and, as they doubt not, of all the colonies, the charge is unjust. The House is fully satisfied that your assembly is too generous and liberal in sentiment to believe that this letter proceeds from an ambition of taking the lead, or dictating to the other assemblies. They freely submit their opinions to the judgment of others and shall take it kind in your house to point out to them anything further that may be thought necessary.

This House cannot conclude, without expressing their firm confidence in the king, our common head and father, that the united and dutiful supplications of his distressed American subjects will meet with his royal and favourable acceptance.


Massachusetts Circular Letter

The Massachusetts Circular Letter was written by Samuel Adams on behalf of the Massachusetts legislature in reaction to the unpopular Townshend Acts passed by Parliament in 1767. Dated 11 Feb. 1768, the letter asserted that Parliament had no right to tax Americans, as they were not represented by that legislative body. Further, as Parliament was separated from the colonies by 3,000 miles of ocean and could never properly represent them, legislative power was vested in a "subordinate legislature" in each colony, which alone had the right to tax the colonists. Objections were also raised to the Crown's appointment of governors, judges, and other officers at the expense of the colonies without their consent. The letter ended with professions of loyalty to the Crown and the hope that the "united & dutifull Supplications" of the colonists would be granted by the king. Copies of the letter were sent to the legislatures of most North American colonies.

The circular letter was received in North Carolina on 1 Apr. 1768 by John Harvey, Speaker of the House. The British government was quite concerned at the prospect of the American colonies uniting to resist their directives. The Massachusetts Assembly had been ordered to withdraw the letter, and the other colonial legislatures were directed to ignore it or face "an immediate prorogation or dissolution." The earl of Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, instructed Governor William Tryon to end the present session of the Assembly if he thought that it was likely to act on the letter from Massachusetts he did so at the end of April, before the legislature took any action.

When the Assembly reconvened in November, Harvey presented the Massachusetts Circular Letter to the delegates. Harvey and some others advocated a strong response, but the majority of the delegates voted for moderation. They verbally directed the Speaker to answer the letter and appointed a committee to compose "an humble, dutiful and loyal address" to the king. The rather mild response angered Samuel Johnston and Joseph Hewes, who refused to serve on the committee. The address to the king, while polite, firmly stated the Assembly's belief that the Townshend Acts were illegal because "free men cannot be legally taxed but by themselves or their representatives." The Assembly also instructed the colony's agent, Henry Eustace McCulloh, to work with the agents of the other colonies to try to persuade Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts.

Speaker Harvey's answer to the Massachusetts legislature was dated 11 Feb. 1769, a year after the date of the Massachusetts Circular Letter. Harvey called for a stronger friendship between North Carolina and the other colonies, especially Massachusetts. He wrote that "the Assembly of this Colony will at all Times receive with Pleasure the Opinion of your House in Matters of general Concern to America, and be equally willing on every such Occasion to communicate their Sentiments," and he promised that North Carolina would "ever be ready, firmly to unite with their sister colonies, in pursuing every constitutional measure for redress of the grievances so justly complained of." After Harvey's letter was received in Massachusetts, the Boston Evening Post wrote: "The colonies, no longer disconnected, form one body." The Massachusetts Circular Letter forged an early link between North Carolina and the other colonies in their united resistance to Britain's policies.

Henry Steele Commager, ed., Documents of American History (1968).


[ This description is from the project: Coming of the American Revolution ]

This letter, written by Samuel Adams and James Otis, was sent from the Massachusetts House of Representatives to officials of the other colonies in protest of the Townshend Acts. The letter discusses, among other issues, the injustice of imposing taxes on colonists who are not represented in Parliament.

"to a sister colony"
Massachusetts vehemently protests the Townshend Act measures to the British government. Then she reaches out to her twelve "sister colonies" through this letter signed by Speaker of the House Thomas Cushing. The authors of the letter are Samuel Adams and James Otis and in this document they lay out their most powerful and persuasive argument. Britain tries to stop the circulation and impact of this letter. Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Hillsborough orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the colony's General Court (of which the House of Representatives is a part) unless the letter is rescinded and orders the governors of the other colonies to stop their assemblies from endorsing it. But is it too late?

1. What does "circular" or "circulatory" mean? Why was this letter written? What do its senders hope will happen as a result of it? To whom is this letter addressed and for what purpose?

2. Outline the argument presented in this document. Why do Americans deserve the same rights as Englishmen? To what are they entitled? Why are they not being adequately represented in Parliament?

3. What justification is given for the legality of the provincial assemblies in the colonies?

4. What MIS-representations is this letter trying to correct?

5. What assumptions do the Massachusetts legislators make about their counterparts in the "sister colonies"? What would they like their counterparts to do?

6. Why does the letter end with an expression of confidence in the King?

7. Research the effect of this letter in each of the other colonies. Which colonies endorsed it and what were the arguments pro and con?

8. Did the Massachusetts House of Representatives comply with the governor&rsquos request and rescind the letter? What happened?

9. What is a "circular letter"? How were these letters sent out and how did they reach their intended audiences?

10. Why don't Adams's and Otis's names appear on the letter? How do we know that they were the authors of it?


Massachusetts Circular Letter [February 11, 1768] - History

Massachusetts Circular Letter to the Colonial Legislatures

The House of Representatives of this province have taken into their serious consideration the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents by the operation of several Acts of Parliament, imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies.

As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your house is deeply impressed with its importance, and that such constitutional measures will be come into as are proper. It seems to be necessary that all possible care should be taken that the representatives of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other. The House, therefore, hope that this letter will be candidly considered in no other light than as expressing a disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony, upon a common concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the sentiments of your or any other house of assembly on the continent.

The House have humbly represented to the ministry their own sentiments, that his Majesty's high court of Parliament is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire that in all free states the constitution is fixed, and as the supreme legislative derives its power and authority from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it without destroying its own foundation that the constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance, and, therefore, his Majesty's American subjects, who acknowledge themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the British constitution that it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution, as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent that the American subjects may, therefore, exclusive of any consideration of charter rights, with a decent firmness, adapted to the character of free men and subjects, assert this natural and constitutional right.

It is, moreover, their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the Parliament, that the Acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights because, as they are not represented in the British Parliament, his Majesty's commons in Britain, by those Acts, grant their property without their consent.

This House further are of opinion that their constituents, considering their local circumstances, cannot, by any possibility, be represented in the Parliament and that it will forever be impracticable, that they should be equally represented there, and consequently, not at all being separated by an ocean of a thousand leagues. That his Majesty's royal predecessors, for this reason, were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislature here, that their subjects might enjoy the unalienable right of a representation also, that considering the utter impracticability of their ever being fully and equally represented in Parliament, and the great expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial representation there, this House think that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there.

Upon these principles, and also considering that were the right in Parliament ever so clear, yet, for obvious reasons, it would be beyond the rules of equity that their constituents should be taxed on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages arising to Great Britain, from the Acts of trade, this House have preferred a humble, dutiful, and loyal petition, to our most gracious sovereign, and made such representations to his Majesty's ministers, as they apprehended would tend to obtain redress. They have also submitted to consideration, whether any people can be said to enjoy any degree of freedom if the Crown, in addition to its undoubted authority of constituting a governor, should appoint him such a stipend as it may judge proper, without the consent of the people, and at their expense and whether, while the judges of the land, and other civil officers, hold not their commissions during good behaviour, their having salaries appointed for them by the Crown, independent of the people, hath not a tendency to subvert the principles of equity, and endanger the happiness and security of the subject.

In addition to these measures, the House have written a letter to their agent which he is directed to lay before the ministry wherein they take notice of the hardships of the Act for preventing mutiny and desertion, which requires the governor and council to provide enumerated articles for the king's marching troops, and the people to pay the expenses and also, the commission of the gentlemen appointed commissioners of the customs, to reside in America, which authorizes them to make as many appointments as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what sum they please, for whose malconduct they are not accountable from whence it may happen that officers of the Crown may be multiplied to such a degree as to become dangerous to the liberty of the people, by virtue of a commission, which does not appear to this House to derive any such advantages to trade as many have supposed.

These are the sentiments and proceedings of this House and as they have too much reason to believe that the enemies of the colonies have represented them to his Majesty's ministers, and to the Parliament, as factious, disloyal, and having a disposition to make themselves independent of the mother country, they have taken occasion, in the most humble terms, to assure his Majesty, and his ministers, that, with regard to the people of this province, and, as they doubt not, of all the colonies, the charge is unjust. The House is fully satisfied that your assembly is too generous and liberal in sentiment to believe that this letter proceeds from an ambition of taking the lead, or dictating to the other assemblies. They freely submit their opinions to the judgment of others and shall take it kind in your house to point out to them anything further that may be thought necessary.

This House cannot conclude, without expressing their firm confidence in the king, our common head and father, that the united and dutiful supplications of his distressed American subjects will meet with his royal and favourable acceptance.


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Massachusetts Circular Letter

Massachusetts Circular Letter in the United States Massachusetts Circular Letter (February 11, 1768) United States Constitution According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, about its article titled 488 MASSACHUSETTS CIRCULAR LETTER (February 11, 1768) This document reveals the […]

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Circular Letter to the Governors in America

Wikimedia Commons

In response to Samuel Adams' Massachusetts Circular Letter in early 1768 that asked other colonies to join in resisting Parliament's Townshend Act, the Earl of Hillsborough, the new Colonial Secretary, wrote this letter addressed to colonial governors demanding that they disband their colony's assemblies if they showed support for Adams' letter.

I have his Majesty's commands to transmit to you the enclosed copy of a letter from the speaker of the House of Representatives of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, addressed by order of that House to the speaker of the assembly of each colony upon the continent of North America.

As his Majesty considers this measure to be of a most dangerous and factious tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of his good subjects in the colonies, to promote an unwarrantable combination, and to excite and encourage an open opposition to and denial of the authority of Parliament, and to subvert the true principles of the constitution it is his Majesty's pleasure that you should immediately upon the receipt hereof exert your utmost influence to defeat this flagitious attempt to disturb the public peace by prevailing upon the Assembly of your province to take no notice of it, which will be treating it with the contempt it deserves.

The repeated proofs which have been given by the Assembly of [ ] of their reverence and respect for the laws, and of their faithful attachment to the constitution, leave little room in his Majesty's breast to doubt of their showing a proper resentment of this unjustifiable attempt to revive those distractions which have operated so fatally to the prejudice of this kingdom and the colonies and accordingly his Majesty has the fullest confidence in their affections. But if, notwithstanding these expectations and your most earnest endeavours, there should appear in the Assembly of your province a disposition to receive or give any countenance to this seditious paper, it will be your duty to prevent any proceeding upon it by an immediate prorogation or dissolution.


The Mob Forms

Tensions in Boston remained high in 1770 and worsened on February 22 when young Christopher Seider was killed by Ebenezer Richardson. A customs official, Richardson had randomly fired into a mob that had gathered outside his house hoping to make it disperse. Following a large funeral, arranged by Sons of Liberty leader Samuel Adams, Seider was interred at the Granary Burying Ground. His death, along with a burst of anti-British propaganda, badly inflamed the situation in the city and led many to seek confrontations with British soldiers. On the night of March 5, Edward Garrick, a young wigmaker's apprentice, accosted Captain Lieutenant John Goldfinch near the Custom House and claimed that the officer had not paid his debts. Having settled his account, Goldfinch ignored the taunt.

This exchange was witnessed by Private Hugh White who was standing guard at the Custom House. Leaving his post, White exchanged insults with Garrick before striking him in the head with his musket. As Garrick fell, his friend, Bartholomew Broaders, took up the argument. With tempers rising, the two men created a scene and a crowd began to gather. In an effort to quiet the situation, local book merchant Henry Knox informed White that if he fired his weapon he would be killed. Withdrawing to safety of the Custom House stairs, White awaited aid. Nearby, Captain Thomas Preston received word of White's predicament from a runner.


What the Circular Letter of 1768 Signified

You may have noticed how in all these postings about the Massachusetts House’s Circular Letter of 1768, quoting politicians on the circular letter and on the debate over the circular letter, I’ve never actually quoted the circular letter.

That’s because the letter itself doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting or inciting. It went through the familiar argument that Parliament had no right to tax colonists because colonists couldn’t vote for Parliament. In February that position got the pithy formulation “No Taxation without Representation.”

The letter also complained about the new salaries that royal appointees were due to receive from the Townshend duties, asking whether “their having Salaries appointed for them by the Crown independent of the people hath not a Tendency to subvert the principles of equity.”

One fresh idea that the letter addressed was the notion of American colonists being represented in Parliament. Gov. Francis Bernard had floated that possibility privately in 1764, and later in 1768 a former governor, Thomas Pownall, would propose it in print. But the House ruled out the idea:

The letter also made several nods to the Crown’s primacy, including calling the colonial assemblies “a Subordinate Legislative” and concluding by “expressing their firm Confidence in the King, our common Head and Father, that the united & dutiful supplications of his distressed American Subjects will meet with his Royal and favorable acceptance.”

It’s possible that the first draft reported out of committee and voted down on 21 Jan 1768 was more confrontational in its language or proposals than the final text. Gov. Bernard reported that opponents of that draft argued that it “would be considered at home [i.e., in Britain] as appointing another congress” like the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. Which hadn’t actually accomplished much, but was seen as radical.

The only action the circular letter ended up proposing was that each colony’s legislature petition the Crown using the same arguments. As a result, the responses from other colonies to the Massachusetts House were positive but bland and pointed to no further action.

What turned the circular letter into the Circular Letter was the Earl of Hillsborough’s response to it in April. As a new Secretary of State, he wanted to strengthen the authority of the imperial government over the North American colonies. He interpreted Bernard’s reports on the Massachusetts legislature as even worse than they were. He didn’t think he could just ignore this document.

Once Hillsborough demanded that the Massachusetts House rescind the letter, however, he moved the argument beyond what would be a fair system of taxation in a worldwide empire. He turned the conflict into one over whether the Crown could compel some of its North American subjects into abjuring their established speech and principles.


Massachusetts Circular Letter

After the Massachusetts General Court received the text of the Townshend Acts, the assembly put together a committee for a response which was the circular letter. Being "circular" means that it should be circulated or distributed. Other colonies reviewed the letter with positive responses, including Connecticut, Virginia, and New Jersey. [2]

In the letter, it was argued that the new duties were unconstitutional, it also argued that the salary payments to governors and judges undermined local popular control of government. [3]

In Britain, Lord Hillsborough, who was at the time the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was incensed and outraged over the circular. He immediately demanded that the assembly recall the letter. [4] The assembly overwhelmingly refused the royal command, by a vote of 92 to 17. [5] In response, Lord Hillsborough ordered Governor Francis Bernard to dissolve the legislature. [6]

No longer having any legal way to channel their grievances, the colonists entered a period of discontent with belligerent mobs gathering and protesting British officials. [7] [8]

These acts of protest and defiance were answered by the British government, who ordered a fleet of ships to sail into Boston harbor, with two regiments of Regulars and cannons. Paul Revere, who was a witness to the events, made an engraving of the event which he called an "insolent parade". [9] The presence of British soldiers remained, and tensions continued to increase until the Boston Massacre in 1770.