Biography of John Adams

Back into the Fray (1773)

"If I should be called in the Course of Providence, to take Part in public Life, I shall Act a fearless, intrepid, undaunted Part, at all Hazards."

John Adams, his diary, 1773.

In March 1773, while still practicing law, John was approached to speak at the observance of the Boston Massacre. Sam Adams and The Sons of Liberty were trying to make the day of the Massacre into a yearly memorial day. John thought it was an unusual request, as he was the one who defended the British soldiers.

However, John refused the invitation because of, "the feeble State of My Health." The next day Sam Adams pressed him to speak at the occasion, still John refused, stating that he was "too old to make Declamations." John was just thirty-seven years old!

Earlier in 1772, at the time of his thirty-seventh birthday, Adams declared, "The remainder of my days I shall rather decline in sense, spirit, and activity. My season for acquiring knowledge is past." John was lamenting that he lived halfway through his life, as he calculated it, and little or nothing to show for it. As usual, John could not foresee what the future had in store for him.

The event that brought John back into the political life was the decision that the Crown would pay the salary of the Superior Court Justices of the Colony. Before this pronouncement, the provincial legislature paid the salary of the Justices. Surprisingly, it aroused little interest from the public and John himself did not mention it at first. It was only when Major General William Brattle, the moderator the Cambridge Town Meeting published a defense of the Crown's decision did John leap back into politics. John published a seven part essay in which he disagreed with Battle's and the Crown position. John stated that the Justices will be dependent on the moods of the Crown and would lose their independence. In January 1773, Adams published seven essays criticizing the British ministry's decision. The essays were written in a tedious, legalistic manner, as even Adams admitted. His arguments aroused little interest from the public.

It was a second event at the same time that grabbed the attention of the public and began to increase the patriotic feelings in Boston.

The Royal Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, declared that Parliament's sovereignty over the colonies was absolute. With the declaration, the Governor unwittingly opened himself to a constitutional debate with the General Court. The House asked for John Adams to assist in their reply to the Governor. Adams' reply was that the Colonial Charters granted the colonists sovereign legislative powers. Poplar opinion sided with Adams. Hutchinson's prestige was wounded in this exchange, even the Ministry in London frowned upon Hutchinson's position.

With the Governor's stature weaken, patriot leaders decided that it was the ideal time to release a packet of letters written by Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver to officials in England. The letters were obtained by Benjamin Franklin and were sent to Sam Adams. The correspondence contained no new revelations about the growing unrest or political statements from Hutchinson. However, the letters seemed to indicate a scheme to subvert the colonists' liberty.

In a superb political move, Sam Adams waited for the ideal time to release the contents of the letters. Sam Adams revealed the 'discovery' to a closed session of the assembly. Soon a series of newspaper essays appeared declaring that the Governor was trying subvert the Constitution. The essays aroused public passions and amidst much demand, the letters were published. Of course, Sam Adams ensured that the letters were heavily edited to suit his cause.

Amidst the public storm over the Hutchinson letters, and with patriotic feelings rising, John was again elected to the Assembly. The Assembly then elected John to be a member of the Governor's Council (the upper body). Adams' election to the Council was vetoed by Governor Hutchinson because of John siding with the opposition, still John was a member of the Assembly. Again John was a public servant, the career he would occupy for the next twenty-eight years.