The Independence of the Massachusetts Legislature

The Bay Colony was a leader in the growing resistance to royal authority. The legislature of Massachusetts attempted during 1773 to stimulate intercolonial cooperation through committees of correspondence. Governor Hutchinson contested the determination of the legislature to exercise prerogative in appointing such committees. In reply to the governor’s criticism the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a committee consisting of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and others submitted the following report on February 5, 1774.

Niles: “Extract from the Answer of the House of Representatives to the Governor, February 5, 1774.”

It affords the great satisfaction to this house to find that His Majesty has been pleased to put an end to an undue claim, heretofore made by the governors of this province, grounded upon a supposition that the consent of the chair was necessary to the validity of the judicial acts of the Governor and Council. Whereby their proceedings, when sitting as the Supreme Court of Probate, and as the court for determining in cases of marriage and divorce, have been so often impeded. The royal order, that the governor shall acquiesce in the determination of the majority of the Council, respects not the Council only but the body of the people of this province. And His Majesty has herein showed his regard to justice, as well as the interest and convenience of his subjects, in rescuing a clause in the charter from a construction which, in the opinion of this house, was repugnant to the express meaning and intent of the charter, inconsistent with the idea of a court of justice, and dangerous to the rights and property of the subject.

Your excellency is pleased to inform the two houses that you are required to signify to them His Majesty’s disapprobation of the appointment of committees of correspondence, in various instances, which sit and act during the recess of the General Court by prorogation. You are not pleased to explain to us the grounds and reasons of His Majesty’s disapprobation; until we shall have such explanation laid before us, a full answer to this part of your speech will not be expected from us. We cannot, however, omit saying upon this occasion that while the common rights of the American subjects continue to be attacked in various instances, and at times when the several assemblies are not sitting, it is highly necessary that they should correspond with each other in order to unite in the most effectual means for the obtaining a redress of their grievances. And as the sitting of the general assemblies in this and most of the colonies depends on the pleasure of the governors, who hold themselves under the direction of administration, it is to be expected that the meeting of the assemblies will be so ordered, as that the intention proposed by a correspondence between them will be impracticable but by committees to sit and act in the recess.

We would, moreover, observe that, as it has been the practice for years past for the governor and lieutenant governor of this province, and other officers of the Crown, at all times, to correspond with ministers of the state and persons of influence and distinction in the nation in order to concert and carry on such measures of the British administration as have been deemed by the colonists to be grievous to them, it cannot be thought unreasonable or improper for the colonists to correspond with their agents, as well as with each other, to the end that their grievances may be so explained to His Majesty, as that, in his justice, he may afford necessary relief. As this province has heretofore felt great misfortune of the displeasure of our sovereign by means of misrepresentations, permit us further to say there is room to apprehend that His Majesty has, in this instance, been misinformed and that there are good grounds to suspect that those who may have misinformed him have had in meditation further measures destructive to the colonies, which they were apprehensive would be defeated by means of committees of correspondence sitting and acting in the recess of the respective assemblies.

It must be pleasing to the good people of this province to find that the heavy debt which had been incurred by their liberal aids, through the course of the late war for subduing His Majesty’s inveterate enemies and extending his territory and dominion in America is so nearly discharged. Whenever the house of representatives shall deem it incumbent upon them to provide for any future charges, it will be done, as it ought, by such ways and means as, after due deliberation, to them shall seem meet.

In the meantime, the House will employ the powers with which they are entrusted in supporting His Majesty’s just authority in the province, according to the royal charter, and in dispatching such public business as now properly lies before us. And, while we pursue such measures as tend, by God’s blessing, to redress of grievances and to restoration and establishment of the public liberty, we persuade ourselves that we shall, at the same time, as far as in us lies, most effectually secure the tranquillity and good order of the government, and the great end for which it is instituted the safety and welfare of the people.