Hutchinson, Thomas (1711-1780)
Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780)
Education of a Public Man. Thomas Hutchinson could have been the most successful American political figure of the eighteenth century. The fifth generation of his family in Massachusetts, great-grandson of Anne Hutchinson, Thomas was an accomplished historian, businessman, and politician, cultivating the right connections in London to secure for himself a series of offices: chief justice, lieutenant governor, and in 1771 an appointment as governor of his native colony. But the skills that Hutchinson used to rise to the top were useless in the changing political climate of the 1770s, and as governor Hutchinson was unable to balance his prime political responsibility, representing the interests of the British crown in Massachusetts, and the growing unwillingness of his fellow colonials to obey British authority. In 1765, when Bostonians accused Hutchinson of supporting the Stamp Tax, they demolished his home; in 1773, when Hutchinson tried to articulate the position of the Crown in governing the American colonies, the Massachusetts assembly called for his removal. Hutchinson went to England in the summer of 1774 for what he hoped would be a temporary political visit; he would never return to his home, and in 1779 the Massachusetts assembly voted to banish him permanently. The greatest honor in his life was an honorary doctorate in civil laws from Oxford, which he received for his efforts to govern the recalcitrant colony. The degree was awarded on 4 July 1776.
Background. Thomas Hutchinson was born in Boston on 9 September 1711. His great-great-grandparents, Anne and William Hutchinson, had arrived in 1634 but had been exiled for Anne’s outspoken views on religion. Since then the family had prospered within the colony; both his father and grandfather were members of the executive council. Thomas entered Harvard when he was twelve, graduated at sixteen, and at age nineteen earned a master’s degree, after which he went to work in his father’s counting house. He married Margaret Sanford in 1734, and they had five children. Thomas began his political career in 1737, when he was chosen both to represent Boston in the colonial assembly and to serve as a town selectman.
Political Rise. Hutchinson clearly stood out in the assembly; he was chosen to be Speaker for three terms, and in 1740–1741 he was sent to England to represent Massachusetts in its border dispute with New Hampshire. His mission failed, but he used his time in England to make connections with influential members of Parliament and to lobby against the Land Bank, a financially unsound venture that Parliament agreed to dissolve. One of the Land Bank’s promoters was Boston businessman Samuel Adams, whose son Samuel, graduating from Harvard in 1740, would become Hutchinson’s chief political enemy. Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, Andrew Oliver, was chosen to the council instead of the senior Adams in 1746; three years later Hutchinson, who was not reelected to the assembly, was placed on the council, where he remained until 1766. In 1752 he was chosen to be a judge of probate and justice of common pleas for Suffolk County. In 1754 he represented Massachusetts at the Albany conference and was one of the strongest supporters of Franklin’s plan of colonial union. In 1758 Hutchinson won appointment as lieutenant governor. Two years later, when the office of chief justice became vacant, James Otis Sr. was the leading candidate. However, the new royal governor, Francis Bernard, persuaded Hutchinson to accept the post. His appointment infuriated James Otis. Jr. just as his earlier appointments had riled the younger Samuel Adams. They railed not only against what they perceived to be Hutchinson’s political manipulation to secure offices but also against the idea that one man could simultaneously hold executive, legislative, and judicial offices. Montesquieu’s theory of separation of powers was relatively new, but Otis and Adams and his supporters began to see Hutchinson as a dangerous threat to liberty.
Otis and Adams. By 1763 Hutchinson was the most influential man in the colony, but he had also become a target for James Otis and Samuel Adams. Hutchinson agreed with Adams and Otis on matters of policy; he did not think that the governor could issue writs of assistance, nor did he think Parliament should pass laws such as the Sugar Act or the stamp tax. In 1764 the assembly had tried to send Hutchinson to England to make its case against the Sugar Act. He believed these were unwise measures, but unlike Adams and Otis, Hutchinson insisted that Parliament had a right to tax the colonists. He would never agree with their assertion that Parliament’s power did not extend beyond England. If that were the case, the colonies must become independent. Neither Otis nor Adams was willing to make the case for independence in the 1760s, but Hutchinson saw where their arguments were going. He wanted to avoid independence and have Massachusetts prosper as part of the British empire. Since Adams and Otis both denied that they were interested in independence, Hutchinson interpreted their almost violent opposition to his ideas and policies as motivated by political self-interest rather than political principle.
The Stamp Act. However, Otis and Adams believed that self-interest in fact motivated Hutchinson. His brother-in-law, Andrew Oliver, had been appointed to distribute the hated stamps; to Otis and Adams it was apparent that Hutchinson’s support for the law came from his personal stake in it. On 13 August 1765 a mob destroyed Oliver’s shop and the stamps; the next night the mob surrounded Hutchinson’s house and demanded to know if he had written to England in support of the Stamp Act. Hutchinson had not, but he also did not feel he needed to “answer to all the questions that may be put me by every lawless person.” The mob dispersed out of respect for Hutchinson’s faithful public service, but two weeks later the mob returned. This time it destroyed Hutchinson’s home and property, causing damage estimated at £3,000 ($122,000 today), tearing the eyes from Hutchinson’s portrait, and, in a loss that cannot be calculated, scattering the manuscript for the second volume of his History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay (1767). When Hutchinson appeared to preside in court the next morning, he had to apologize for his appearance: he had fled the mob with “no other shirt; no other garment but what I have on; and not one of my family in a better situation.”
Political Tempers. Tempers cooled after Parliament rescinded the Stamp Act. “We have not been so quiet these five years,” Hutchinson wrote in 1771, “if it were not for two or three Adamses we should do well enough.” Otis’s growing insanity and Samuel Adams’s business failures did not make either an entirely credible opponent. Their ally, John Hancock, opposed Parliament’s tax policies out of self-interest; a wealthy Boston merchant, Hancock did not want to pay taxes on goods he imported. Hutchinson regarded the three as political opportunists. He saw a role for the colonies in the empire similar to the role he and Franklin had envisioned with the Albany plan of 1754. He made this case in a series of letters to a British correspondent, insisting that the colonists could not enjoy all the liberties of British subjects while they relied on British power to protect them from the French and Native Americans. Parliament did have the power to legislate for the colonies in all cases; it was not up to the colonists to determine which laws they would obey.
Political Downfall. 1773, the year of Hutchinson’s greatest political victory, would also be the year of his downfall. That year he successfully ended Massachusetts’s long border dispute with New York, securing to his own colony undisputed title to the lands west of the Connecticut River; but in opening the assembly that year, Hutchinson provoked a debate that would lead inexorably to independence. In his opening speech to the assembly in January, Governor Hutchinson developed his ideas of Parliamentary supremacy. The assembly responded, feeling that Hutchinson forced it to make its own argument on the limits of Parliamentary authority.
Franklin and Tea. In London, Benjamin Franklin, acting as the assembly’s agent and eager to have the colony reconcile with England, came to believe that a more conciliatory politician, who would not lecture the assembly on political theory, would be able to heal the rift. In order to save the empire Franklin determined to rid it of Hutchinson. He obtained copies of Hutchinson’s private letters of the 1760s and sent them to the Massachusetts assembly. Samuel Adams had been charging Hutchinson with conspiring to destroy American liberty; the letters, carefully edited and published in the Boston press, seemed to confirm Adams’s charges. Arriving in Massachusetts at about the same time as news that Parliament had passed the Tea Act and that Hutchinson’s two sons had been chosen to sell the tea in Boston, the letters destroyed Hutchinson’s political credibility. The assembly demanded his recall. When the tea ships reached Boston in December, Hutchinson’s unwillingness to compromise and his adamant belief that the ships could not legally leave port until they had been unloaded provoked the Boston mob, disguised as Indians, to dump the tea into Boston harbor.
In England. Hutchinson asked leave to go to England to propose a solution to the crisis. In his absence Massachusetts would not get a more conciliatory governor; instead Gen. Thomas Gage, the commander in chief of the British forces in North America, was named to govern the province. Though Hutchinson urged conciliation, Parliament was now determined to get tough. Hutchinson spent his last years in England, helplessly watching as his native colony became an independent state, and the political connections he had carefully cultivated in England to secure his power in Massachusetts proved only good enough to sustain a meager livelihood in England. He died of a stroke on 3 June 1780. His country home in Milton, Massachusetts, was seized by the state of Massachusetts and sold to revolutionary leader James Warren and his wife, Mercy Otis Warren, sister of Hutchinson’s old nemesis. Arthur Lee, American commissioner to France, congratulated the Warrens that “It has not always happened... that the forfeited seats of the wicked have been filled with men of virtue. But in this corrupt world it is sufficient that we have some examples of it for our consolation.”
Bernard Bailyn, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974).
"Hutchinson, Thomas (1711-1780)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hutchinson-thomas-1711-1780
"Hutchinson, Thomas (1711-1780)." American Eras. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hutchinson-thomas-1711-1780
Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780), American governor of colonial Massachusetts and a staunch defender of English colonial policy, was also a jurist and historian.
Thomas Hutchinson was born in Boston on Sept. 9, 1711. He entered Harvard at the age of 12, graduating 3 years later. Entering his father's commercial house, Hutchinson continued to further his education through extensive reading. By the time he was 25 he was worth £5,000 and was part owner of a ship. On May 16, 1734, he married Margaret Sanford of Newport, R.I., who bore him three sons and two daughters before her death in 1753.
Politics in Massachusetts
In 1737 Hutchinson was elected selectman for Boston. That same year he gained a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served every year, except 1739, and was speaker for 3 years (1746-1748) until his defeat in the election of 1749. In 1750 he was chosen a member of the governor's council (and served continuously until 1766). In 1740 he was sent to England to represent Massachusetts in the boundary dispute with New Hampshire. He gained favor with the Massachusetts merchants when, in the fight against the Land Bank, he advocated sound money. In 1752 he was appointed judge of probate and justice of common pleas for Suffolk County.
As a representative of Massachusetts at the Albany Congress in 1754, he gave his support to Benjamin Franklin's plan of union for the Colonies. He was appointed lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1758 and became chief justice for the colony 2 years later. Because of his continuing interest in commerce, he opposed general search warrants by the governor, insisting that they be issued by the courts. By 1763 Hutchinson was one of the most influential men in Massachusetts politics, but he had earned the enmity of fiery prerevolutionary patriots Samuel Adams and James Otis by his opposition to the Land Bank and his support of the issuance of general writs by proper authority.
In February 1764 the General Court sent Hutchinson to England to protest the proposed sugar duties. Although he opposed the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act on the grounds that they would injure trade, he never denied the right of Parliament to tax the Colonies. It was this attitude and the fact that his brother-in-law Andrew Oliver was stamp master that led a Boston mob to sack his home in 1765. He lost an estimated £3,000 in personal property and the manuscript of his History of Massachusetts Bay, the first volume of which had been published in 1764. This violence led Hutchinson to believe that more stringent policies should be adopted by Parliament.
Although expressing opposition to the Townshend duties, Hutchinson felt that they should be enforced as the law. He was acting governor of Massachusetts from 1769 to 1771. Appointed royal governor of Massachusetts in 1771, he faithfully followed instructions from the Crown. His popularity waned when he twice called out troops to quell disturbances and constantly disputed with the House over such trivialities as its place of meeting. On Jan. 6, 1773, he addressed the General Court, urging the case of parliamentary supremacy.
Hutchinson's position became untenable when Benjamin Franklin sent from England the "Hutchinson Letters," which had been written to friends in 1768 and 1769. These documents, published in Massachusetts in 1773, were interpreted so as to make it seem that Hutchinson had secretly urged the British government to exert more stringent authority over the Colonies. The Tea Act precipitated a crisis, not only because the governor's two sons had been designated tea consignees, but because Hutchinson refused to issue clearance papers for the tea ships until the tea had been landed. The Boston Tea Party was the result.
In 1774 Gen. Thomas Gage replaced Hutchinson as governor. Hutchinson sailed for England, hoping to return as soon as the general's presence was no longer necessary. Unaware of the gravity of the colonial crisis, he urged a policy of conciliation toward the Colonies. Although he had many friends in England and Oxford University conferred upon him an honorary degree, he remained homesick for New England. His writings include a reply to the Declaration of Independence and the three-volume History of Massachusetts Bay. On June 3, 1780, he died and was buried at Croydon, England.
Portions of Hutchinson's own account, badly edited by Peter O. Hutchinson, are in The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson (2 vols., 1884-1886). The Lawrence S. Mayo edition of Hutchinson's History (3 vols., 1936) is the most useful. James K. Hosmer, The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (1896), the only biography, is superseded by the sketch of Hutchinson in Clifford K. Shipton, Sibley's Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College in the Classes 1726-1730, vol. 8 (1951).
Bailyn, Bernard, The ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974.
Freiberg, Malcolm, Prelude to purgatory: Thomas Hutchinson in provincial Massachusetts politics, 1760-1770, New York: Garland, 1990. □
"Thomas Hutchinson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thomas-hutchinson
"Thomas Hutchinson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thomas-hutchinson
Thomas Hutchinson, 1711–80, colonial governor of Massachusetts (1771–74) and historian, b. Boston. A descendant of Anne Hutchinson, he was a man of wealth and prominence, of learning, and of notable integrity. He entered public life when he became (1737) a member of the General Court, the Massachusetts legislature. When the cost of the Louisburg campaign was repaid to Massachusetts, he proposed (1748) that the money be used to redeem the colony's depreciated currency. The plan, which was ultimately successful in stimulating trade, caused Hutchinson to lose the election in 1749 and aligned him with the conservatives. He was a member of the governor's council (1749–66), a delegate to the Albany Congress (1754), chief justice (1760–61), and lieutenant governor (1758–71). When he was appointed royal governor in 1771, Hutchinson was perhaps the most powerful man in the colony, but he had bitter political enemies among the radicals, notably Samuel Adams. Though he considered the Stamp Act and other government measures unwise, he had favored strict enforcement, and his unpopularity caused a mob to sack and burn his mansion in 1765. His unpopularity increased after he became governor, and he favored strenuous measures against the growing discontent. These views were exposed when letters he had written to English friends were made public. In 1773 he refused to let the tea-laden ships clear Boston Harbor and thus brought on the Boston Tea Party. As tension grew worse he was replaced as governor by Gen. Thomas Gage and moved to England. He was the author of an accurate, scholarly, and useful book, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (3 vol., 1764–1828; modern ed. by L. S. Mayo, 1936).
See his diary and letters (ed. by P. O. Hutchinson, 1883–86, repr. 1971); study by B. Bailyn (1974).
"Hutchinson, Thomas." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hutchinson-thomas
"Hutchinson, Thomas." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hutchinson-thomas