Massachusetts Circular Letter (11 February 1768, by Samuel Adams)

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MASSACHUSETTS CIRCULAR LETTER (11 February 1768, by Samuel Adams)

Enraged by the Townshend Acts of 1767, which among other things imposed new duties on tea and paper and established vice-admiralty courts unchecked by juries, and having petitioned George III himself, Samuel Adams and the Massachusetts legislature drafted the socalled Circular Letter to alert the other colonies of their activities. Adams, the son of a wealthy brewer, was already well-known for his fiery rhetoric and for his hand in founding the radical and sometimes violent Sons of Liberty. Reaction by the Crown was swift. General Gage was ordered to send a regiment to Boston, and vessels of war sailed into the harbor. On 1 July 1768, Parliament dissolved the Massachusetts Legislature.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Massachusetts Circular Letter ; Revolution, American: Political History ; "Taxation Without Representation."


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 & Taxes on the American colonys. As it is a Subject in which every Colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your Assembly is deeply impressed with its importance, & that such constitutional measures will be come into, as are proper …

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; & as the supreme Legislative derives its Power & Authority from the Constitution, it cannot overleap the Bounds of it, without destroying its own foundation; That the constitution ascertains & limits both Sovereignty and allegiance, & 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 in an essential unalterable Right, in nature, ungrafted into the British Constitution, as a fundamental Law, & ever held sacred & 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 & subjects assert this natural and constitutional Right.

It is, moreover, their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest Deferrence to the Wisdom of the Parliament, that the Acts made there, imposing Duties on the People of this province, with the sole & express purpose of raising a Revenue, are Infringements of their natural & constitutional Rights: because, as they are not represented in the British Parliament, his Majesty's Commons in Britain, by those 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, & that it will forever be impracticable, that they should be equally represented there, & consequently not at all; being separated by an Ocean of a thousand leagues: and 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 & equally represented in parliament, & the great Expence 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, & 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 dutys they pay for them in England, & the other advantages arising to G Britain from the Acts of trade, this House have preferred a humble, dutifull, & loyal Petition, to our most gracious Sovereign, & made such Representations to his Majesty's Ministers, as they apprehended would fend 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 & at their expence; & whether, while the Judges of the Land & other Civil officers hold not their Commissions during good Behaviour, their having salarys appointed for them by the Crown independent of the people hath not a tendency to subvert the principles of Equity & endanger the Happiness and Security of the Subject …

These are the Sentiments & proceedings of this House; & as they have too much reason to believe that the enemys of the Colonies have represented them to his Majestys Ministers & the parliament as factious disloyal & having a disposition to make themselves independent of the Mother Country, they have taken occasion, in the most humble terms, to assure his Majesty & his Ministers that with regard to the People of this province, & as they doubt not, of all the colonies the charge is unjust.

The House is fully satisfied, that your Assembly is too generous & liberal in sentiment, to believe, that this Letter proceeds from an Ambition to take the lead, or dictating to the other Assemblys: They freely submit their opinions to the Judgment of others, & shall take it kind in your house to point out to them any thing further, that may be thought necessary.

This House cannot conclude, without expressing their firm Confidence in the King our common head & Father, that the united & dutifull Supplications of his distressed American Subjects will meet with his Royal & favorable Acceptance.

SOURCE: Cushing, Harry A., ed. The Writings of Samuel Adams. New York: 1904.

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Massachusetts Circular Letter (11 February 1768, by Samuel Adams)

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Massachusetts Circular Letter (11 February 1768, by Samuel Adams)