Resolves of the House of Representatives …

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Resolves of the House of Representatives

Adopted by the Massachusetts Assembly

Enacted June 16, 1773; excerpted from The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay

"…The writer of these letters, signed Thomas Hutchinson, has been thus exerting himself, by his 'secret confidential correspondence,' to introduce measures, destructive of our constitutional liberty, he has been practising every method among the people of this province, to fix in their minds an exalted opinion of his warmest affection for them…. "

From Resolves of the House of Representatives

In the spring of 1773, the so-called Hutchinson letters (discussed earlier) were read at a meeting of the Massachusetts Assembly (also known as the House of Representatives). The letters had been written between 1767 and 1769 by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780), Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver (1706–1774), and others, to friends in England. The letters commented on colonial reactions to British taxation policies.

When they heard the letters, the Massachusetts representatives were just as outraged as the public had been. Especially outrageous was Hutchinson's statement that "there must be a great restraint of natural liberty!" How dare Hutchinson urge British authorities to take away American freedoms? On June 23, 1773, the Massachusetts Assembly adopted a petition begging Parliament for the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver from their offices. The petition was based on the grounds that the Assembly and the people of Massachusetts no longer had confidence in Hutchinson and Oliver. The petition was called Resolves of the House of Representatives, Respecting the Letters of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Others.

The petition began by stating that the letters gave a false view of what was going on in the colonies, a view that

showed the colonies to Parliament in the worst possible light. The petition denied Hutchinson's claim that the letters were personal correspondence written to a private citizen. The petition said the letters contained suggestions for how King George III (1738–1820) and Parliament should deal with the colonies. The petition went on to say that the misleading letters must certainly have so angered the king and Parliament that they dealt harshly with the colonies.

The petition claimed that one purpose of the letters was to have British soldiers sent to America to enforce the payment of taxes. Now the soldiers were in America disrupting the peace and promoting misery and bloodshed. The petition claimed that the letter writers had a special interest in seeing that taxes were collected, because their salaries were paid from the taxes. The petition claimed that Hutchinson tried to get colonial liberties quashed while he was going about pretending to have the colonists' best interests at heart. Hutchinson and the other letter writers were accused of trying to enrich themselves while denying liberties to other Americans.

As a matter of fact, the assembly complained, all the bad acts that ever came out of Great Britain were the fault of evil people making false claims about the colonies. The assembly complained that its petitions to King George had not been shown to him (the petitions had listed colonial grievances and begged for relief). King George had only seen letters written by people who had something to gain (their salaries) from the taxes placed on Americans. Those taxes had taken away American liberties and rights. The assembly expressed its confidence that the king must now agree: It was best for him and for the cause of peace if the letter writers did not continue in positions of authority.

Finally, the Massachusetts Assembly claimed it was its duty to King George and the citizens of Massachusetts to ask for the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver from office.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from the Resolves of the House of Representatives:

  • Hutchinson's letters were written to a friend of Hutchinson's, Thomas Whately. However, Whately's name had been erased, so the Assembly did not know to whom the letters were written. Hutchinson's letters were actually private correspondence to a friend who was not in a position to influence British policy. The assembly refused to take Hutchinson's word for it.
  • When Benjamin Franklin sent the letters to the speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, he sent a cover letter. Franklin's letter said that the letters had been written to influence the king against the colonies. The assembly chose to believe Franklin over Hutchinson. Did Franklin really believe that Hutchinson and Oliver were trying to influence British policy? Did he really believe that King George and Parliament would have based their colonial policy on the opinions of Hutchinson and Oliver? Historians have questioned Franklin's sincerity throughout the whole Hutchinson letters affair. They doubt that he really believed the letters would be kept confidential. After all, it was Franklin who had written in his famous book, Poor Richard's Almanac: "Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead." Perhaps Franklin thought a greater good would come from his revelation of the letters. If harmony could be restored between England and America, that was a greater good than maintaining Hutchinson's reputation.

Excerpt from Resolves of the House of Representatives, Respecting the Letters of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Others

Resolved, That the letters signed Thomas Hutchinson, and those signed Andrew Oliver, now under consideration of this House, appear to be the genuine letters of the present Governor and LieutenantGovernor of this province, whose hand writing and signatures are well known to many of the Members of this House; and, that they contain aggravated accounts of facts, and misrepresentations; and, that one manifest design of them, was, to represent the matters they treat of in a light, highly injurious to this province, and the persons against whom they were wrote.

Resolved, That, though the letters aforesaid, signed Thomas Hutchinson, are said by the Governor, in his message to this House, of June 9th, to be private letters, wrote to a gentleman in London, since deceased, and that all, except the last, were wrote many months before he came to the chair, yet, they were wrote by the present Governor, when he was Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of this province, who has been represented abroad, as eminent for his abilities, as for his exalted station; and was under no official obligation to transmit intelligence of such matters as are contained in said letters; and, that they, therefore, must be considered by the person to whom they were sent, as documents of solid intelligence; and, that this gentleman in London, to whom they were wrote, was then a Member of the British Parliament, and one who was very active in American affairs; and therefore, that these letters, however secretly wrote, must naturally be supposed to have, and really had, a public operation ….

Resolved, As the opinion of this House, that it clearly appears from the letters aforesaid, signed Thomas Hutchinson, and Andrew Oliver, that it was the desire and endeavor of the writers of them, that certain acts of the British Parliament, for raising a revenue in America, might be carried into effect by military force; and by introducing a fleet and army into his Majesty's loyal province, to intimidate the minds of his subjects here, and prevent every constitutional measure to obtain the repeal of those acts, so justly esteemed a grievance to us, and to suppress the very spirit of freedom.

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this House, that, as the salaries lately appointed for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Judges of this province, directly repugnant to the charter of this province, and subversive of justice, are founded on this revenue; and, as those letters were wrote with a design, and had a tendency to promote and support that revenue, therefore, there is great reason to suppose the writers of those letters, were well knowing to, suggested, and promoted the enacting said revenue acts, and the establishments founded on the same.

Resolved, That while the writer of these letters, signed Thomas Hutchinson, has been thus exerting himself, by his "secret confidential correspondence," to introduce measures, destructive of our constitutional liberty, he has been practising every method among the people of this province, to fix in their minds an exalted opinion of his warmest affection for them, and his unremitted endeavors to promote their best interest at the Court of Great Britain.

Resolved, As the opinion of this House,…that it is manifest, that there has been, for many years past, measures contemplated, and a plan formed, by a set of men, born and educated among us, to raise their own fortunes, and advance themselves to posts of honor and profit, not only to the destruction of the charter and constitution of this province, but at the expense of the rights and liberties of the American colonies. And, it is further the opinion of this House, that the said persons have been [largely responsible for introducing a military force here to carry out their plans, and so have disrupted the peace between England and the colonies and promoted the misery and bloodshed that followed].

Whereas, for many years past, measures have been taken by the British administration, very grievous to the good people of this province, which this House have now reason to suppose, were promoted, if not originally suggested, by the writers of these letters; and many efforts have been made, by the people, to obtain the redress of their grievances….

Resolved, That it has been the misfortune of this government, from the earliest period of it, from time to time, to be secretly traduced, and maliciously represented to the British Ministry, by persons who were neither friendly to this colony, nor to the English constitution:

Resolved, That this House is bound, in duty to the King and their constituents, humbly to remonstrate to his Majesty, the conduct of his Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esquire, Governor, and the Honorable Andrew Oliver, Esquire, Lieutenant Governor of this province; and to pray that his Majesty would be pleased to remove them forever from the government thereof. (Hosmer, pp. 438–42)

What happened next …

By the time the petition to remove Hutchinson and Oliver from office was adopted by the Massachusetts Assembly in June 1773, Governor Hutchinson was worn out from waiting for Parliament to act against the rebels. He requested permission from King George to go to England so that he could discuss taking on a different job. In June 1774, sixty-two-yearold Thomas Hutchinson, respected son of an old and famous Massachusetts family, sailed for England, never to return.

In London, six weeks after the petition was passed, Benjamin Franklin presented it to Lord Dartmouth (1731–1801), British secretary for the American colonies. It would be Dartmouth's job to present this very unusual document to King George's advisers, the Privy (pronounced PRIH-vee) Council. But the matter was never resolved. When Franklin was identified as the person who made the Hutchinson letters public—and was accused of stealing the letters in the first place—he was banished by the British government.

Where to Learn More

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1974.

Boatner, Mark M. "Thomas Hutchinson" and "Hutchinson Letters Affair" in Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994.

Franklin, Benjamin. Writings. New York: Library of America, 1987.

Hosmer, James K. The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1896.

Lemay, J. A. Leo, and P. M. Zall, eds. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography: An Authoritative Text. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.

McFarland, Philip. The Brave Bostonians: Hutchinson, Quincy, Franklin, and the Coming of the American Revolution. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.

Pencak, William. America's Burke: The Mind of Thomas Hutchinson. Washington, D.C. : University Press of America, 1982.

"Thomas Hutchinson" in Encyclopedia of World Biography. Volume 8. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Walmsley, Andrew Stephen. Thomas Hutchinson and the Origins of the American Revolution. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

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