Hutchinson Letters Affair

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Hutchinson Letters Affair

HUTCHINSON LETTERS AFFAIR. 1773. Letters written principally to Thomas Whately, former secretary to the British treasury, by Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver between May 1767 and October 1769, when they were chief justice and province secretary of Massachusetts, respectively, fell into the hands of Benjamin Franklin in late 1772, when Franklin was the agent of the province in London. How Franklin obtained them is not known. The letters urged the imperial government to take a tougher stance with the colonies and were given to Franklin to show him the type of advice from America that was influencing Parliament. Franklin sent the six Hutchinson and four Oliver letters to Thomas Cushing, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, on 2 December 1772 with the advice that they should be shown to influential patriots for their information only, and should not be copied or published. Samuel Adams read them before a closed session of the House on 2 June 1773 and later had them published. In the resulting scandal, the House petitioned the king to remove Hutchinson and Oliver, and a duel was fought between John Temple, a distant relative of George Grenville, and Thomas Whatley's younger brother William, over the alleged theft of the letters. Franklin then came forward to announce (25 December 1773) that he alone was responsible. The British government disciplined Franklin by removing him as Joint Deputy Postmaster for the British colonies north of North Carolina. Hutchinson, now governor, prorogued the General Court on 9 March 1774 before it could institute impeachment proceedings against him.


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

Freiberg, Malcolm, ed. Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, 1773–1774. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1981.

Knollenberg, Bernard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775. Edited by Bernard W. Sheehan. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2002.

                          revised by Harold E. Selesky

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Hutchinson Letters Affair

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Hutchinson Letters Affair