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Massachusetts Circular Letter

Massachusetts Circular Letter

MASSACHUSETTS CIRCULAR LETTER. 11 February 1768. To inform the other twelve colonies of the steps taken by the Massachusetts General Court to oppose the Townshend Revenue Act, this letter, drafted by James Otis and Samuel Adams, was approved on 11 February 1768 and sent to the speakers of the assemblies in the other British colonies in North America. It denounced the act as "taxation without representation," reasserted that Americans could never be represented in Parliament, attacked British moves to make colonial governors and judges independent of colonial assemblies, and invited proposals for concerted resistance.

Governor Francis Bernard dissolved the Massachusetts General Court on 4 March 1768 on the grounds that the circular letter was seditious. Before other colonial governors received a message from the earl of Hillsborough, (the new secretary of state for the American colonies), dated 21 April, asking them to prevent their assemblies from endorsing the letter, Virginia (14 April), New Jersey (6 May), and Connecticut (10 June) had already voted to support the Massachusetts position. After Hillsborough's letter arrived, eight more colonies joined in questioning the right of Parliament to levy taxes of any kind in the colonies. The New York assembly, the last to act, adopted in December a resolution urging the repeal of the Townshend Act.

Meanwhile, Adams, Otis, and Joseph Hawley led the majority in the Massachusetts House of Representatives that on 30 June 1768 voted ninety-two to seventeen against rescinding the letter. "The Massachusetts 92" became, like issue No. 45 of John Wilkes's North Briton, an emblem of resistance to tyrannical government. Governor Bernard dissolved the new General Court on 1 July. The seventeen "Rescinders" were publicly vilified and physically intimidated by the Sons of Liberty, and five lost their seats in the election of May 1769.

SEE ALSO Adams, Samuel; Otis, James; Taxation without Representation Is Tyranny; Taxation, External and Internal; Wilkes, John.


Knollenberg, Bernhard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775. Edited by Bernard W. Sheehan. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2003.

Nicolson, Colin. The "Infamas Govener" Francis Bernard and the Origins of the American Revolution. Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, 2001.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky

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