Letters of Thomas Hutchinson
Published in 1768–69; excerpted from The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
"I never think of the measures necessary for the peace and good order of the colonies without pain…. there must be a great restraint of natural liberty."
At the time he wrote the two letters that follow, Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) held two important government offices at the same time: lieutenant governor of Massachusetts (in August 1769, he would become governor) and chief justice of the Massachusetts superior court. He was a scholarly, intelligent, law-abiding person, the man in charge of making sure that British laws were obeyed in Massachusetts. The tax laws had so angered Americans that when British-appointed agents and British soldiers tried to collect taxes, they were threatened and attacked by mobs. As far as Hutchinson was concerned, the taxes might be unpopular, but they were the law, and it was his job to uphold the law. Hutchinson was dismayed by the violent mobs who were protesting British taxes. He remarked: "The people seem to me in a state of absolute dementation [madness]."
Hutchinson's letters were written to a Mr. Thomas Whately, private secretary to a Member of Parliament. His first letter to Whately opened with the information that British tax collectors had recently been forced by Boston mobs to flee to Castle William, a fortress in Boston Harbor. He then described the events leading up to their flight. Mob violence had broken out after a boat, the Liberty, was seized by customs officers for smuggling. The boat belonged to John Hancock (1737–1793), a wealthy and very popular Boston merchant. Hutchinson concluded his description with the remarks that even though some ignorant men seemed to be controlling events in Boston, he did not believe that the chaos could last long. He also informed Mr. Whately that Mr. Hallowell, an important British customs agent, would be delivering his letter in person.
The strange, uneasy situation in Boston continued. Patriots like Samuel Adams (1722–1803) spoke passionately about liberty and the rights of man, and urged Bostonians to take up arms against the king's soldiers. Meanwhile, conservatives like Hutchinson made enemies by speaking about authority, law, and the illegal use of force.
Thomas Hutchinson wrote his letter of January 20, 1769, four months after additional British soldiers were sent to Boston to keep the peace. His letter was in response to a letter from Whately, which had been personally delivered by the captain of the ship that carried it, Captain Scott. In his letter, Hutchinson thanked Whately for letting him know what was going on in Parliament—that members were discussing how to deal with colonial unrest. Hutchinson then described the problems he was having with the Sons of Liberty—men he called "enemies of government" and "one half dozen of the most wicked fellows …of any upon the globe." Hutchinson complained that the Sons of Liberty were openly and illegally speaking about independence from England. What made it worse, Hutchinson wrote, was that the Sons were getting support and encouragement from certain members of Parliament who supported their cause. Hutchinson informed Whately that the Sons were spreading a rumor that the Townshend Acts were going to be repealed (the Acts placed taxes on lead, glass, paint, tea, and other items).
Hutchinson went on to thank Whately for the information that colonial supporters in Parliament were actually very few. Hutchinson said he was spreading that word around. He wrote of his hope that the Sons of Liberty would be punished by Parliament. He also hoped that the services of people such as himself, who upheld the law despite very difficult circumstances, were properly rewarded by Parliament.
Hutchinson then said that the problems in Boston had reached crisis proportions. He said he could hardly wait the three or four weeks it would take to find out what Parliament was going to do about the crisis. He hoped that Parliament's punishment of the rebels was not too severe, but he did hope it was something more meaningful than the Declaratory Act. The Declaratory Act affirmed the right of Parliament to make laws that would bind the colonists "in all cases whatsoever."
Hutchinson's pen then flowed on to the paragraph that would get him into real trouble when his letters were made public three years later. He wrote that it pained him to think what Parliament would have to do to reassert its control over the colonies. Parliament was going to have to take away from the colonies some of their freedoms. He thought that was an unfortunate but necessary undertaking.
Things to remember while reading the letters of Thomas Hutchinson:
- Hutchinson's letter of June 18, 1768, was written after the 1767 Townshend Acts went into effect. The Townshend Acts called for taxes on lead, glass, paint, tea, and other items. They also set up a new system of customs commissioners to make sure the taxes were collected. The customs commissioners had recently arrived in Boston and opened for business. One of their first accomplishments was to seize John Hancock's boat for violating a provision of the Townshend Acts. Hutchinson referred to this incident in his letter as a violation of "the acts of trade."
- Hutchinson's first letter referred to the customs officers' appeal to the governor for help after they were chased out of town by mobs. The British-appointed governor of Massachusetts, Sir Francis Bernard (1712–1779), could not call in British soldiers without the approval of the Massachusetts council. Bernard knew his council would never approve of British soldiers patrolling the streets of Boston. Bernard's council was elected by the Massachusetts Assembly; many members of the assembly sympathized with Boston's rebels. In fact, Samuel Adams, the leader of the rebel group the Sons of Liberty, was a member of the Massachusetts Assembly. He may very well have been one of the members of the mob.
- It was extremely upsetting to Hutchinson that Parliament seemed to be allowing the chaos in the colonies to go on and on. In fact, he complained, some members of Parliament were actually encouraging the lawlessness by supporting colonial resistance to taxes. The worst part, Hutchinson thought, was that the people of Massachusetts saw Parliament as too timid to assert its authority.
- Colonists who objected to British taxes liked to argue that they were Englishmen, too, and entitled to the same rights that Englishmen enjoyed in England—such as having representatives in Parliament. Hutchinson expressed his opinion about that argument in his second letter. He said he doubted that it was possible for people who lived so far from the parent country to enjoy the same liberties as people in the parent country. In fact, he said, he would rather see "some further restraint of liberty" than to have the connection between America and Great Britain broken.
Letter of Thomas Hutchinson, June 18, 1768
As you allow me the honour of your correspondence, I may not omit acquainting you with so remarkable an event as the withdrawal of the Commissioners of the Customs, and most of the other officers under them, from the town on board the [ship] Romney, with an intent to remove from thence to the Castle.
In the evening of the 10th, a sloop belonging to Mr. Hancock, a Representative for Boston, and a wealthy merchant of great influence over the populace, was seized by the Collector and Comptroller for a very notorious breach of the acts of trade, and, after seizure, taken into custody by the officer of the Romney man of war, and removed under command of her guns. It is pretended that the removal, and not the seizure, incensed the people. It seems not very material which it was.—A mob was immediately raised, the officers insulted, bruised, and much hurt, and the windows of some of their houses broke; a boat belonging to the Collector burnt in triumph, and manythreats uttered against the Commissioners and their officers: no notice being taken of their extravagance in the time of it, nor any endeavours by any authority, except the governor, the next day, to discover and punish the offenders; and there being a rumour of a higher mob intended Monday (the 13th) in the evening, the Commissioners, four of them, thought themselves altogether unsafe, being destitute of protection, and removed with their families to the Romney, and there remain and hold their board, and next week intend to do the same, and also open the custom-house at the Castle. The Governor pressed the council to assist him with their advice, but they declined and evaded, calling it a brush, or small disturbance by boys and negroes, not considering how much it must be resented in England that the officers of the Crown should think themselves obliged to quit the place of their residence, and go on board a king's ship for safety, and all the internal authority of the province take no notice of it.— The town of Boston have had repeated meetings, and by their votes declared the Commissioners and their officers a great grievance, and yesterday instructed their Representatives to endeavour, that enquiry should be made by the Assembly whether any person by writing or in any other way, had encouraged the sending troops here, there being some alarming reports that troops are expected, but have not taken any measures to discountenance the promoters of the late proceedings; but on the contrary, appointed one or more of the actors or abettors on a committee appointed to wait on the Governor, and to desire him to order the man of war out of the harbour.
Ignorant as they be, yet the heads of a Boston town-meeting influence all public measures.
It is not possible this anarchy should last always. Mr. Hallowell, who will be the bearer of this, tells me he has the honour of being personally known to you. I beg leave to refer you to him for a more full account.
I am, with great esteem, Sir,
Your most humble and obedient servant.
THO. HUTCHINSON (Hosmer, pp. 429–30)
Letter of Thomas Hutchinson, January 20, 1769
You have laid me under very great obligations by this very clear and full account of proceedings in parliament, which I received from you by Capt. Scott. You have also done much service to the people of the province. For a day or two after the ship arrived, the enemies of government gave out that their friends in parliament were increasing, and all things would be soon on the old footing; in other words, that all acts imposing duties would be repealed, the commissioners' board dissolved, the customs put on the old footing, and illicit trade carried on with little or no hazard. It was very fortunate that I had it in my power to prevent such a false representation from spreading through the province. I have been very cautious of using your name, but I have been very free in publishing abroad the substance of your letter, and declaring that I had my intelligence from the best authority, and have in a great measure defeated the ill design in raising and attempting to spread so groundless a report. What marks of resentment the parliament will show whether they will be upon the province in general or particular persons, is uncertain, but that they will be placed somewhere is most certain, and I add because I think it ought to be so, that those who have been most steady in preserving the constitution and opposing the licentiousness of such as call themselves sons of liberty will certainly meet with favor and encouragement.
This is most certainly a crisis. I really wish that there may not have been the least degree of severity beyond what is absolutely necessary to maintain, I think I may say to you the dependance which a colony ought to have upon the parent state; but if no measures shall have been taken to secure this dependance, or nothing more than some declaratory acts or resolves, it is all over with us. The friends of government will be utterly disheartened, and the friends of anarchy will be afraid of nothing be it ever so extravagant.
The last vessel from London had a quick passage. We expect to be in suspense for the three or four next weeks and then to hear our fate. I never think of the measures necessary for the peace and good order of the colonies without pain. There must be an abridgment of what are called English liberties. I relieve myself by considering that in a remove from the state of nature to the most perfect state of government there must be a great restraint of natural liberty. I doubt whether it is possible to project a system of government in which acolony 3000 miles distant from the parent state shall enjoy all the liberty of the parent state. I am certain I have never yet seen the projection. I wish the good of the colony when I wish to see some further restraint of liberty rather than the connexion with the parent state should be broken; for I am sure such a breach must prove the ruin of the colony. Pardon me this excursion, it really proceeds from the state of mind into which our perplexed affairs often throws me.
THO. HUTCHINSON (Hosmer, pp. 436–37)
What happened next …
The Liberty affair thrust John Hancock into the spotlight. He became a friend of the Sons of Liberty as well as its leader, Samuel Adams.
After the trouble over Hancock's boat, Boston customs officials were thoroughly frightened and requested that more British soldiers be sent to Boston to protect them. A large number of soldiers arrived in September 1768; Hutchinson remarked that with their arrival, he slept better than he had in years. It was Hutchinson's job to find places for the soldiers to live and to pay for their upkeep out of public funds. This did not endear him to either the citizens or the mobs, and Hutchinson's home became the target of several instances of mob violence. Boston patriot Samuel Adams and his radical revolutionary group, the Sons of Liberty, were usually responsible for inciting the mobs. They used the presence of British soldiers to stir people up with frantic talk of an emergency and the need to collect arms to protect themselves.
Unrest continued in Massachusetts. Governor Bernard was unable to quell the rioting, and in August 1769 he was recalled to London. Thomas Hutchinson then took over as acting governor of Massachusetts (he was not yet the permanent governor). Bernard did not return, and Hutchinson was named governor in 1771.
The British did not give up on their plan to collect taxes in the colonies, and tension was high, especially in Boston. People were annoyed by the presence of so many British soldiers in the town. Everything finally came to a head with the Boston Massacre of 1770, when five people were killed in a clash between British soldiers and townspeople. Parliament was so shocked by the violence in Boston that it backed down and repealed the Townshend Acts in April 1770. For the next three years, Parliament was busy with other matters and things were fairly calm in the American colonies. Then the Tea Act was passed in 1773.
The Tea Act was passed because Parliament was trying to save the British-owned East India Company from going out of business. It was ailing because Americans were refusing to import British goods. Parliament thought it could trick the colonists into paying small, secret taxes on East India tea (the taxes would have been paid in London before the tea reached the colonies). Parliament thought that even with the secret tax, the tea would still be so cheap Americans would prefer to buy it rather than pay for the more expensive tea they were smuggling in from elsewhere.
Thomas Hutchinson, always ambitious, saw the Tea Act as a chance to make money from East India tea profits for himself and his sons. He arranged to have his sons appointed as agents to sell the tea. Unfortunately for Hutchinson's plan, on December 16, 1773, Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty dumped the tea into Boston Harbor in an event known as the Boston Tea Party.
The Boston Tea Party demonstrated to Parliament that Hutchinson was incapable of keeping order in Boston. Unknown to Hutchinson, his days as governor were nearly at an end. Later, Benjamin Franklin would stir up a scandal in London that would help put an end to Hutchinson's government career (see next entry in this chapter).
Did you know …
- Thomas Hutchinson was appointed chief justice of Massachusetts in 1760. At the time, he also held four other appointed positions. Many people viewed Hutchinson as very greedy because of his many appointments.
- Founding father John Adams (1735–1826) and other well-known Massachusetts lawyers (some of them early patriots) were extremely upset when Thomas Hutchinson was appointed chief justice. They considered him completely unqualified because he was not even a lawyer, and some of them wanted the job for themselves. For years after Hutchinson's appointment, vicious attacks on his character appeared almost weekly in newspapers. One article called him a man with "unreasonable and unbounded desires of power and profit."
- On August 2, 1765, a violent mob attacked Hutchinson's Boston home, which had been built by his grandfather a century earlier. As his family fled from the dining table, the mob smashed in the doors and ran through the home, damaging walls and furnishings and stealing family possessions. Most of his books and papers were destroyed, but volume 1 of his great work History of Massachusetts-Bay was rescued by a friend. The mob rummaged through the house all night long; if the house had not been so sturdy, it would have been torn to the ground.
- The mob that damaged Hutchinson's house thought he supported the Stamp Act of 1765 (taxes on printed matter such as newspapers, legal documents, and even dice and playing cards). But Hutchinson actually thought the act was a terrible idea and did not understand how Parliament could have passed it. But he also knew that a loud outcry from the colonies would make it harder to convince Parliament to back down and do away with the act. He urged the people of Massachusetts to calm down. Although he thought he was being sensible and wise, his actions gained him a reputation as an enemy of liberty.
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.
Fradin, Dennis Brindell. Samuel Adams: The Father of American Independence. New York: Clarion Books, 1998.
Galvin, John R. Three Men of Boston: Leadership and Conflict at the Start of the American Revolution. Washington, D.C. : Brasseys, 1997.
Hosmer, James K. The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1896.
McFarland, Philip. The Brave Bostonians: Hutchinson, Quincy, Franklin, and the Coming of the American Revolution. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.
Marrin, Albert: The War for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution. New York: Atheneum, 1988.
Meyeroff, Stephen. The Call for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution and Its Causes. Cherry Hill, NJ: Oak Tree Publishers, 1996.
Pencak, William. America's Burke: The Mind of Thomas Hutchinson. Washington, D.C. : University Press of America, 1982.
Sutton, Felix. Sons of Liberty. New York: J. Messner, 1969.
"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.
Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) was the great-grandson of the famous Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), who came from England to the New World on the Mayflower in 1634 and was banished from Massachusetts for her religious beliefs. A brilliant student, Hutchinson entered college when he was thirteen and received a master's degree when he was only nineteen. He then joined his father's overseas trading business, where he demonstrated a superior understanding of money and made a small fortune.
In 1734, he married Margaret (Peggy) Sanford, who bore twelve children; five of them survived infancy to form a very close family. Hutchinson loved Peggy tenderly, once saying that to him she seemed "something more than human." Her death in childbirth in 1754 was the most painful event of his life. Peggy's sister married Andrew Oliver, author of several of the letters that were part of the Hutchinson letters affair.
Biographers describe Hutchinson as moral, intelligent, and humorless, with a low opinion of his fellow citizens. A wealthy and ambitious man, he was also a snob; these qualities did little to endear him to Bostonians. Still, before writing the letters that contributed to the start of the American Revolution, Hutchinson was highly regarded for his good character; today he is remembered for his historical writings, which are regarded as the best of his time.
His career in public service began with his 1734 election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. By 1760, when he was appointed chief justice of Massachusetts, he held five public offices at the same time, a fact that excited envy and hatred among many Bostonians. In 1771, he was appointed royal governor by King George III, to whom he remained loyal throughout his life.
In 1774, King George named General Thomas Gage as governor in Hutchinson's place. Hutchinson sailed to England, where he had many friends, but he remained homesick until his sudden death in 1780. He was buried in Croydon, England.
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). Royal governor of Massachusetts. Great-great-grandson of the famous Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson (1591–1643), who emigrated from England with her husband and children in 1634 and was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her religious beliefs, Thomas was a leader of the conservatives in the colony before the American Revolution. He entered Harvard at the age of thirteen, graduated in 1727, and three years later received his master of arts degree.
Wealthy, able, and socially part of what he called the "better sort," his first big step in alienating the "common sort" came in 1749, when his leadership succeeded in establishing "hard money" as the medium of exchange in the colony. He did this through his plan to call in the major portion of the inflated bills of credit, which the government had been issuing since 1690 without adequate backing, and paying these off at the rate of eleven to one by using the £183,650 that England had sent to reimburse Massachusetts for its expenses in the Louisburg expedition. This measure, like the abolishing of the Land Bank (1740–1741), was to the benefit of persons living on fixed incomes and of creditors—who, naturally, were of the "better sort"—and was tremendously unpopular with debtors. He attended the Albany Convention of 1754 and probably had a hand in drafting the famous Plan of Union that is primarily associated with Franklin's name. In 1758 Hutchinson became lieutenant governor, and in 1760 he became chief justice, a position to which the father of James Otis had aspired. Hutchinson opposed the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, but only because of their adverse effect on British as well as on colonial trade. Loyal to the authority that had commissioned him, however, he made every effort to enforce the unpopular acts.
Hutchinson had given the popular leaders of Boston several reasons to believe he had a personal interest in enforcing the British measures they found so objectionable. Already a wealthy man, he appropriated more than his fair share of offices and salaries, which brought him perhaps three hundred pounds a year in days when an ordinary family could live comfortably on forty pounds a year. His brother-in-law, Andrew Oliver, was a stamp distributor. So on the night of 26-27 August 1765, his home was sacked by the Boston mob. In the absence of Sir Francis Bernard, he was acting governor during the period 1769–1771. In the latter year he became governor and served until 1774. Hutchinson weathered the resistance to the Townshend Acts, but during the subsequent lull in agitation he proved his congenital inaptitude for the post he held. The Hutchinson letters affair in 1773 was his final undoing. Then, he unwisely used his influence for the personal profit of himself and his sons, Thomas and Elisha, in the matter of the East India Company's tea being sent to America. Compounding this, Hutchinson—in refusing to facilitate the removal of this tea—played into the hands of the rabble-rousers and brought on the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773.
Although he did not know it at the time, he was through. On 29 June 1774 he reached England, and a few days later he spent two hours reporting to George III on the situation in his province. General Gage had meanwhile taken over as governor, but the understanding was that Hutchinson would return to that post when the crisis was over. Hutchinson had no idea that he would have more than a few months to wait, and he urged on the London authorities a policy of conciliation that he had not followed when he was in a position to do so in Boston. So it was that those of the "common sort" rose as leaders of the American Revolution, and Hutchinson never realized his hope of laying his "bones in New England."
He was an historian of note, publishing the first volume of his History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1764 and writing the third while exiled in England. (It was published in 1828). He also wrote a pamphlet, Present State of the Bills of Credit (1736); The Witchcraft Delusion of 1692 (1780); and many other works of a political and historical nature.
In 1768 Hutchinson constructed an imaginary dialogue between abstract characters he named "European Englishman" and "American Englishman," in which the two sides of the imperial controversy exchanged their views with calmness and mutual respect. Never before and never again did Hutchinson come so close to revealing to himself his own divided mind and political ethics. The very names of the speakers in his dialogue suggest how similar—and how vastly different—Hutchinson believed imperial officials and colonial politicians were to each other. There was no more telling a moment in the history of Loyalism.
Calhoon, Robert M. Loyalists in Revolutionary America. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
Hutchinson, Peter Orlando, ed. The Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883–1886.
revised by Robert M. Calhoon
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. □