We are in a state of perfect despotism

“Father of the American Revolution” — Samuel Adams

Liberty Letters, Samuel Adams, September 27, 1771


I am greatly indebted to you for your several Letters of [the 10th and 14th of June].

To let you know that I am far from being inattentive to the favors you have done me I inclose you a Letter I wrote you some time past, but was prevented putting it in the Bag by an Accident. I have since been confind to my house by Sickness & by a late Excursion into the Country I have fully recoverd my Health.

I take particular Notice of the Reasons you assign for a whole Session of parliamt being spent without one offensive Measure to America. You account for our being flatterd that all Designs against the Charter of the Colony are laid aside, in a manner perfectly corresponding with the Sentiments I had preconceivd of it. The opinion you have formd of the ruling men on both sides the Atlantick, is exactly mine and as I have the most unfavorable Idea of the Heads or the Hearts of the present Administration, I cannot hope for much Good from the Services of any man who can submit to be dependent on them.

I was pleasd with the petition & remonstrance of the City of London – but are not the Ministry lost to all Sensibility to the peoples Complaints, & like the Egyptian Tyrant, do they not harden their Hearts against their repeated Demands for a redress of Grievances. Does it not fully appear not only that they neither fear God nor regard Man, but that they are not even to be wearied, as one of their ancient predecessors was, by frequent Applications. What do you conceive to be the Step next to be taken by an abused people? For another must be taken either by the ministry or the people or in my opinion the nation will fall into that ruin of which they seem to me to be now at the very precipice. May God afford them that Prudence, Strength & fortitude by which they may be animated to maintain their own Liberties at all Events. By your last letter you appear to resolve well; if ever the Spirit of impeaching should rise in Britain. But how is it possible such a Spirit should rise. In all former Struggles the House of Commons has naturally taken Sides with the people against oppressing Ministers & Favorites. But whether that is the Case at present or not, is no secret to the World. We have indeed heard little of the Business of impeaching since the Revolution. A corrupt ministerial Influence has been gradually & too insensibly increasing from that OEra, & is at length become so powerful (for which I think the Nation is particularly beholden to Sir R. Walpole) as to render it impracticable to have even one capital Object of the peoples just Vengeance impeachd. The proposals you were so kind as [to] favor me with, I cannot but highly approve of. I communicated them to two or three intimate & judicious friends who equally approvd of them. But they cannot be carried into Execution till the present parliamt is at an End. And if it is not to be dissolvd before the End of its septennial Duration, is it not to be feard that before its Expiration there will be an End of Liberty. If I mistake not there is an Act of parliamt whereby the Seats of placemen and pensioners in the House of Commons (who were not such at the time of their Election) shall be vacated, & their Electors have a right to the Choice of another if they see proper. Perhaps there never was a time when the Advantages of this Law were more apparent. Would it not then be doing the most important Service to the Cause of Liberty if the Gentlemen of the Bill of Rights, who I pray God may be united in their Councils, would exert their utmost Influence to prevail upon the Constituents of such rotten Members to claim that privilege & make a good Use of it? If there is any Virtue among the people, I should think this might easily be done. If it be impracticable, I fear another general Election wd only serve to convince all of what many are apprehensive, that there is a total Depravation of principles & manners in the Nation, or in other Words that it is already irrecoverably undone.

We are in a State of perfect Despotism. Our Governmt is essentially alterd. Instead of having a Gov exercising Authority within the Rules & Circumscription of the Charter which is the Compact between the King & the People, & dependent upon the people for his Support, we have a Man with the Name of a Governor only. He is indeed commissiond by the King, but under the Controul of the Minister, to whose Instrucctions he yields an unlimitted Obedience, while he is subsisted with the Money of that very people who are thus governd, by virtue of an Assumd Authority of the British Parliament to oblige them to grant him such an annual Stipend as the King shall order. Can you tell me who is Governor of this province? Surely not Hutchinson, for I cannot conceive that he exercises the power of judging vested in him by the Constitution, in one Act of Govt which appears to him to be important. The Govt is shifted into the Hands of the Earl of Hillsborough whose sole Councellor is the Nettleham Baronet. Upon this Governor aided by the Advice of this Councellor depends the time & place of the Sitting of the legislative Assembly or whether it shall sit at all. If they are allowd to sit, they are to be dictated by this duumvirate, thro the Instrumentality of a third, & may be thrown out of Existence for failing in one point to conform to their sovereign pleasure, a Legislative to be sure worthy to be boasted of by a free people. If our nominal Governor by all the Arts of perswasion, can prevail upon us to be easy under such a Mode of Government, he will do a singular piece of Service to his Lordship, as it will save him the trouble of geting our Charter vacated by the formal Decision of parliamt & the tedious process of Law.

The Grievances of Britain & the Colonies as you observe spring from the same root of Bitterness & are of the same pernicious Growth. The Union of Britain & the Colonies is therefore by all means to be cultivated. If in every Colony Societies should be formd out of the most respectable Inhabitants, similar to that of the Bill of Rights, who should once in the year meet by their Deputies, and correspond with such a Society in London, would it not effectually promote such an Union? And if conducted with a proper spirit, would it not afford reason for the Enemies of our common Liberty, however great, to tremble. This is a sudden Thought & drops undigested from my pen. It would be an arduous Task for any man to attempt to awaken a sufficient Number in the Colonies to so grand an Undertaking. Nothing however should be despaird of.

If it should ever become a practicable thing to impeach a corrupt Administration I hope the Minister who advisd to the introducing arbitrary power into America will not be overlookd. Such a Victim I imagine will make a figure equal to Lord Strafford in the Reign of Charles, or de le Pole & others in former times. “The Conduct of the Judges touching ‘Juries” appears to be alarming on both sides of the, Water & ought to be strictly enquired into. And are they not establishing the civil Law which Mr Blackstone says is only permitted in England to the prejudice of the Common Law, the Consequence of which will prove fatal to the happy Constitution. I observe that one of your proposals is that a Law may be made “subjecting each Candidate to an Oath against having used Bribery” to obtain his Election. Would there not be a danger that a Law by which a Candidate may purge himself by his Oath would exclude some other more certain Evidence than the Oath of one who has already prostituted his Conscience for a Seat than his own Declaration of his Innocence even upon Oath? I am of opinion that He who can be so sordid as to gain an Election by Bribery or any other illegal means, must be lost to all such feelings as those of Honor or Conscience or the Obligation of an Oath. With Regard the Grievances of the Americans it must be owned that the Violation of the essential Right of taxing themselves is a Capital one. This Right is founded in Nature. It is unalienable & therefore it belongs to us exclusively. The least Infringement on it is Sacrilege. But there are other Methods taken by Lord Hillsbro & punctually put into Execution by Govr Hutchinson, which in my Opinion would give a mortal Stab to Our essential Rights, if the Parliament had not by their declaratory Act claimd Authority to make use of our money to establish a standing army over us & an host of pensioners and placemen civil & ecclesiastical, which are as terrible as an Army of Soldiers. And if the Commons of this province cannot impeach, we have nothing to rely upon but the Interposition of our friends in Britain, or the ultima Ratio.

Inclosd you have a Copy of the protests of divers patriotick Clergymen in Virginia against an Episcopate in America. It is part of the plan the design of which is to secure a ministerial Influence in America, which in all Reason is full strong enough without the Aid of the Clergy. The Junction of the Cannon & the feudal Law you know has been fatal to the Liberties of Mankind. The Design of the first Settlers of New England in particular was to settle a plan of govt upon the true principles of Liberty in which the Clergy should have no Authority. It is no Wonder then that we should be alarmd at the Designs of establishing such a power. It is a singular pleasure to us that the Colony of Virginia tho episcopalian should appear against it as you will see by the Vote of thanks of the House of Burgesses to the protesting Gentlemen; they declare their protest to be “a wise & well timed opposition.” I wish it could be publishd in London. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr Hewet who was in this Town about two years ago in Company with Mr Eyre of Northhampton County, in Virginia, who is a member of the House of Burgesses. I did not then know that Mr Hewet was a Clergyman.

I fear I have tired your patience & conclude by assuring you that I
am in strict Truth
Sir Your friend & hume servt

P.S.-The Bearer hereof is William Story Esqr formerly of this Town, but now of Ipswich a Town about 30 Miles East. He was Deputy Register in the Court of Vice Admiraltry before & at the time of the Stamp Act & would then have given up the Place as he declared but his Friends advisd him against it – he sufferd the Resentment of the people on the 26 of August 1765, together with Lt Govr Hutchinson & others for which he was recompencd by the Genl Assembly, as he declares in part only. He tells me that his Design in going home is to settle an Affair of his own relating to the Admiraltry Court, in which the Commissioners of the Customs as he says declare it is out of their power to do him Justice. One would think it was never in their Power or Inclination to do any man Justice. Mr Story has always professd himself a Friend to Liberty for many years past. I tell him that I make no doubt but you will befriend him as far as shall be in your power in obtaining Justice, in which you will very much oblige,


Source: Samuel Adams, 12 January 1768, Samuel Adams letter, representing the Massachusetts House of Representatives, to Denny de Berdt.

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