In 1772, Parliament, by a special act for strengthening the powers of the royal governors in America, excited the indignation of the colonists. It provided for the payment of the salaries of the governors and judges independent of the colonial assemblies. Hutchinson, who had been appointed governor of Massachusetts in 1771, was delighted, and in a triumphant tone he assured the Assembly that henceforth not they, but the crown, would pay his salary. They knew the significance of the act, and denounced it as a violation of their charter. Other assemblies took umbrage likewise, for it was regarded as a bribe for the faithfulness of the royal governors to the crown in a warfare upon colonial rights. The subject was taken into consideration at a town-meeting in Boston. A large committee was appointed to draw up and publish a statement of all the rights and grievances of the colonies. This was done in an address prepared by Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren, in which the scheme for establishing Episcopacy in America was also condemned. It was the boldest and most complete exposition of the rights and grievances of the colonies yet put forth, and it was followed by the organization of committees of correspondence in every town. Dr. Franklin, who had been appointed agent for Massachusetts in England, in 1771,, published it there, with a preface written by himself. It produced a deep impression on both sides of the Atlantic.
When the Massachusetts legislature assembled at the beginning of 1773, Hutchinson denounced the address as "seditious and treasonable." This stirred the indignation of the people, and very soon afterward an event occurred which produced great exasperation in Massachusetts. Letters of Hutchinson, Lieutenant-Governor Oliver and others, written to Mr. Whateley, one of the under-secretaries of the government, then dead, had been put into the hands of Dr. Franklin by Dr. Hugh Williamson of Philadelphia, who had procured them by stratagem from the office of Mr. Whateley's brother. In these letters, the popular leaders of Massachusetts were vilified; the liberal clauses of the Massachusetts charter were condemned; the punishment of the Bostonians by restraints upon their commercial privileges was recommended, and an "abridgment of what are called English liberties" in America, by coercive measures, was strongly urged. Dr. Franklin saw in these letters evidences of a conspiracy against his country by vipers in her bosom, and he sent them, with an official letter, to Thomas Cushing, the Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, in which he said: "As to the writers, when I find them bartering away the liberties of their native country for posts; negotiating for salaries and pensions extorted from the people, conscious of the odium there might be attended with calling for troops to protect and secure them; when I see them exciting jealousies in the crown, and provoking it to wrath against so great a part of its most faithful subjects; creating enmities between the different countries of what the empire consists; occasioning great expense to the old country for suppressing or preventing imaginary rebellion in the new, and to the new country for the payment of needless gratifications to useless officers and enemies, I cannot but doubt their sincerity even in the political principles they profess, and deem them mere time-servers, seeking their own private emoluments through any quantity of public mischief; betrayers of the interest not of their native country alone, but of the government they pretend to serve, and of the whole English empire."
These letters were circulated privately for awhile, when they were laid before the Massachusetts Assembly and published to the world. The tempest of indignation that followed these revelations was fearful to Hutchinson and his friends. A committee was appointed to wait upon the governor and demand from him an explicit denial or acknowledgment of their authenticity. "They are mine," he said, "but they were quite confidential." That qualification was not considered extenuating, and the Assembly adopted a petition to the king for the removal of Hutchinson and his lieutenant as public slanderers and enemies of the colony, and, as such, not to be tolerated. The petition was sent to Franklin, with instructions to present it in person, if possible. He could not do it, for the king disliked him. So he sent it to Lord Dartmouth, who had succeeded Hillsborough as secretary for the colonies. His lordship sent it to the king, who laid it before the Privy Council.
Meanwhile the exposure had produced much excitement in England. Mr. Whateley accused Lord Temple, Pitt's brother-in-law (who had once obtained permission to examine Secretary Whateley's papers), of abstracting them and putting them into Franklin's hands. A duel, in which Temple was wounded, was the consequence. When Franklin heard of this, he publicly avowed his share in the matter, and exonerated Mr. Temple. "I am told by some," Franklin wrote to Mr. Cushing, "that it was imprudent in me to avow the obtaining and sending those letters, for that administration will resent it. I have not much apprehension of this; but, if it happens, I must take the consequences."
While Massachusetts was in a ferment because of Hutchinson's acts, the spirit of liberty was conspicuously manifest in other colonies. On the receipt of the Massachusetts Address, setting forth the rights and grievances of the colonies, the Virginia Assembly expressed their concurrence and sympathy, and appointed a committee of correspondence as representatives of their body when not in session, and of the people. They were about to adopt other resolutions equally unsubmissive, in their spirit, to royal authority, when Lord Dunmore, the successor of the dead Lord Botetourt, as governor of Virginia, dissolved them. The committee of correspondence met the next day, and dispatched a Circular Letter, containing their resolutions, to the other colonial assemblies. That of Massachusetts responded by the appointment of a similar committee, of fifteen, and instructing them to urge the colonies to take similar action. Several of them did so, and the first sound link of a political confederacy was thus formed.
Return to Our Country, Vol II