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the merchants to argue their cause against this encroachment of arbitrary power. With consummate ability he performed his task. John Adams was a delighted listener.
"Otis," he wrote, "was a flame of fire. With a promptitude of classical allusion, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, and a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, he hurried away all before him. American independence was then and there born. Every man of an immensely crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take up arms."
A literary club was about this time formed of prominent gentlemen of the bar, which met once a week in a small social circle, at each other's houses, to discuss subjects of popular interest. Mr. Adams read an essay upon the state of affairs, which was published in the journals, republished in England, and which attracted great attention. The friends of the colonists in England pronounced it "one of the very best productions ever seen from North America."
The memorable Stamp Act was now issued; and Adams, gathering up his strength to resist these encroachments, entered with all the ardor of his soul into political life. He drew up a series of resolutions, remonstrating against the Stamp Act, which were adopted at a public meeting of the citizens at Braintree, and which were subsequently adopted, word for word, by more than forty towns in the State. Popular commotion prevented the landing of the Stamp-Act papers. This stopped all legal processes, and closed the courts. The town of Boston sent a petition to the governor that the courts might be re-opened. Jeremy Gridley, James Otis, and John Adams, were chosen to argue the cause of the petitioners before the governor and council. Mr. Gridley urged upon the council the great distress which the closing of the courts was causing. Mr. Otis argued that this distress fully warranted them to open the courts, while the question was being referred to the authorities beyond the sea; but John Adams boldly took the ground that the Stamp Act was an assumption of arbitrary power, violating both the English Constitution and the charter of the province. It is said that this was the first direct denial of the unlimited right of parliament over the colonies.
Soon after this, the Stamp Act was repealed. Mr. Adams now entered upon a distinguished political career. A press-gang from
a king's ship in the harbor of Boston seized a young American by the name of Ansell Nickerson. The intrepid sailor thrust a harpoon through the heart of Lieut. Panton, the leader of the gang. He was tried for murder. John Adams defended him. He argued that the usage of impressment had never extended to the colonies; that the attempt to impress Nickerson was unlawful; that his act of killing his assailant was justifiable homicide. The hero was acquitted, and the principle was established, that the infamous royal prerogative of impressment could have no existence in the code of colonial law.
To suppress the spirit of independence, daily becoming more manifest among the people, the British crown sent two regiments of soldiers to Boston. A more obnoxious menace could not have been devised. The populace insulted the soldiers: the soldiers retaliated with insolence and threats.
On the 5th of March, 1770, a small party of soldiers, thus assailed, fired upon the crowd in State Street, Boston, killing and wounding several. Mutual exasperation was now roused almost to frenzy. The lieutenant and six soldiers were arrested, and tried for murder. Very nobly, and with moral courage rarely equalled, John Adams and Josiah Quincy undertook the task of their defence. They encountered unmeasured obloquy. They were stigmatized as deserters from the cause of popular liberty, and the bribed advocates of tyranny. But both of these ardent patriots had witnessed with alarm the rise of mob violence, and they felt deeply that there was no tyranny so dreadful as that of anarchy. Better it was, a thousand-fold, to be under the domina tion of the worst of England's kings than that of a lawless mob.
An immense and excited auditory was present at the trial. The first sentence with which John Adams opened his defence produced an electrical effect upon the court and the crowd. It was as follows:
"May it please your honors, and you, gentlemen of the jury, I am for the prisoners at the bar, and shall apologize for it only in the words of the Marquis Beccaria: 'If I can be the instrument of preserving one life, his blessing, and tears of transport, shall be a sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind."
Capt. Preston and the soldiers were acquitted, excepting two, who were found guilty of manslaughter, and received a very slight punishment. Though Boston instituted an annual commemoration
of the massacre, Mr. Adams's popularity suffered so little, that he was elected by the citizens of Boston, to which place he had removed, as one of their representatives to the Colonial Legislature. Gov. Hutchinson, though a native of the province, was a man of great energy and of insatiable ambition. Anxious to secure the royal favor, upon which he was dependent for his office, he gave all his influence in favor of the demands of the crown. In all these measures, John Adams was recognized as one of his most formidable antagonists. In 1772, Mr. Adams, finding his health failing from his incessant application to business, returned to his more secluded home at Braintree.
The energetic remonstrances of the colonists against taxation without representation, and their determination not to submit to the wrong, had induced the repeal of the tax upon all articles except tea. This led to organizations all over the land to abandon the use of tea. Large shipments were made to Boston. The consignees endeavored to send it back. The crown-officers in the custom-house refused a clearance. On the evening of the 15th of December, a band of men, disguised as Indians, boarded the vessels, hoisted the chests upon the deck, and emptied their contents into the sea.
Under the circumstances, this was a deed of sublime daring, being the first open act of rebellion. The crown, exasperated, punished Boston by sending armed ships to close the port. This was a deadly blow to the heroic little town. The other colonies sympathized nobly with Massachusetts. Combinations were formed to refuse all importations from Great Britain. A General Congress was convened in Philadelphia, 1774, to make common cause against the powerful foe. John Adams was one of the five delegates sent from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He was entreated by a friend, the king's attorney-general, not to accept his appointment as a delegate to the Congress. "Great Britain," said the attorney-general, "has determined on her system. Her power is irresistible, and will be destructive to you, and to all those who shall persevere in opposition to her designs."
The heroic reply of John Adams was, "I know that Great Britain has determined on her system; and that very determination determines me on mine. You know that I have been constant and uniform in my opposition to her measures. The die is now cast.
I have passed the Rubicon. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, with my country, is my fixed, unalterable determination."
Few comprehended more fully than Mr. Adams the sublimity of the crisis which was impending. He wrote at this time in his journal,
"I wander alone, and ponder; I muse, I mope, I ruminate; I am often in reveries and brown studies. The objects before me are too grand and multifarious for my comprehension. We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, in education, in travel, in fortune, in every thing. I feel unutterable anxiety. God grant us wisdom and fortitude! Should the opposition be suppressed, should this country submit, what infamy and ruin! God forbid! Death, in any form, is less terrible."
He was not blind to the danger of incurring the vengeance of the British Government. He wrote to James Warren, "There is one ugly reflection. Brutus and Cassius were conquered and slain. Hampden died in the field; Sidney, on the scaffold."
Mr. Adams was strongly attached to his friend Mr. Sewall, who remonstrated with him against his patriotic course, and who was disposed to espouse the cause of the king. On bidding him adieu, Mr. Adams said, "I see we must part; and with a bleeding heart I say, I fear forever: but you may depend upon it, this adieu is the sharpest thorn upon which I ever set my foot."
The Colonial Congress commenced its session at Philadelphia the 5th of September, 1774, when Mr. Adams took his seat. He was speedily placed on several of the most important committees. The general desire then was merely for a redress of grievances. Very few wished to break away from the British crown. George Washington was one of the Virginia delegation. He doubted whether the British cabinet, in its arrogance, would relinquish its insane attempt to deprive the colonists of their liberties; but Richard Henry Lee, another of the Virginia delegation, said to Mr. Adams,
"We shall infallibly carry all our points. You will be completely relieved. All the offensive acts will be repealed. The army and fleet will be recalled, and England will give up her foolish project."
Much as Mr. Adams might have desired this to be true, his sagacity led him to concur in the judgment of George Washington. This Congress, by its ability and heroism, rendered its memory immortal. Lord Chatham said,
"I have studied and admired the free States of antiquity, the master-spirits of the world; but for solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, no body of men can take the precedence of this Continental Congress."
At this time, the idea of independence was extremely unpopular in Pennsylvania and in all the Middle States. Virginia was the most populous State in the Union; and its representatives, proud of the ancient dominion, not without a show of reason, deemed it their right to take the lead in all important measures. A Virginian was appointed commander-in-chief. A Virginian wrote the Declaration of Independence; a Virginian moved its adoption by Congress. Mr. Adams says of the Massachusetts delegation,
"We were all suspected of having independence in view. 'No,' said they, 'you must not utter the word "independence," nor give the least hint or insinuation of the idea, either in Congress or in private conversation: if you do, we are undone.'"
It was soon rumored throughout Philadelphia that John Adams was for independence. The Quakers and the gentlemen of property took the alarm. Adams "was sent to Coventry," and was avoided like a leper. With a saddened yet imperial spirit, borne down, yet not crushed, by the weight of his anxieties and unpopularity, almost in solitude, for a time he walked the streets of Philadelphia. It would have been well for him could he have blended a little more of the suaviter in modo with the fortiter in re. The British crown, with utter infatuation, pursued its reckless In April, 1775, the war of the Revolution was opened, as brave men were shot down by English soldiery upon the green at Lexington. Boston was placed under martial law. All its citizens were imprisoned within the lines of the British fleet and army which encompassed the city. The inhabitants were plunged into the deepest distress. On the 10th day of May, the Congress again assembled in Philadelphia. Mrs. Adams kept her husband minutely informed of all the events occurring in Boston and its vicinity. About the middle of May, one sabbath morning, Mrs. Adams was roused from sleep by the ringing of alarm-bells, the firing of cannon, and the beating of drums. She immediately sent a courier to Boston, and found every thing in great confusion. Three vessels of war had left the harbor, manifestly on some hostile mission, and were sailing along the shores of Massachusetts Bay, approaching Braintree or Weymouth. Men, women, and children were flying