Samuel Adams


Section 8: Committee of Correspondence

Summary Section 8: Committee of Correspondence

Despite the rising tide of conservatism and anti-Adams sentiment, there were still signs that Boston remained as patriotic as ever. Again, Britain's interference in colonial affairs helped push the homeland's "tyranny" to the foreground. Toward the end of 1771, Britain determined that it would be more efficient if Governor Thomas Hutchinson was paid out of the British treasury rather than by the Massachusetts legislature. The patriots, on the other hand, saw the taking of the "power of the purse" as the ultimate usurpation by the empire–without being able to control the governor's salary, there was nothing to prevent Hutchinson from becoming a dictator, Adams argued. The following year rumors began to circulate that the colony's judges were to be paid by the Crown as well, but these efforts by the Crown were less tyrannical than Adams made them sound–the measures were merely meant to allow the judges and the governor a fair set salary as opposed to the meager and infrequent sums they received.

Adams seized the opportunity to found committees of correspondence throughout the colony, so set as to link all of Massachusetts into a "phalanx" against Britain. The committees would reunite the various factions of the city and the countryside and prevent further defections while improving coordination and morale. He founded the first one in Boston and hoped the other towns would soon follow suit. The move worried many loyal patriots, as the committee was seen as the most seditious move yet by the colony. Such concerns were certainly not without warrant: The twenty-one-member committee of correspondence soon proved itself to be the most revolutionary machine ever created in the Western Hemisphere.

The committee began by trying to compile a list of supposed rights and grievances among the colonists to present to the British government. They met nightly in a Boston tavern in complete secrecy. He drew upon his education in philosophy and his graduate study on natural law to arrive at a comprehensive list that shocked many for its thoroughness. The committees began to spread slowly through New England, and by 1774 the Boston committee of correspondence was coordinating with three hundred other Massachusetts towns and other Sons of Liberty organizations as far south as South Carolina. Now, the intercolonial unity that earlier efforts had helped spread paid off, and colonies jostled for the chance to help lead the fight for liberty. As one colony moved, others would follow suit, lest they be seen to be fearful and weak. More importantly, though, for this subject, the efforts of the committees of correspondence also reestablished Adams as the leader of the revolution in the colonies and the protector of all liberties. Adams still argued that Britain and the colonies could live in harmony, but only if the colonies were allowed to govern themselves entirely. Ironically, his idea would eventually become the relationship between modern-day Britain and its remaining colonies, but in 1773–1774 the ideas were too radical to be adopted.

Adams found a good target for the growing anti-British sentiment in the tea duty, the only tax remaining after Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts. This tax allowed Britain to pay the judges and Governor Hutchinson (and, by now, other colonial governors) from the royal treasury–thus robbing the colonies of their right of the power of the purse. Philadelphia got to the issue first, though, and in October 1773 declared all who traded with British tea companies in the East Indies were "public enemies." As New York and Philadelphia Sons of Liberty began to claim that they would burn tea ships as they arrived in harbor, Adams urged Bostonians to action lest others surpass them in the rebellion. In Boston, Adams ordered that the tea ships be brought right up to the wharf, and everything but the tea was to be off-loaded. Once tied to the wharf, the ships could not return to England without paying the tea duty–but Adams had already schemed a way around that. The Sons of Liberty massed on the wharf each time a tea ship arrived, and the committees of correspondence proved to be extremely effective in mobilizing the surrounding towns to battle. Adams managed to craft a stalemate where the ships could only return to England with the tea if the governor granted them a special pass, but the governor, by law, could only grant the pass if the customs office presented a receipt showing the proper duties had been paid. The merchants, unable to offload the tea for sale, could not pay the duties, and they refused to risk legal troubles by returning the tea to England without the governor's blessing. On December 16, 1773–one day before the tea was to be seized by customs–several hundred Sons of Liberty stormed the ships costumed as "Narragansett Indians." They made quick work of the tea ships and soon three hundred and forty-two chests of tea lay at the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Britain viewed the Boston Tea Party as an extremely personal attack on the homeland–after all, little was as British as tea. The Crown resolved to avenge the attack, and Adams found himself fully committed to the cause of freedom and independence for the colonies. There would be no turning back, as one patriot put it, it was now "[n]eck or nothing."

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