After the Stamp Act

John Adams moved to Boston

Cheered by the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 the situation in Boston was back to normal.
Americans did not protests the newly adopted Declaratory Act, however many, specially Sons of Liberty members saw more taxation coming their way.

As John’s caseload in Boston increased he spent long periods of time separated from his family. In April of 1768 John, Abigail, Nabby and infant John Quincy moved to Boston. This move, he thought, would allow him to spend more time with his family. They moved to a  “white house” in Brattle Street.  His business was booming and his reputation uncompromised. At this time he was offered the lucrative position of Advocate General in the Court of Admiralty at the request of Governor Bernard but he refused his offer.

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Portrait of Abigail Adams

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Opposition to the Townshend Acts

Tranquility was about to change. In the summer of 1767 word reached the colonies that a new tax, The Townshend Acts, was to take effect November 20th. In addition the Act established the American Board of Customs Commissioners, with headquarters in Boston, to facilitate the collection and enforcement of duties. It also punished New York assembly for its failure to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act.

Initial protests were peaceful and essays and pamphlets soon emerged. The most popular was John Dickinson’s twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania in which he argued that the colonies were sovereign in their internal affairs and that taxes laid upon the colonies by Parliament for the purpose of raising revenue, rather than regulating trade, were unconstitutional. He also urged against the use of violence and an imminent conflict between the colonies and Great Britain.

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Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania by John Dickinson published in the Boston Gazette

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The mob soon altered the situation when the Liberty, a vessel containing a cargo of Madeira wine belonging to John Hancock, was seized by customs officials. The situation turned violent as the mob tried to avoid its confiscation. Hancock was fined nine thousand pounds for smuggling and he retained Adams as counsel. Adams won the case by arguing from legal history that taxation was unconstitutional since he did not elect a representative in the government; charges were dropped for insufficient evidence. Riots continued for two days until the Sons of Liberty called for a meeting urging for a peaceful resolution and the boycott of British imports. As a result Samuel Adams, leader of the Sons of Liberty, wrote the Massachusetts Circular Letter which was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in February 1768. Shorty after Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State for American Affairs, issued his own circular letter threatening to dissolve any provincial assembly that called for the repeal of the Townshend Acts. He also ordered General Gage to send troops to Boston to restore civil order and protect officials.

During 1768 and 1769, encouraged by public support, Adams wrote articles about the position of Boston’s representatives on street riots and protests. He assisted the Sons of Liberty drafting communiques and propaganda treatises, however he declined to attend protests and meetings wishing to stay an invisible supporter.

In 1769 in a notable case, Adams defended three merchant sailors who were accused of murdering an officer who tried to draft them into the navy. Arguing that their imprisonment was unconstitutional, by providing a 1707 statue that prohibited imprisonment of seamen,   the three men were led free. Swept by popularity John Adams accepted a seat in the legislature. By the end of the decade he knew he was an accomplished lawyer.