Instructions to Boston's Representatives, May 28, 1764 - Samuel Adams

This letter of Instructions to Boston's Representatives to the Massachusetts Colonial Legislature from the Boston Town Meeting (a ruling council of local citizens) marks the first time a political body in the colonies declared that Parliament had no constitutional right to tax the colonists. The letter was written by Samuel Adams, who was appointed by the council to draft a letter of the councilmembers' concerns to be sent to their legislative representatives. Samuel Adams became a rising star in the protests against Great Britain, partly due to this letter. The letter addresses the council's concerns about new taxes levied in the Sugar Act, as well as other issues such as upholding public morality reducing government spending. You can read Instructions to Boston's Representatives below.

Samuel Adams

Instructions to Boston's Representatives

BOSTON, May 28.

At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, on Thursday last, it was voted unanimously that the following Instructions be given to the Gentlemen chosen to represent them in the General Assembly, viz.



YOUR being chosen by the Freeholders and Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, to represent them in the General Assembly the ensuing year, affords you the strongest testimony of that confidence which they place in your integrity and capacity. By this choice they have delegated to you the power of acting in their public concerns in general, as your own prudence shall direct you; always reserving to themselves the constitutional right of expressing their mind, and giving you such instructions upon particular matters, as they at any time shall judge proper.

We therefore your Constituents take this opportunity to declare our just expectations from you.

That you will constantly use your power and influence in maintaining the invaluable rights and privileges of the province, of which this Town is so great a part; as well those rights which are derived to us by the royal charter, as those which being prior to and independent on it, we hold essentially as free born subjects of Great Britain;

That you will endeavour, as far as you shall be able, to preserve that independence in the house of representatives, which characterizes a free people; and the want of which may in a great measure prevent the happy effects of a free government: Cultivating as you shall have opportunity, that harmony and union there, which is ever desirable to good men, when founded in principles of virtue and public spirit; and guarding against any undue weight which may tend to disadjust that critical balance upon which our happy constitution, and the blessings of it do depend. And for this purpose, we particularly recommend it to you to use your endeavours to have a law passed, whereby the feats of such Gentlemen as shall accept of posts of profit from the Crown, or the Governor, while they are members of the House, shall be vacated, agreeable to an act of the British parliament, 'till their constituents shall have the opportunity of re-electing them, if they please, or of returning others in their room.

Being members of the legislative body, you will have a special regard to the morals of the people, which are the basis of public happiness; and endeavour to have such laws made, if any are still wanting, as shall be best adapted to secure them: And we particularly desire you carefully to look into the laws of Excise, that if the virtue of the people is endangered by the multiplicity of oaths therein enjoined, or their trade and business is unreasonably impeded or imbarrassed thereby, the grievance may be redressed.

As the preservation of morals, as well as property and right, so much depends upon the impartial distribution of justice, agreeable to good and wholesome laws: And as the Judges of the land do depend upon the free grants of the General Assembly for support; it is incumbent upon you at all times to give your voice for their honourable maintenance, so long as they, having in their minds an indifference to all other affairs, shall devote themselves wholly to the duties of their own department, and the further study of the law, by which their customs, precedents, proceedings and determinations are adjusted and limited.

You will remember that this province hath been at a very great expence in carrying on the war; and that it still lies under a very grievous burden of debt: You will therefore use your utmost endeavour to promote publick frugality as one means to lessen the publick debt. And we recommend as worthy your particular attention, whether any expence can now be necessary to maintain the garrison service on our eastern frontier: considering that we are now in a state of profound peace; our French enemies being totally subdued; and there being hardly any remains of the Indian tribes left, ever again to annoy us.

You will join in any proposals which may be made for the better cultivating the lands, and improving the husbandry of the province: And as you represent a town which lives by its trade, we expect in a very particular manner, that you make it the object of your attention, to support our commerce in all its just rights, to vindicate it from all unreasonable impositions, and promote its prosperity. -- Our trade has for a long time laboured under great discouragements; and it is with the deepest concern that we see such further difficulties coming upon it, as will reduce it to the lowest ebb, if not totally obstruct and ruin it. We cannot help expressing our surprize, that when so early notice was given by the agent, of the intentions of the ministry, to burthen us with new taxes, so little regard was had to this most interesting matter, that the Court was not even call'd together to consult about it 'till the latter end of the year; the consequence of which was, that the instructions could not be sent to the agent, though sollicited by him, till the evil had got beyond an easy remedy.

There is now no room for further delay: We therefore expect that you will use your earliest endeavours in the General Assembly, that such methods may be taken as will effectually prevent these proceedings against us. By a proper representation we apprehend it may easily be made to appear that such severities will prove detrimental to Great Britain itself; upon which account we have reason to hope that an application, even for a repeal of the act, should it be already pass'd, will be successful. It is the trade of the Colonies, that renders them beneficial to the mother country: Our trade, as it is now, and always has been conducted, centers in Great Britain, and in return for manufactures affords her more ready cash, beyond any comparison, than can possibly be expected by the most sanguine promoters of these extraordinary methods. We are ultimately yielding large supplies to the revenues of the mother country, while we are labouring for a very moderate subsistence for ourselves. But if our trade is to be curtail'd in its most profitable branches, and burthens beyond all possible bearing, laid upon that which is suffer'd to remain, we shall be so far from being able to take off the manufactures of Great Britain, that it will be scarce possible for us to earn our bread. -- But what still heightens our apprehensions is, that these unexpected proceedings may be preparatory to new taxations upon us: For if our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves -- It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow subjects who are natives of Britain: If taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal representation where they are made, are we not reduc'd from the character of free Subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves.

We therefore earnestly recommend it to you to use your utmost endeavours, to obtain in the General Assembly all necessary instruction and advice to our agent at this most critical juncture; that while he is setting forth the unshaken loyalty of this province and this town -- its unrival'd exertion in supporting his Majesty's government and rights in this part of his dominions -- its acknowledg'd dependence upon and subordination to Great-Britain; and the ready submission of its merchants to all just and necessary regulations of trade, he may be able in the most humble and pressing manner to remonstrate for us all those rights and privileges which justly belong to us either by charter or birth.

As his Majesty's other Northern American colonies are embark'd with us in this most important bottom, we further desire you to use your endeavours, that their weight may be added to that of this province: that by the united application of all who are aggrieved, all may happily obtain redress.

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