James Otis The Pre-Revolutionist
by John Clark Ridpath
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This herald of and actor in the great drama of his time was born at West Barnstable, formerly known as the Great Marshes, in Massachusetts, on the 5th of February, 1723. He was one of thirteen children, his father being Colonel James Otis (born in 1702), the son of Judge John Otis, whose immediate ancestor had emigrated from England in the preceding century and settled in New England at the town of Hingham, calling the region after the old home of the family in the Motherland. This John Otis, who was born in A.D. 1657, became a prominent man in the Settlement, was a member of the Council of the Colony, and ultimately became Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas and Probate Court. Otis's own father (Colonel James Otis) likewise became a lawyer and publicist, a colonel in the local militia, and rose to a high post in the judiciary and was a member of the Council of Massachusetts. He married Mary Alleyne and transmitted to the future patriot, the subject of this sketch, the talents and many of the characteristics of his progenitors. A brother of our hero, Samuel Alleyne Otis, rose to prominence in the politics of the State and as Secretary of the Senate administered to Washington the oath of office as President, holding the Bible on which he was sworn as honored chief of the future nation. A sister, Mercy, an ardent and loyal patriot, married the notable republican, James Warren of Plymouth, and lived herself to write a compend of the "History of the American Revolution," together with a collection of patriotic verse.

James Otis, whom we know as one of the most eloquent orators of the Revolutionary era and an ardent promoter of American independence, was educated for his career at Harvard, which institution he entered as a freshman in 1739, having previously been prepared for college by the Rev. Jonathan Russell. His university course, so far as can be gathered from any account of it that has come down to us, was not a notable one, though he had a fair scholastic career and graduated at the age of nineteen in 1743. While popular after a fashion at college, he was a bit of a recluse and a diligent student of literature, with a predilection, it is said, for music, playing well on the violin. After graduating, he wisely spent two years in general reading before entering upon the study of the law, which he did in 1745 under James Gridley, a prominent jurist of Massachusetts and sometime Crown Attorney-General. Three years later, he was admitted to the bar, and in 1748 began to practice his profession at Plymouth, Mass. In 1750, he removed to Boston, and there became known as an advocate of note and high promise, actuated by nice professional instincts, with a fine sense of honor, and keenly appreciating, it is recorded, his responsibilities in his relations with his clients, which led him to accept only such cases as he could conscientiously defend and take retainers from.

This characteristic scruple in the lawyer gave him a high standing in his profession, and naturally led to success at the bar, besides winning for him the respect and admiration of troops of warm and attached friends.

About this time he appears to have developed uncommon gifts as an orator, and his rather irascible nature gave scope to his keen wit and powers of sarcasm. His extensive reading and ultimate study of good literary models naturally bore fruit in the practice of the forensic art and gave him prestige at the bar, as well as, later on, in taking to public life and to the advocacy of the rights of the Colonists in the controversy with the Crown.

In 1755, when he had attained his thirtieth year, Otis married Ruth Cunningham, the daughter of an influential Boston merchant. The lady, from all accounts, was undemonstrative and devoid of her husband's patriotic ardor, traits that did not tend to domestic felicity or lead, on the wife's part, to a commanding influence over her vehement and somewhat eccentric husband. The fruit of the union was one son and two daughters. The son entered the navy, but unhappily died in his eighteenth year. One of the daughters, the elder of the two, probably under the mother's influence, angered her father by espousing the English cause and marrying a Captain Brown, a British officer on duty at Boston. The marriage was a source of irritation and unhappiness to Otis, who, after his son-in-law had fought and been wounded at Bunker Hill, withdrew with his wife to England, and was there disowned and cut off by the irate patriot, whose affection was also dried up for the erring daughter. The younger daughter, on the other hand, was a devoted and patriotic woman, who shared her father's enthusiasm for the popular cause. She married Benjamin Lincoln of Boston, but early became a widow.

By this time, Otis had become not only a man eminent in his profession in Boston, but a powerful factor in the public life of the city. The New England commonwealth was then beginning to be greatly exercised over the aggressions of the Motherland, and this was keenly watched by Otis, who took a lively and patriotic interest in Colonial affairs. Beyond his profession, which had closely engrossed him, he had heretofore taken little part in public life; his leisure, indeed, he had employed more as a student of books rather than of national affairs, as his work on the "Rudiments of Latin Prosody," published in 1760, bears witness. As the era of a conflict with England neared, he however altered in this respect, and became a zealous advocate of non-interference on the part of the Crown in the affairs of the Colonies and an ardent protester against English oppression and injustice. Soon grievances arose in the relations between the Colonies and England which gave Otis the right to denounce the Motherland and excite dissaffection among the people of the New World. These grievances arose out of the strained commercial relations between the two countries and the attempt of England to devise and enforce irritating schemes of Colonial control. Of these causes of outcry in the New World the two chief were the revival and rigid execution of the English Navigation Acts, designed to limit the freedom of the American Colonies in trading with West Indian ports in American built vessels, and the insistence, on the part of the Crown and the British government, that the Colonies should be taxed for the partial support of English garrisons in the country. In the development of trade in the New World, the Colonies reasonably felt that they should not be harassed by the mother country, and so they permitted commerce to expand as it would; and when this was enjoined by England they naturally resented interference by her and began to evade the laws which she imposed upon the young country and bid defiance to the Crown customs officers in the measures resorted to in the way of restriction and imposed penalty. This attitude of the Colonists in ignoring or defying English laws was soon now specially emphasized when the Crown resorted to more stringent measures to curb Colonial trade and impose heavy customs duties on articles entering New World ports. Flagrant acts of evasion followed, and defiant smuggling at length brought its legal consequences—in the issue by the English Court of Exchequer of search warrants, or Writs of Assistance, as they were called, by which it was sought to put a stop to smuggling, by resorting to humiliating arbitrary measures sure to be resented by the Colonies. These Writs of Assistance empowered the King's officers, or others delegated by them, to board vessels in port and enter and search warehouses, and even the private homes of the Colonists, for contraband goods and all importations that had not paid toll to His Majesty's customs. This attempted rigid execution of the Acts of Trade, together with other arbitrary measures on the part of the Crown which followed, such as the imposition of the Stamp Act, and the coercive levy of taxes to pay part of the cost of maintaining English troops in the Colonies, was soon to cost England dear and end in the loss of her possessions in America and the rise of the New World Republic.

One of the most active men in the Colonies to oppose this Colonial policy of England was, as we know, the patriot James Otis, at the time Advocate-General of the Crown, who took strong ground against the Writs of Assistance, arguing that they were not only arbitrary and despotic in their operation, but unconstitutional in their imposition on the Colony, since they were irreconcilable with the Colonial charters and a violation of the rights and prerogatives of the people. Rather than uphold them as a Crown officer, Otis resigned his post of Advocate-General, and became a fervent pleader of the popular cause and denouncer of the legal processes by which the Crown sought to impose, with its authority, its obnoxious trammellings and restrictions without the consent of and in defiance of the inalienable rights of the American people. Otis not only resisted the enforcement by the King's officers of the odious warrants and denounced their arbitrary character, but inveighed hotly against English oppression and all attempts of the Crown and its deputy in the province, the Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts, to restrict the liberties of the people and impose unconstitutional laws upon the Colony. The Writs of Assistance were, of course, defended by the representatives of the Crown in the Colony, and on the plea that without some such legal process the laws could not be executed, and that similar writs were in existence in England and made use of there on the authority of English statutes. The pleas against them advanced by Otis took cognizance of the fact that the Writs were irreconcilable with the charter of the Massachusetts Colony, that English precedent for their enforcement had no application in America, and that taxation by the Motherland and compulsory acts of the nature of the Writs did open violence to the rights and liberties of the people and were inherently arbitrary and despotic, being imposed without the consent of the Colonies and to their grave hurt and detriment. In pleading the Colonial cause against the Writs, Otis struck a chord in the heart of the people which tingled and vibrated, while stirring up such opposition to them that the authorities were fain to hold their hand and await instructions from the English ministry as to their withdrawal or enforcement. The response of the home government was that they should be enforced, but little advantage was taken of this mandate in the Colonies, since opposition to the Writs had, thanks to the patriot Otis's denunciation of them, became almost universal; while the people had been roused to a sharp sense of their situation, in view of the tyrannous attitude of England towards the Colonies, and the next step taken by the Crown, under Prime Minister Grenville, in threatening them with the no less hated Stamp Tax. This new fiscal infatuation on the part-of the English ministry strained the relations of the Colonies toward the Crown to almost the point of rupture. It was, moreover, an unwise exhibition of English stubbornness and impolicy, since it revealed the mistake which England fell into at the time of considering the Settlements of the New World as Colonial possessions to be held solely for the financial benefit of the mother country, rather than for their own advancement and material well-being. It is true, that the Seven Years' War, which had been waged chiefly for the protection of the American dependencies of the Crown, had left a heavy burden of debt upon England which she naturally looked to the Colonies in some measure to repay. But the Colonies had ready their argument— they objected to being taxed without their consent, and without representation in the British Parliament, besides being, as they thought, sufficiently oppressed by the burden of customs' duties already imposed upon them. The spirit of resistance therefore grew, and was ere long to take a more determined and, to England, fatal form, for the Stamp Act, though later on repealed, was passed, in spite of the protests of the Colonial Assemblies and the increasing soreness of feeling in America against the mother country.

The like service James Otis did for the community of the New World in opposing the Writs of Assistance he also did in opposing the enforcement of the Stamp Act—remonstrances suggested by the patriot's love of independence, and which, besides numberless letters, speeches and addresses, drew from the pre-Revolutionist's trenchant pen several able pamphlets, one vindicating the action of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, of which Otis was now a member, in protesting against England's intolerance in laying grievous taxation on the Colonies, and the others upholding the rights of the Colonies in resisting the Crown's misgovernment, as well as its purpose to tax the Colonies to defray some of the cost England had incurred in prosecuting the French and Indian war. In these patriotic services and labors, Otis, as a public man, took an active and zealous part, besides conducting a large correspondence as chairman of the House Committee of the Legislature on subjects relating to the weal of the whole country. Nor were his duties confined to these matters alone, for we find him at this period engaged in controversies first with Governor Hutchinson, and then with his successor, Governor Bernard, both of whom deemed Otis an arch-rebel and incendiary—a man not only without the pale of considerate treatment by lawfully constituted authority in the Colonies, but the object of contumely and loathing by the obsequious loyalists of the Motherland and all who desired her continued dominance and supremacy in the country. History has happily long since done justice to James Otis and seen him in a fairer and far more worthy light—the light not only of a patriot lover of liberty, but an ardent and invincible defender of his country against autocratic encroachment, and a fearless asserter of the principles which have become the foundation stone of the American nation. In his masterful way, Otis was at times heedlessly bitter and inveterate in his prejudices against the mother country and the King's officers in the Colony; but we must remember the strength as well as the ardor of his affection for his native land and the righteousness of the cause he lovingly espoused and so nobly advocated. We must remember also the antagonisms he naturally aroused, and the hatreds of which he was the object, on the part of loyal authority in the Colony which feared while it traduced him. This is shown in the mishap that befell him in a British coffeehouse in Boston, where he was roughly assaulted by a man named Robinson, an ally of the revenue officers whom he had denounced in an article in the Boston Gazette, an attack that left its traces in the mental ailment which afterwards distressingly incapacitated him and shortened his bright public career. He nevertheless lived to see the fruition of his hopes, in the throwing off by the Colonies of all allegiance to Britain and take part himself in the battle of Bunker Hill. The harvest reaped by his country from the seeds of liberty he had planted in his day was such as might well cheer him in the period of mental darkness which fell upon him and regretfully clouded his closing years. Nor was he, in his own era, without regard and honor among those who delighted in his splendid patriotism, in the days of his manly strength, mental as well as physical, and who held him in high esteem as a patriot orator and the staunchly loyal tribune of the New World peoples. In these days of flaccid patriotism and moral declension in public life, his example may well stimulate and inspire. In his wholehearted devotion to the hopes as well as to the interests of the Colonies most notable was the polemical fervor with which he espoused their cause and noble the stand he took for liberty and independence.

Like many men who have attained eminence in public life, James Otis was the victim in his day of detraction and envy. A specially malignant slander was current with reference to him and his father at the period of the patriot's resigning his Crown post of Advocate-General. The motive for throwing up his appointment and pleading the people's cause against the Writs of Assistance, it was at the time said, was the disappointment of the Otis family at the Chief-Justiceship, then vacant, going to Governor Hutchinson instead of to Colonel James Otis of Barnstable, father of our hero. This aspersion of the fair name of the Otises as patriots and high-minded gentlemen, and the lying assertion that it was this disappointment that led the Otises, father and son, to abandon the Crown's side for that of the people, was cruelly false, and especially so as Hutchinson, who got the post, repeats the falsehood in his "History of Massachusetts" in explanation of the Otises turning their coats and becoming partisans of the popular cause. Nothing could well be more unjust and untrue, for both men were of far too honorable a character and too ardently patriotic to justify the slander and give even the slightest color to the misrepresentation. Were it necessary more emphatically to characterize the slander as false, one might confidently point to the happy relations of the Otises with the other patriots of the time—to men of the stamp of the two Adams statesmen, to Hancock, Randolph, Warren, and other leaders of the Revolutionary era, as well as to the contemporary repute and influence of both men in the heroic annals of the Colonial period. The times were indeed trying and critical, and at the outset of the movement for independence and relief from the irritating aggressions of the Crown, the attitude, we may be sure, was closely watched and not over truthfully reported, of men of influence who took the patriot side and helped on the great cause which was afterwards to be gloriously and triumphantly crowned.

But we pass on to relate, in a few brief words, what remains yet to be told of James Otis's career, and of the pathetic declining days of the hero and his tragic end. While mind and body were intact and working perfectly in unison, Otis continued to give himself heart and soul to the cause he had so patriotically and zealously espoused. Even when his malady showed itself, there were brief returns of useful activity and old-time mental alertness, only, however, to be followed by sad relapses into the eclipse-period of his powers. At periods of respite from his ailment, Otis took part fitfully in his duties as member of the Massachusetts Legislature, of which body he had been Speaker, and did what he could to further the work of legislation. He also at this time appeared once or twice as an advocate in Court, and also continued his correspondence in Committee of the General Assembly with prominent men in the other Colonies, seeking successfully cooperation with them in the great drama of the time. But for the most part we now find him a considerately cared-for guest of his old-time friend, Colonel Samuel Osgood, at the latter's farmhouse at Andover. Here the distinguished pre-Revolutionist had phenomenal premonitions of the coming manner of his death, related to his sister, Mrs. Warren, to whom the patriot on more than one occasion said, that when God in his Providence should take him hence into the eternal world, he hoped it would be by a stroke of lightning! This tragic fate was ere long to be his, for on the afternoon of May 23rd, 1783, when Otis was standing amid a family group at the door of the Osgood homestead at Andover, a bolt from the blue flashed down from aloft and felled the hero to the ground. Death was instantaneous, and happily it left no mark or contortion on his body, while his features had the repose and placidity of seeming sleep. Thus passed the hero from the scenes of earth, and in a sense fitly, for the period was that which saw the close of the drama of the Revolution he had been instrumental in bringing about, and the departure from the soil of the new-born Republic of the last of the English soldiery.

[3]Historian, Biographer, Essayist, Author of a "Precis of English History," a "Continuation of Grecian History," etc., and for many years Editor of Self-Culture Magazine.—The Publishers.


May it please your Honours: I was desired by one of the court to look into the (law) books, and consider the question now before them concerning Writs of Assistance. I have accordingly considered it, and now appear not only in obedience to your order, but likewise in behalf of the inhabitants of this town, who have presented another petition, and out of regard to the liberties of the subject. And I take this opportunity to declare that whether under a fee or not (for in such a cause as this I despise a fee) I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand and villainly on the other, as this Writ of Assistance is.

It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law that ever was found in an English lawbook. I must therefore beg your Honours' patience and attention to the whole range of an argument that may perhaps appear uncommon in many things, as well as to points of learning that are more remote and unusual, that the whole tendency of my design may the more easily be perceived, the conclusions better descend, and the force of them be better felt. I shall not think much of my pains in this cause, as I engaged in it from principle. I was solicited to argue this case as Advocate-General; and, because I would not, I have been charged with desertion from my office. To this charge I can give a very sufficient answer. I renounced that office and I argue this cause from the same principle; and I argue it with the greatest pleasure, as it is in favour of British liberty, at a time when we hear the greatest monarch upon earth declaring from his throne that he glories in the name of Briton and that the privileges of his people are dearer to him than the most valuable prerogatives of his crown; and as it is in opposition to a kind of power, the exercise of which in former periods of history cost one king of England his head and another his crown, I have taken more pains in this cause than I ever will take again, although my engaging in this and another popular cause has raised much resentment. But I think I can sincerely declare that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for conscience' sake; and from my soul I despise all those whose guilt, malice, or folly has made them my foes. Let the consequences be what they will, I am determined to proceed. The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman or a man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make good citizens; in public life, the patriot and the hero. I do not say that, when brought to the test, I shall be invincible. I pray God I may never be brought to the melancholy trial; but if ever I should, it will then be known how far I can reduce to practice principles which I know to be founded in truth. In the meantime, I will proceed to the subject of this writ.

In the first place, may it please your honours, I will admit that writs of one kind may be legal; that is, special writs, directed to special officers, and to search certain houses, etc., specially set forth in the writ, may be granted by the Court of Exchequer at home, upon oath made before the Lord Treasurer by the person who asks it, that he suspects such goods to be concealed in those very places he desires to search. The Act of 14 Charles II., which Mr. Gridley[4] mentions, proves this. And in this light the writ appears like a warrant from a Justice of the Peace to search for stolen goods. Your honours will find in the old books concerning the office of a Justice of the Peace, precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses, specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are concealed; and will find it adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say, I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to other Acts of Parliament. In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed "to all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects"; so that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King's domains. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him [until the trump of the Archangel shall excite different emotions in his soul]. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. [What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: t o be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God's creation?] Now one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient. This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion of a heated brain. I will mention some facts. Mr. Pew had one of these writs, and when Mr. Ware succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware, so that these writs are negotiable from one officer to another; and so your Honours have no opportunity of judging the persons to whom this vast power is delegated. Another instance is this: Mr. Justice Walley had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a constable, for a breach of the Sabbath-day Acts, or that of profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him if he had done. He replied, "Yes." "Well, then," said Mr. Ware, "I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods," and went on to search the house from garret to cellar; and then served the constable in the same manner! But to show another absurdity in this writ, if it should be established, I insist upon it every person, by the 14 Charles II., has this power as well as the Custom-house officers. The words are, "it shall be lawful for any person or persons authorized, etc." What a scene does this open! Every man prompted by revenge, ill-humor or wantonness to inspect the inside of his neighbour's house, may get a Writ of Assistance. Others will ask it from self defence; one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood!

Again, these writs are not returned. Writs, in their nature, are temporary things. When the purposes for which they are issued are answered, they exist no more; but these live forever; no one can be called to account. Thus reason and the constitution are both against this writ. Let us see what authority there is for it. Not more than one instance can be found of it in all our law-books; and that was in the zenith of arbitrary power, namely, in the reign of Charles II., when star-chamber powers were pushed to extremity by some ignorant clerk of the exchequer. But had this writ been in any book whatever, it would have been illegal. All precedents are under the control of the principles of law. Lord Talbot (the Earl of Shrewsbury, an English peer of the era of William and Mary) says it is better to observe these than any precedents, though in the House of Lords the last resort of the subject. No Acts of Parliament can establish such a writ; though it should be made in the very words of the petition, it would be void. An act against the constitution is void. But this proves no more than what I before observed, that special writs may be granted on oath and probable suspicion. The act of 7 and 8 William III. that the officers of the plantations shall have the same powers, etc., is confined to this sense; that an officer should show probable ground; should take his oath of it; should do this before a magistrate; and that such magistrate, if he think proper, should issue a special warrant to a constable to search the places. That of 6 Anne can prove no more.

[4] Otis's opponent—his legal preceptor—who argued in favor of the Writs.

JAMES OTIS ON THE STAMP ACT. An Oration Delivered Before the Governor and Council In Boston, December 20, 1765.

It is with great grief that I appear before your Excellency (Governor Hutchinson) and Honours (of the City Council) on this occasion. A wicked and unfeeling minister (Earl Grenville) has caused a people, the most loyal and affectionate that ever king was blest with, to groan under the most insupportable oppression.

But I think, Sir, that he now stands upon the brink of inevitable destruction; and trust that soon, very soon, he will feel the full weight of his injured sovereign's righteous indignation. I have no doubt, Sir, but that the loyal and dutiful representations of nine provinces, the cries and supplications of a distressed people, the united voice of all his Majesty's most loyal and affectionate British-American subjects, will obtain all that ample redress which they have a right to expect; and that erelong they will see their cruel and insidious enemies, both at home and abroad, put to shame and confusion.

My brother Adams has entered so largely into the validity of the act, that I shall not enlarge on that head. Indeed, what has been observed is sufficient to convince the most illiterate savage that the Parliament of England had no regard to the very first principles of their own liberties.

Only the preamble of that oppressive act is enough to rouse the blood of every generous Briton.—"We your Majesty's subjects, the commons of Great Britain, etc., do give and grant"—What? Their own property? No! The treasure, the heart's blood of all your Majesty's dutiful and affectionate British-American subjects.

But the time is far spent. I will not tire your patience. It was once a fundamental maxim that every subject had the same right to his life, liberty, property, and the law that the King had to his crown; and 'tis yet, I venture to say, as much as a crown is worth, to deny the subject his law, which is his birthright. 'Tis a first principle "that Majesty should not only shine in arms, but be armed with the laws." The administration of justice is necessary to the very existence of governments. Nothing can warrant the stopping the course of justice but the impossibility of holding courts, by reason of war, invasion, rebellion, or insurrection. This was law at a time when the whole island of Great Britain was divided into an infinite number of petty baronies and principalities; as Germany is, at this day.

Insurrections then, and even invasions, put the whole nation into such confusion that justice could not have her equal course; especially as the kings in ancient times frequently sat as judges. But war has now become so much of a science, and gives so little disturbance to a nation engaged, that no war, foreign or domestic, is a sufficient reason for shutting up the courts. But if it were, we are not in such a state, but far otherwise, the whole people being willing and demanding the full administration of justice. The shutting up of the courts is an abdication, a total dissolution of government. Whoever takes from the king his executive power, takes from the king his kingship. "The laws which forbid a man to pursue his right one way, ought to be understood with this equitable restriction, that one finds judges to whom he may apply."

I can't but observe that cruel and unheard-of neglect of that enemy to his king and country, the author of this Act, that, when all business, the very life and being of a commercial state, was to be carried on by the use of stamps, that wicked and execrable minister never paid the least regard to the miseries of this extensive continent, but suffered the time for the taking place of the Act to elapse months before a single stamp was received. Though this was a high piece of infidelity to the interest of his royal master, yet it makes it evident that it could never be intended, that if stamps were not to be had, it should put a stop to all justice, which is, ipse facto, a dissolution of society.

It is a strange kind of law which we hear advanced nowadays, that because one unpopular Act can't be carried into execution, that therefore there shall be an end of all law. We are not the first people who have risen to prevent the execution of a law; the very people of England themselves rose in opposition to the famous Jew-bill, and got that immediately repealed. And lawyers know that there are limits, beyond which, if parliaments go, their acts bind not.

The king is always presumed to be present in his courts, holding out the law to his subjects; and when he shuts his courts, he unkings himself in the most essential point. Magna Charter and the other statutes are full, "that they will not defer, delay, nor deny any man justice"; "that it shall not be commanded by the Great Seal, or in any other way, to disturb or delay common right." The judges of England are "not to counsel, or assent to anything which may turn to the damage or disherison of the crown." They are sworn not to deny to any man common right, by the king's letters, nor none other man's, nor for none other cause. Is not the dissolution of society a disherison of the crown? The "justices are commanded that they shall do even law and execution of right to all our subjects, rich and poor, without having regard to any person, without letting to do right for any letters or commandment which may come to them, or by any other cause."


Professor Hosmer draws the following pictures of Otis and his contemporaries:

"The splendid Otis, whose leadership was at first unquestioned, was like the huge cannon on the man-of-war, in Victor Hugo's story, that had broken from its moorings in the storm, and become a terror to those whom it formerly defended. He was indeed a great gun, from whom in the time of the Stamp Act had been sent the most powerful bolts against unconstitutional oppression. With lashings parted, however, as the storm grew violent he plunged dangerously from side to side, almost sinking the ship, all the more an object to dread from the calibre that had once made him so serviceable. It was a melancholy sight, and yet a great relief, when his friends saw him at last bound hand and foot, and carried into retirement.

"Bowdoin, also, was not firm in health, and though most active and useful in the Council, had thus far done little elsewhere. Hawley, far in the interior, was often absent from the centre in critical times, and somewhat unreliable through a strange moodiness. Cushing was weak. Hancock was hampered by foibles that some times quite canceled his merits. Quincy was a brilliant youth, and, like a youth, sometimes fickle. We have seen him ready to temporize, when to falter was destruction, as at the time of the casting over of the tea; again in unwise fervor, he would counsel assassination as a proper expedient. Warren, too, could rush into extremes of rashness and ferocity, wishing that he might wade to the knees in blood, and had just reached sober, self-reliant manhood when he was taken off.

"John Adams showed only an intermittent zeal in the public cause until the preliminary work was done, and Benjamin Church, half-hearted and venal, early began the double-dealing which was to bring him to a traitor's end. There was need in this group of a man of sufficient ascendency, thorough intellect and character, to win deference from all—wise enough to see always the supreme end, to know what each instrument was fit for, and to bring all forces to bear in the right way—a man of consummate adroitness, to sail in torpedo-sown waters without exciting an explosion, though conducting wires of local prejudice, class sensitiveness, and personal foible on every hand led straight down to magazines of wrath which might shatter the cause in a moment—a man having resources of his own to such an extent that he could supplement from himself what was wanting in others—always awake, though others might want to sleep, always at work though others might be tired—a man devoted, without thought of personal gain or fame, simply and solely to the public cause. Such a man there was, and his name was Samuel Adams."


Professor Hosmer thus compares Otis and Adams:

"Otis' power was so magnetic that a Boston town meeting, upon his mere entering, would break out into shouts and clapping, and if he spoke he produced effects which may be compared with the sway exercised by Chatham, whom as an orator he much resembled. Long after disease had made him utterly untrustworthy, his spell remained. He brought the American cause to the brink of ruin, because the people would follow him, though he was shattered.

"Of this gift Samuel Adams possessed little. He was always in speech, straightforward and sensible, and upon occasion could be impressive, but his endowment was not that of the mouth of gold.

"While Otis was fitful, vacillating and morbid, Samuel Adams was persistent, undeviating, and sanity itself. While Samuel Adams never abated by a hair his opposition to the British policy, James Otis, who at the outset had given the watch-word to the patriots, later, after Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, said:

"'It is the duty of all humbly and silently to acquiesce in all the decisions of the supreme legislature. Nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand will never entertain the thought but of submission to our sovereign, and to the authority of Parliament in all possible contingencies.'"


In 1762, a pamphlet appeared, bearing the following title: "A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay: more particularly in the last session of the General Assembly. By James Otis, Esq., a Member of said House.

"Let such, such only, tread this sacred floor, Who dare to love their country and be poor. Or good though rich, humane and wise though great, Jove give but these, we've naught to fear from fate.

Boston, printed by Edes and Gill."

Instead of copious quotations from this patriotic work, we present the following judgment upon its merits by one best qualified to estimate its worth. "How many volumes," says John Adams, "are concentrated in this little fugitive pamphlet, the production of a few hurried hours, amidst the continual solicitation of a crowd of clients; for his business at the bar at that time was very extensive, and of the first importance, and amidst the host of politicians, suggesting their plans and schemes!

"Look over the Declarations of Rights and Wrongs issued by Congress in 1774.

"Look into the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

"Look into the writings of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley.

"Look into all the French constitutions of government; and to cap the climax, look into Mr. Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense, Crisis, and Rights of Man;' what can you find that is not to be found in solid substance in this Vindication of the House of Representatives?"


Another important feature in the unfolding of our free institutions, was the system of town meetings which began to be held as early as 1767.

"The chief arena of James Otis' and Sam Adams' influence," as Governor Hutchinson wrote to Lord Dartmouth, "was the town meeting, that Olympian race-course of the Yankee athlete."

Writing to Samuel Adams in 1790 John Adams, looking back to the effect of these events, says:

"Your Boston town meetings and our Harvard College have set the universe in motion."

One held in October of 1767 was presided over by James Otis, and was called to resist new acts of British aggression on colonial rights. On September 12, 1768, a town meeting was held, which was opened with a prayer by Dr. Cooper. Otis was chosen moderator.

The petition for calling the meeting requested, that inquiry should be made of his Excellency, for "the grounds and reasons of sundry declarations made by him, that three regiments might be daily expected," etc.

A committee was appointed to wait upon the governor, urging him in the present critical state of affairs to issue precepts for a general assembly of the province, to take suitable measures for the preservation of their rights and privileges; and that he should be requested to favor the town with an immediate answer.

In October several ship-loads of troops arrive.

The storm thickens.

Another town meeting is called, and it is voted that the several ministers of the Gospel be requested to appoint the next Tuesday as a day of fasting and prayer.

The day arrives, and the place of meeting is crowded by committees from sixty-two towns.

They petition the governor to call a General Court. Otis appeared in behalf of the people, under circumstances that strongly, attest his heroism.

Cannon were planted at the entrance of the building, and a body of troops were quartered in the representatives' chamber.

After the court was opened, Otis rose, and moved that they should adjourn to Faneuil Hall.

With a significant expression of loathing and scorn, he observed, "that the stench occasioned by the troops in the hall of legislation might prove infectious, and that it was utterly derogatory to the court to administer justice at the points of bayonets and mouths of cannon."


In the sketch of the life of James Otis, as presented in Appleton's "Cyclopedia of American Biography," an interesting account is given of the part James Otis played in the noted battle of Bunker Hill, in June, 1775.

The minute men who, hastening to the front, passed by the house of the sister of James Otis, with whom he was living, at Watertown, Mass.

At this time he was harmlessly insane, and did not need special watching.

But, as he saw the patriotic farmers hurrying by and heard of the rumor of the impending conflict, he was suddenly seized with a martial spirit. Without saying a word to a single soul, he slipped away unobserved and hurried on towards Boston. On the roadside he stopped at a farmhouse and borrowed a musket, there being nothing seemingly in his manner to suggest mental derangement. Throwing the musket upon his shoulder he hastened on, and was soon joined by the minute men coming from various directions. "Falling in" with them, he took an active part in that eventful contest until darkness closed in upon the combatants. Then, wearied beyond description, though he was, he set out for home after midnight. He afterwards pursued his sad and aimless life, as though nothing unusual had occurred.


Two days before the battle of Bunker Hill Washington had been appointed by the Continental Congress Commander in Chief.

The news of the battle was brought. Foreseeing the significance of the result he said, "The liberties of the country are safe."

Four days afterward Thomas Jefferson entered Congress and the next day news was brought of the Charlestown conflict. "This put fire into his ideal statesmanship." Patrick Henry hearing of it said, "I am glad of it; a breach of our affections was needed to rouse the country to action."

Franklin wrote to his English friends: "England has lost her colonies forever."


Carlyle says: "I never knew a clever man who came out of entirely stupid people." James Otis's great qualities "were an inheritance, not an accident, and inheritance from the best blood of old England." Many years ago, when George Ticknor of Boston was a guest of Lady Holland, at the famous Holland House, in London, her ladyship remarked to him, in her not very engaging way:

"I understand, Mr. Ticknor, that Massachusetts was settled by convicts."

"Indeed," said Mr. Ticknor, "I thought I was somewhat familiar with the history of my State, but I was not aware that what you say was the case."

"But," he continued, "I do now remember that some of your ladyship's ancestors settled in Boston, for there is a monument to one of them in King's Chapel."

James Otis inherited that sturdy New England pride which puts manhood above dukedoms and coronets.

"A king may make a belted knight, A marquis, duke and a' that, But an honest man's aboon his might."

From a race of the true kings of men he was descended, who conquered out of the jaws of the wilderness the priceless inheritance of American privilege and freedom. And while kings at home were trying to crush out the liberties of their subjects, or were dallying with wantons in the palaces built out of the unrequited toil of the long-suffering and downtrodden people, these men of iron were the pioneers of American civilization, at a time, which Holmes so graphically describes:

"When the crows came cawing through the air To pluck the Pilgrim's corn, And bears came snuffing round the door Wherever a babe was born; And rattlesnakes were bigger round Than the butt of the old ram's horn The deacon blew at meeting time, On every Sabbath morn."


In the debate on the Boston Port Bill in Parliament, April 15th, 1774, Colonel Barre referred to the ruffianly attack made on Mr. Otis, and his treatment of the injury, in a manner that reflects honor on both of the orators.

"Is this the return you make them?" inquired the British statesman.

"When a commissioner of the customs, aided by a number of ruffians, assaulted the celebrated Mr. Otis, in the midst of the town of Boston, and with the most barbarous violence almost murdered him, did the mob, which is said to rule that town, take vengeance on the perpetrators of this inhuman outrage against a person who is supposed to be their demagogue?

"No, sir, the law tried them, the law gave heavy damages against them, which the irreparably injured Mr. Otis most generously forgave, upon an acknowledgment of the offense.

"Can you expect any more such instances of magnanimity under the principle of the Bill now proposed?"


He was distinguished for generosity to both friends and foes. Governor Hutchinson said of him: "that he never knew fairer or more noble conduct in a speaker, than in Otis; that he always disdained to take advantage of any clerical error, or similar inadvertence, but passed over minor points, and defended his causes solely on their broad and substantial foundations."


But in that contest over the "Writs of Assistance," there was something nobler exhibited than superiority to mercenary consideration.

"It was," says the Venerable President, John Adams, "a moral spectacle more affecting to me than any I have since seen upon the stage, to observe a pupil treating his master with all the deference, respect, esteem, and affection of a son to a father, and that without the least affectation; while he baffled and confounded all his authorities, confuted all his arguments, and reduced him to silence!

"The crown, by its agents, accumulated construction upon construction, and inference upon inference, as the giants heaped Pelion upon Ossa; but Otis, like Jupiter, dashed this whole building to pieces, and scattered the pulverized atoms to the four winds; and no judge, lawyer, or crown officer dared to say, why do ye so?

"He raised such a storm of indignation, that even Hutchinson, who had been appointed on purpose to sanction this writ, dared not utter a word in its favor, and Mr. Gridley himself seemed to me to exult inwardly at the glory and triumph of his pupil."


"The wit exemplified by Mr. Otis in debate," says Dr. Magoon, "was often keen but never malignant, as in John Randolph. The attacks of the latter were often fierce and virulent, not unfrequently in an inverse proportion to the necessity of the case.

"He would yield himself up to a blind and passionate obstinacy, and lacerate his victims for no apparent reason but the mere pleasure of inflicting pangs.

"In this respect, the orator of Roanoke resembled the Sicilian tyrant whose taste for cruelty led him to seek recreation in putting insects to the torture. If such men cannot strike strong blows, they know how to fight with poisonous weapons; thus by their malignity, rather than by their honorable skill, they can bring the noblest antagonist to the ground.

"But Mr. Otis pursued more dignified game and with a loftier purpose.

"He indeed possessed a Swiftian gift of sarcasm, but, unlike the Dean of St. Patrick's, and the forensic gladiator alluded to above, he never employed it in a spirit of hatred and contempt towards the mass of mankind.

"Such persons should remember the words of Colton, that, 'Strong and sharp as our wit may be, it is not so strong as the memory of fools, nor so keen as their resentment; he that has strength of mind to forgive, is by no means weak enough to forget; and it is much more easy to do a cruel thing than to say a severe one.'"


Many of the most effective orators, of all ages, have not been most successful in long and formal efforts. Nor have they always been close and ready debaters. "Sudden bursts which seemed to be the effect of inspiration—short sentences which came like lightning, dazzling, burning, striking down everything before them—sentences which, spoken at critical moments, decided the fate of great questions—sentences which at once became proverbs —sentences which everybody still knows by heart"—in these chiefly lay the oratorical power of Mirabeau and Chatham, Patrick Henry and James Otis.—E. L. Magoon.


Otis was naturally elevated in thought, and dwelt with greatest delight in the calm contemplation of the lofty principles which should govern political and moral conduct.

And yet he was keenly suspectible to excitement. His intellect explored the wilderness of the universe only to increase the discontent of those noble aspirations of his soul which were never at rest.

In early manhood he was a close student, but as he advanced in age he became more and more absorbed in public action.

As ominous storms threatened the common weal, he found less delight in his library than in the stern strife of the forum.

As he prognosticated the coming tempest and comprehended its fearful issue, he became transformed in aspect like one inspired.

His appearance in public always commanded prompt and profound attention; he both awed and delighted the multitudes whom his bold wisdom so opportunely fortified.

"Old South," the "Old Court House," and the "Cradle of liberty," in Boston, were familiar with his eloquence, that resounded like a cheerful clarion in "days that tried men's souls." It was then that his great heart and fervid intellect wrought with disinterested and noble zeal; his action became vehement, and his eyes flashed with unutterable fire; his voice, distinct, melodious, swelling, and increasing in height and depth with each new and bolder sentiment, filled, as with the palpable presence of a deity, the shaking walls. The listeners became rapt and impassioned like the speaker, till their very breath forsook them.

He poured forth a "flood of argument and passion" which achieved the sublimes" earthly good, and happily exemplified the description which Percival has given of indignant patriotism expressed in eloquence:

"Its words Are few, but deep and solemn, and they break Fresh from the fount of feeling, and are full Of all that passion, which, on Carmel, fired The holy prophet, when his lips were coals, The language winged with terror, as when bolts Leap from the brooding tempest, armed with wrath Commissioned to affright us, and destroy."—E. L. Magoon.


"His eloquence, like that of his distinguished successors, was marked by a striking individuality.

"It did not partake largely of the placid firmness of Samuel Adams; or of the intense brilliancy and exquisite taste of the younger Quincy; or the subdued and elaborate beauty of Lee; or the philosophical depth of John Adams; or the rugged and overwhelming energy of Patrick Henry; though he, most of all Americans, resembled the latter."—E. L. Magoon.


"Compared with English orators," Dr. Magoon says, "our great countryman was not unlike Sheridan in natural endowment.

"Like him, he was unequaled in impassioned appeals to the general heart of mankind.

"He swayed all by his electric fire; charmed the timid, and inspired the weak; subdued the haughty, and enthralled the prejudiced.

"He traversed the field of argument and invective as a Scythian warrior scours the plain, shooting most deadly arrows when at the greatest speed.

"He rushed into forensic battle, fearless of all consequences; and as the ancient war-chariot would sometimes set its axle on fire by the rapidity of its own movement, so would the ardent soul of Otis become ignited and fulminate with thought, as he swept irresistibly to the goal.

"When aroused by some great crisis, his eloquent words were like bolts of granite heated in a volcano, and shot forth with unerring aim, crashing where they fell."


In respect to physical ability, Otis was happily endowed. One who knew him well has recorded, that "he was finely formed, and had an intelligent countenance: his eye, voice, and manner were very impressive.

"The elevation of his mind, and the known integrity of his purposes, enabled him to speak with decision and dignity, and commanded the respect as well as the admiration of his audience.

"His eloquence showed but little imagination, yet it was instinct with the fire of passion."

"It may be not unjustly said of Otis, as of Judge Marshall, that he was one of those rare beings that seem to be sent among men from time to time, to keep alive our faith in humanity.

"He had a wonderful power over the popular feelings, but he employed it only for great public benefits. He seems to have said to himself, in the language of the great master of the maxims of life and conduct:

"This above all,—to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."


The portrait of James Otis, Jr., published as a frontispiece to this sketch, is from the oil-painting loaned to the Bostonian Society, by Harrison Gray Otis, of Winthrop, Massachusetts. The painting from which it is taken, now hanging in the Old State House of Boston, is a reproduction of the original portrait by I. Blackburn, to whom Mr. Otis sat for his portrait in 1755. The original in possession of Mrs. Rogers, a descendant of James Otis, may be seen at her residence, No. 8 Otis Place, Boston. But the original is not so well adapted as is the copy to photographic reproduction. The two portraits are identical in feature and character, but the original having a light background offends the camera.


"The question is, perhaps more curious than profitable, that relates to the source and occasion of the first of that series of events which produced the war of the Revolution. Men have often asked, what was its original cause, and who struck the first blow? This inquiry was well answered by President Jefferson, in a letter to Dr. Waterhouse of Cambridge, written March 3rd, 1818.

"'I suppose it would be difficult to trace our Revolution to its first embryo. We do not know how long it was hatching in the British cabinet, before they ventured to make the first of the experiments which were to develop it in the end, and to produce complete parliamentary supremacy.

"'Those you mention in Massachusetts as preceding the Stamp Act might be the first visible symptoms of that design. The proposition of that Act, in 1764, was the first here. Your opposition, therefore, preceded ours, as occasion was sooner given there than here, and the truth, I suppose, is, that the opposition, in every colony, began whenever the encroachment was presented to it.

"'This question of priority is as the inquiry would be, who first of the three hundred Spartans offered his name to Leonidas. I shall be happy to see justice done to the merits of all.'"

"In the primitive opposition made by Otis to the arbitrary acts of Trade, aided by the Writs of Assistance, he announced two maxims which lay at the foundation of all the subsequent war; one was, that 'taxation without representation was tyranny,' the other, 'that expenditures of public money without appropriations by the representatives of the people, were arbitrary, and therefore unconstitutional. '"

"This early and acute sagacity of our statesman, led Burke finely to describe the political feeling in America as follows;

"'In other countries, the people, more simple, of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government, only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance, by the badness of the principle.

"'They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.'"—E. L. Magoon.


During Robert Walpole's administration [1732], a stamp duty was proposed. He said "I will leave the taxation of America to some of my successors, who have more courage than I have."

Sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania, proposed a tax in 1739. Franklin thought it just, when a delegate in the Colonial Congress at Albany, in 1754. But when it was proposed to Pitt in 1759 the great English statesman said: "I will never burn my fingers with the American stamp act."


The stamps were upon blue paper, and were to be attached to every piece of paper or parchment, on which a legal instrument was written. For these stamps the Government charged specific prices, for example, for a common property deed, one shilling and sixpence.


The Minute-man of the Revolution! He was the old, the middle-aged, and the young. He was Capt. Miles, of Concord, who said that he went to battle as he went to church. He was Capt. Davis, of Acton, who reproved his men for jesting on the march. He was Deacon Josiah Haynes, of Sudbury, 80 years old, who marched with his company to the South Bridge at Concord, then joined in the hot pursuit to Lexington, and fell as gloriously as Warren at Bunker Hill. He was James Hayward, of Acton, 22 years old, foremost in that deadly race from Concord to Charlestown, who raised his piece at the same moment with a British soldier, each exclaiming, "You are a dead man!" The Briton dropped, shot through the heart.

James Hayward fell mortally wounded. "Father," he said, "I started with forty balls; I have three left. I never did such a day's work before. Tell mother not to mourn too much, and tell her whom I love more than my mother, that I am not sorry I turned out."—George W. Curtis.


The Boston Common Schools were the pride of the town. They were most jealously guarded, and were opened each day with public prayer.

They were the nurseries of a true democracy. In them the men who played the most important part in the Revolutionary period received their early education.

The Adamses, Chancey, Cooper, Cushing, Hancock, Mayhew, Warren, and the rest breathed their bracing atmosphere.


I have already dwelt on the significance of the way in which the Pilgrim Fathers, driven out of England, begin this compact, with which they begin their life in this new world, with warm professions of allegiance to England's King.

Old England, whose King and bishops drove them out, is proud of them to-day, and counts them as truly her children as Shakespeare and Milton and Vane.

As the American walks the corridors and halls of the Parliament House at Westminster, he pays no great heed to the painted kings upon the painted windows, and cares little for the gilded throne in the gilded House of Lords. The Speaker's chair in the Commons does not stir him most, nor the white form of Hampden that stands silent at the door; but his heart beats fastest where, among great scenes from English triumphs of the days of Puritanism and the revolution, he sees the departure of the Pilgim Fathers to found New England.

England will not let that scene go as a part of American history only, but claims it now as one of the proudest scenes in her own history, too.

It is a bud of promise, I said, when I first saw it there. Shall not its full unfolding be some great reunion of the English race, a prelude to the federation of the world?

Let that picture there in the Parliament House at Westminster stay always in your mind, to remind you of the England in you. Let the picture of the signing of the compact on the "Mayflower" stay with it, to remind you of progress and greater freedom. That, I take it, is what America—New England, now tempered by New Germany, New Ireland, New France—that, I take it, is what America stands for.—Edwin D. Mead.


You may perhaps remember how Wendell Phillips, in his great Harvard address on "The Scholar and the Republic" reproached some men of learning for their conservatism and timidity, their backwardness in reform. And it is true that conservatism and timidity are never so hateful and harmful as in the scholar. "Be bold, be bold, and evermore be bold," those words which Emerson liked to quote, are words which should ever ring in the scholar's ear.

But you must remember that Roger Williams and Sir Harry Vane, the very men whom Wendell Phillips named as "two men deepest in thought and bravest in speech of all who spoke English in their day," came, the one from Cambridge, the other from Oxford; and that Sam Adams and Jefferson, the two men whom he named as preeminent, in the early days of the republic, for their trust in the people, were the sons of Harvard and William and Mary. John Adams and John Hancock and James Otis and Joseph Warren, the great Boston leaders in the Revolution, were all Harvard men, like Samuel Adams; and you will remember how many of the great Virginians were, like Jefferson, sons of William and Mary.

And never was a revolution so completely led by scholars as the great Puritan Revolution which planted New England and established the English commonwealth.

No. Scholars have often enough been cowards and trimmers.

But from the days when Moses, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, brought his people up out of bondage, and Paul, who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, preached Christ, and Wyclif and Luther preached Reformation, to the time when Eliot and Hampden and Pym and Cromwell and Milton and Vane, all scholars of Oxford and Cambridge, worked for English commonwealth, to the time of Jefferson and Samuel Adams and the time of Emerson and Sumner and Gladstone, scholars have been leaders and heroes too.—Edwin D. Mead.


Earl Percy was the son of the Duke of Northumberland. When he was marching out of Boston, his band struck up the tune of Yankee Doodle, in derision.

He saw a boy in Roxbury making himself very merry as he passed.

Percy inquired why he was so merry.

"To think," said the lad, "how you will dance by and by to Chevy Chase."

Percy was much influenced by presentiments, and the words of the boy made him moody. Percy was a lineal descendant of the Earl Percy who was slain in the battle of Chevy Chase, and he felt all day as if some great calamity might befall him.


Each numbered paragraph is to be given to a pupil or member to read, or to recite in a clear, distinct tone.

If the school or club is small, each person may take three or four paragraphs, but should not be required to recite them in succession.

1. James Otis was born in West Barnstable, near the center of Massachusetts, February 5, 1725. 2. His ancestors were of English descent. The founder of the family in America, John Otis, came from Hingham, in Norfolk, England, and settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, in the year 1635.

3. His grandson, John Otis, was born in 1635. He removed from Hingham to Barnstable, where he became a prominent man and held several important positions. For eighteen years he was Colonel of Militia, for twenty years Representative, for twenty-one years member of the Council, for thirteen years Chief Justice of common pleas, and Judge of Probate.

4. His two sons, John and James, became distinguished in public life. James, the father of the subject of this sketch, was an eminent lawyer. He, like his father, became Colonel of Militia, Chief Justice of common pleas, and Judge of Probate.

5. James Otis, Jr. thus by inheritance, derived his legal bent and love for political life.

6. His mother's name was Mary Allyne, or Alleyne, of Wethersfield, Conn., daughter of Joseph Allyne, of Plymouth. She was connected with the founders of Plymouth colony, who arrived in the Mayflower in 1620.

7. James was the oldest of thirteen children, several of whom died in infancy. Others lived to attain distinction.

8. He was fitted for College by the Rev. Jonathan Russell of Barnstable, and was so industrious in his studies that he was ready in his fifteenth year to enter as a freshman at Harvard in June, 1739.

9. There is grave reason for believing that his excessive devotion to study at this early period, had much to do with his nervous and excitable condition in succeeding years.

10. "Make haste slowly" is the translation of a Latin motto, which parents and teachers ought to observe in the education of children.

11. Far better is it for the student to take time in making a thorough preparation for the great work of life, than to rush through his preparatory course at the great risk of health and strength. Let him aim ever be to present "a sound mind in a sound body."

12. James Otis was graduated from college in 1743, after completing a four years successful course.

13. After graduation he wisely gave nearly two years to the pursuits of general literature and science before entering upon the law.

14. In this, he set a good example to the young men of the present day, who are so strongly tempted to enter at once upon professional life, without laying a broad and deep foundation for future usefulness.

15. James Otis was very fond of the best poets, and "in the zealous emulation of their beauties," says Dr. Magoon, "he energized his spirit and power of expression.

16. "He did not merely read over the finest passages—he pondered them—he fused them into his own soul, and reproduced their charms with an energy all his own."

17. In 1745 he entered the law office of Jeremiah Gridley, in Boston, who was then one of the most distinguished lawyers in the country.

18. He began the practice of law in Plymouth, in 1748, but soon found that he was "cabined, cribbed and confined" in the opportunity to rise in such a small place.

19. In 1750 he removed to Boston, and there finding full scope for his powers, soon rose to the foremost rank in his profession.

20. He justly won the high place so generally accorded him, by his learning, his integrity, and his marvelous eloquence.

21. In acting successfully as counsel for the three men who were accused of piracy in Halifax, he received a well earned fee, which was the largest that had ever been paid to a Massachusetts lawyer.

22. Like James A. Garfield, he kept up a lively interest in classical studies during his entire professional career.

23. James Otis married Miss Ruth Cunningham, daughter of a Boston merchant, early in 1755.

24. The marriage was not in all respects a happy one, partly on account of political differences. While he became an ardent patriot, she remained a staunch loyalist until her death on Nov. 15, 1789.

25. Another reason for the want of complete domestic felicity was the peculiar character of his genius, which, so often glowing, excitable and irregular, must have frequently demanded a home forbearance almost miraculous.

26. The elder daughter, Elizabeth, married a Captain Brown of the British army, and ended her days in England. 27. The younger daughter, Mary, married Benjamin, the eldest son of the distinguished General Lincoln.

28. In 1761, when he was thirty-six years of age his great political career began, by his determined opposition to the "Writs of Assistance."

29. He said with an eloquence that thrilled every heart, "A man's house is his castle; and while he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This Writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege."

30. "I am determined to sacrifice estate, ease, health, applause and even life, to the sacred calls of my country in opposition to a kind of power, the exercise of which cost one king his head and another his throne."

31. In 1762 he published a pamphlet entitled, "The Rights of the Colonies Vindicated," which attracted great attention in England for its finished diction and masterly arguments.

32. In this production he firmly took the unassailable position, that in all questions relating to the expenditure of public money, the rights of a Colonial Legislature were as sacred as the rights of the House of Commons.

33. Some of the Parliamentary leaders in England spoke of the work with contempt. Lord Mansfield, the great English legal luminary, who had carefully read it, rebuked them for their attitude towards it.

34. But they rejoined, as quoted by Bancroft, "The man is mad!" "What then?" answered Mansfield. "One mad man often makes many. Massaniello was mad—nobody doubted it—yet for all that he overturned the government of Naples."

35. In June, 1765, Mr. Otis proposed the calling of a congress of delegates from all the colonies to consider the Stamp Act.

36. In that famous Congress which met in October, 1765, in New York, he was one of the delegates, and was appointed on the committee to prepare an address to the Commons of England.

37. In 1767 he was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly. Governor Bernard took a decidedly negative position against the fiery orator, whom he feared as much as he did the intrepid Sam Adams.

38. But Bernard could not put a padlock upon the lips of Otis. When the king, who was greatly offended at the Circular Letter to the colonies, which requested them to unite in measures for redress demanded of Bernard to dismiss the Assembly unless it should rescind its action, Otis made a flaming speech.

39. His adversaries said, "It was the most violent, abusive and treasonable declaration that perhaps was ever uttered."

40. In the debate which ensued upon this royal order, Otis said: "We are asked to rescind, are we? Let Great Britain rescind her measures, or the colonies are lost to her forever."

41. Otis carried the House triumphantly with him, and it refused to rescind by a vote of ninety-two to seventeen.

42. In the summer of 1769 he attacked some of the revenue officers in an article in "The Boston Gazette." A few evenings afterwards, while sitting in the British coffee-house in Boston, he was savagely assaulted by a man named Robinson, who struck him on the head with a heavy cane or sword.

43. The severe wound which was produced so greatly aggravated the mental disease which had before been somewhat apparent, that his reason rapidly forsook him.

44. Otis obtained a judgment of L2,000 against Robinson for the attack, but when the penitent officer made a written apology for his irreparable offense, the sufferer refused to take a penny.

45. In 1771 he was elected to the legislature, and sometimes afterward appeared in court and in the town meeting, but found himself unable to take part in public business.

46. In June, 1775, while living in a state of harmless insanity with his sister, Mercy Warren, at Watertown, Mass., he heard, according to Appleton's "Cyclopedia of American Biography," the rumor of battle. On the 17th he slipped away unobserved, "borrowed a musket from some farmhouse by the roadside, and joined the minute men who were marching to the aid of the troops on Bunker Hill."

47. "He took an active part in that battle, and after it was over made his way home again after midnight."

48. The last years of his life were spent at the residence of Mr. Osgood in Andover. For a brief season it seemed as though his reason was restored. He even undertook a case in the Court of Common Pleas in Boston, but found himself unequal to the exertion demanded of him.

49. He had been persuaded to dine with Governor Hancock and some other friends. "But the presence of his former friends and the revived memories of previous events, gave a great shock to his broken mind." He was persuaded to go back at once to the residence of Mr. Osgood.

50. After his mind had become unsettled he said to Mrs. Warren, "My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity, that it will be by a flash of lightning," and this wish he often repeated.

51. Six weeks exactly after his return, on May 23, 1783, while standing in the side doorway during a thunder-shower, with his cane in his hand, and telling the assembled family a story, he was struck by lightning and instantly killed. Not one of the seven or eight persons in the room was injured. "No mark of any kind could be found on Otis, nor was there the slightest change or convulsion on his features."

52. His remains were brought to Boston and interred in the Granary Burying Ground with every mark of respect, a great number of the citizens attending his funeral.

53. James Otis sowed the seeds of liberty in this new world without living to see the harvest, and probably without ever dreaming what magnificent crops would be produced.

54. When the usurpations of un-English parliamentarians and their allies at home, became as burdensome, as they were unjust he defended his countrymen, in whose veins flowed the best of English blood, with an eloquence whose ultimate influence transcended his own sublime aspirations.

55. He taught, in the ominous words, which King James's first House of Commons addressed to the House of Lords, immediately after the monarch had been lecturing them on his own prerogative, that "There may be a People without a king;, but there can be no king without a people."

56. "Fortunately for civil liberty in England and America, in all countries and in all times," as Edward Everett Hale says, "none of the Stuarts ever learned in time what this ominous sentence means—ot James I, the most foolish of them, nor Charles I, the most false; nor Charles II, the most worthless; nor James II, the most obstinate."

57. It could be said of Otis as Coleridge said of O'Connell, "See how triumphant in debate and action he is. And why? Because he asserts a broad principle, acts up to it, rests his body upon it, and has faith in it."


1. Music 2. Vocal Music—"Remember the Maine." 3. Essay— "The True Relation of England as a Nation to the Colonies." 4. Vocal or Instrumental Music. 5. Essay—"Writs of Assistance, and Otis' Relation to Them." 6. Music. 7. A Stereopticon Lecture, illustrating the Famous Buildings and noted features of Boston—The Old North Church, The Old South, Copp's Hill, Bunker Hill, North Square, House of Paul Revere, Site of the Old Dragon Inn, The Old State House, Faneuil Hall, etc. 8. Singing— "America."


Where is the Granary Burying Ground? Why so named? What distinguishes it? Can you give the names of some eminent persons buried there? In what tomb was James Otis interred? What interesting particular was noted when his body was disinterred?

What names are given to the pre-revolutionists, the revolutionists, and the post-revolutionists?

Who is assigned the first place among the protagonists of freedom? Who the second? What is the remarkable thing about the lives of many great men? Will you expand the thought?

When and where was James Otis born? What offices did he fill? When was James Otis, Jr. born? What did he inherit from his father and grandfather? What were transmitted to other members of the family? Give the name of one of these members and her peculiar gifts. What was the name of one of the brothers, and what is said of him?

By whom was James Otis prepared for College? When did he enter College? What is the tradition concerning him? What is said of his College course? What of his excitable temperament? What anecdote is recorded of him? When, and under what distinguished lawyer did he begin his legal studies? What is said of his preceptor?

When and where did he begin to practice law? What are some of the incidents of his early legal career? What is said of the defense by Otis of citizens in connection with the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot? What is the history of the Gunpowder Plot? When was the first period of his Boston practice? What is said of the non-preservation of the legal pleas and addresses of James Otis? What does tradition say of him as an orator?

When and whom did Otis marry? What is said of the Cunnningham family? What is said of Mrs. Otis? Who comprised the family of Mr. and Mrs. Otis? What is said of the marriage of the elder daughter? What of the younger daughter?

When was the second period in James Otis's life? What is said of him as a rising man? What is said of his scholastic and literary pursuits, etc.? What works did he compose? What did James Otis say about the bad literary tastes of the boys of his time?

Of what is every man the joint product? What were the conditions under which the colonial settlements were formed? What were the feelings of the colonists towards England?

What specific conditions in the development of the colonies may be noted? What were the immediate and forceful causes towards revolution? What is said of the Navigation Act? of the Importation Act? What kind of a question was that at issue? Why?

What is said of the seaboard towns? of the traffic with the West Indies? What period did the epoch of evasion cover? What is said of the iron and steel industry? of ship building?

What did Hutchinson say of his own Appointment? What were some of the personal forces at work? What is said of Hutchinson and others? What slander of James Otis was current? In what language was the case regarding the Writs of Assistance made up? What is said of the trial of the case? Who was one of the eminent spectators? What was the relation of Otis to it?

What did Chief Justice Hutchinson advise in the case of the Writs of Assistance? What is the story narrated of Otis regarding his want of self-control?

What is said of the controversy between Hutchinson and Otis? What resolution did Otis offer in 1762? What is said of his pamphlet on "The Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives," etc.? What is said of the Treaty of Paris? What of the feelings of Americans towards the mother country? What of the utterances of Otis?

What did the Americans claim? What was the reply of Parliament? What is said of the Sugar Act? What of Otis' relations to Lieut.-Governor Hutchinson? Of his relations to the Sugar Act and Stamp Act? Of his relation to an Intercolonial conference? What was Franklin's opinion of this conference? What is the substance of Mr. Otis' letter to the provincial agent? Of Lord Mansfield's view of it?

SUBJECTS FOR SPECIAL STUDY. 1. The French and Indian War. 2. James Otis as an Orator. 3. The English Colonies in America. 4. The Influence of College Men in Public Life. 5. How the American Colonies Grew Together. 6. The Commercial Causes of the Revolution. 7. The Political Causes of the Revolution. 8. Otis Compared with Samuel Adams. 9. The Repeal of the Stamp Act.


1725 Born in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, Feb. 5. 1739 Entered Harvard College, June. 1743 Was graduated from Harvard. 1745 Begins the study of law. 1748 Begins the practice of law at Plymouth, Massachusetts. 1750 Removes to Boston. 1755 Marries Miss Ruth Cunningham. 1760 Publishes "Rudiments of Latin Prosody." 1761 Opposes the "Writs of Assistance." 1762 Publishes "The Rights of the Colonies Vindicated." 1765 Moves resolution for Congress of Delegates to consider "The Stamp Act," June. Attends the Congress called to consider "The Stamp Act" in New York, and appointed on the committee to prepare address to Parliament, October. 1767 Elected Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly. 1769 Attacked and severely injured by Robinson. 1771 Elected to the legislature of Massachusetts. 1775 Participates in the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17. 1778 Pleads case before court in Boston 1783 Killed by stroke of lightning at Andover, Mass., May 23.


For those who wish to read extensively, the following works are especially commended:

Library of American Biography. Jared Sparks. Vol. 2. Boston Charles C. Little and James Brown. 1846.

Life of James Otis. By William Tudor.

Orators of the American Revolution. E. L. Magoon.

"Otis Papers." In Collection of Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, 1897.

"Life of James Otis." By Francis Bowen, in Sparks' American Biography. Vol. XII Boston. 1846.

Cyclopedia of American Biography. D. Appleton & Co. New York.

American Law Register. Vol. 3, page 641.

North American Review. Vol. 16, page 337. J. C. Gray.

"The Old South Leaflets," prepared by Edwin D. Mead. D. C. Heath & Co., Boston, Publishers.

DeToqueville's Democracy in America. Works of John Fiske.

Ridpath's History of the United States. Ellis' History of the United States.


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