The writ of assistance had been used in Massachusetts in 1755 to prevent illicit trade with Canada and had aroused a violent hostility at that time. In 1761 it was again the subject of a bitter controversy which arose in connection with the application of a customs officer to a Massachusetts court for writs of assistance “as usual.” This application was vainly opposed by James Otis in a speech of five hours’ duration—a speech of such fire and eloquence that it sent every man who heard it away “ready to take up arms against writs of assistance.” Otis denounced the practice as an exercise of arbitrary power which had cost one king his head and another his throne, a tyrant’s device which placed the liberty of every man in jeopardy, enabling any petty officer to work possible malice on any innocent citizen on the merest suspicion, and to spread terror and desolation through the land. “What a scene,” he exclaimed, “does this open! Every man, prompted by revenge, ill-humor, or wantonness to inspect the inside of his neighbor’s house, may get a writ of assistance. Others will ask it from self-defense; one arbitrary exertion will provoke another until society is involved in tumult and blood.” He did more than attack the writ itself. He said that Parliament could not establish it because it was against the British constitution. This was an assertion resting on slender foundation, but it was quickly echoed by the people. Then and there James Otis sounded the call to America to resist the exercise of arbitrary power by royal officers. “Then and there,” wrote John Adams, “the child Independence was born.” Such was the hated writ that Townshend proposed to put into the hands of customs officers in his grim determination to enforce the law.
=The New York Assembly Suspended.=—In the very month that Townshend’s Acts were signed by the king, Parliament took a still more drastic step. The assembly of New York, protesting against the “ruinous and insupportable” expense involved, had failed to make provision for the care of British troops in accordance with the terms of the Quartering Act. Parliament therefore suspended the assembly until it promised to obey the law. It was not until a third election was held that compliance with the Quartering Act was wrung from the reluctant province. In the meantime, all the colonies had learned on how frail a foundation their representative bodies rested.
RENEWED RESISTANCE IN AMERICA
=The Massachusetts Circular (1768).=—Massachusetts, under the leadership of Samuel Adams, resolved to resist the policy of renewed intervention in America. At his suggestion the assembly adopted a Circular Letter addressed to the assemblies of the other colonies informing them of the state of affairs in Massachusetts and roundly condemning the whole British program. The Circular Letter declared that Parliament had no right to lay taxes on Americans without their consent