May 302013

The seeds of liberty in our country were sewn from the beginning. We have always been a people in search of autonomy and freedom. Hence, the wording at the bottom of the attached image of a WWII poster. However, before the time that the independence movement coalesced and began to demand that the Colonies not be treated as a virtual money tree with which to repay Britain’s debt, there were quiet rumblings. Rather than petitions, resolves, and resolutions, there were inquires and instructions. Although Patrick Henry had already rallied enough anger in the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass the Virginia Resolves (which will be discussed in greater depth later this month), and Samuel Adam was speaking at town meetings and forming opposition groups in Boston, John Adams was quietly writing “instructions.” Adams was the primary author, and one of a five member committee, who wrote the Braintree Instructions. 

The Braintree Instructions was a polite, but well thought out, document written by John Adams in opposition to the Stamp Act. The document was amongst the first to raises question such as why Colonists were treated differently from those British subjects who lived in England, how trials could be conducted without a jury, how could tax and import burdens be placed on Colonists, and whether the Parliament even had the right to impose such taxes upon the Colonists in the absence of representation. 

The wording in the document is different from later passed resolutions and resolves. Consider the polite and cautious wording in Braintree Instructions: “In all the calamities which have ever befallen this country, we have never felt so great a concern, or such alarming apprehensions, as on this occasion. Such is our loyalty to the King, our veneration for both houses of Parliament, and our affection for all our fellow-subjects in Britain, that measures which discover any unkindness in that country towards us are the more sensibly and intimately felt.” 
Now, contract those words with these found in the Halifax Resolves: “pursuant to the Plan concerted by the British Ministry for subjugating America, the King and Parliament of Great Britain have usurped a Power over the Persons and Properties of the People unlimited and uncontrouled; and disregarding their humble Petitions for Peace, Liberty and safety, have made divers Legislative Acts, denouncing War Famine and every Species of Calamity against the Continent in General.”

As I noted when discussing one of Benjamin Franklin’s works ( several of Adams’ statements could have written today including: “We have called this a burthensome tax, because the duties are so numerous and so high, and the embarrassments to business in this infant, sparsely settled country so great, that it would be totally impossible for the people to subsist under it, if we had no controversy at all about the right and authority of imposing it. Considering the present scarcity of money, we have reason to think, the execution of that act for a short space of time would drain the country of its cash, strip multitudes of all their property, and reduce them to absolute beggary,” and “The public money of this country is the toil and labor of the people, who are under many uncommon difficulties and distresses at this time, so that all reasonable frugality ought to be observed.”

The Braintree Instructions were approved without a single dissent at a town meeting on September 24, 1765. They were widely disseminated and appeared in newspapers such as the Massachusetts and Boston Gazettes. Adoption of similar verbiage to that found in the Braintree instructions eventually appeared in resolutions from more than 40 other towns in Massachusetts. They were instrumental in prompting the Massachusetts Legislature’s call for a meeting that we know refer to as the Stamp Act Congress. Sentiments found in the Braintree Instructions, and similar documents created in other Colonies, can be heard in John Dickinson’s Declaration of Rights and Grievances to be sent to King George III.

Read the full text of the Braintree Resolves here:

Take a moment to reflect on the wisdom of our Founding Fathers and What IS Right With America!


Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.


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