AMERICAN REVOLUTION - [John ADAMS (1735-1826)]
By the Great and General Court of the Colony of Massachusett’s-Bay. A Proclamation. The Frailty of human Nature, the Wants of Individuals, and the numerous Dangers which surround them, through the course of life, have in all Ages and in every Country, Impell'd them to form Societies, and establish Governments. As the Happiness of the People is the sole End of Government, so the Consent of the People is the only Foundation of it ... therefore every Act of Government, every Exercise of Sovereignty, against, or without the Consent of the people, is Injustice, Usurpation and Tyranny ...
[Watertown: Benjamin Edes, 1776]. Broadside. Approximately 17 1/4 x 14 inches.
Provenance: Town Clerk of Danvers (contemporary docketing on verso); Fitch Poole, 1803-1873; by descent.
The spark that lit the fuse of Independence: an extraordinary 1776 broadside Proclamation by John Adams which would lay the philosophical groundwork for the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.
In the midst of the siege of Boston, and in response to demands by western Massachusetts counties for a new constitution, a committee led by John Adams was formed by the General Court in late December 1775 "for the Purpose of inculcating a general Obedience of the People to the several Magistrates appointed under the present [i.e. Provincial] Government of this Colony." By the beginning of January 1776, news had reached America of King George III's October speech to Parliament in which he declared the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion, along with news that the British fleet had set sail with 5000 troops. And just two weeks prior to this broadside, Thomas Paine published Common Sense. The Revolution was very much underway when this Proclamation was released on January 23, 1776.
"[Adams's] first eight paragraphs read more like a preamble to a declaration of independence than a plea for acceptance of appointed magistrates. He even notes that Massachusetts took the milder course of a temporary suspension of government rather than instant Recourse to Arms; in short, that as the Declaration of Independence would later argue, the people chose to suffer as long as evils could be borne rather than abolish the forms of government to which they were accustomed" (Papers of John Adams). The document contains all the axiomatic concepts of government then circulating among the colonies. The proclamation declares that sovereign power resided with the people; that officials of government existed for the common good and security of the people; and that when any government had violated its trust, the majority of the community had the right to resist and rebel against it. Much of the language would later find its clarion voice within the Declaration of Independence, not surprisingly co-authored by Adams.
The proclamation not only lists grievances but also sets forth a philosophical statement deeply rooted within the precepts of its colonial Charter. When Thomas Gage presided as military governor of Massachusetts between 1774 and 1775, he forced members of the colonial council to resign or take refuge with him in Boston. He cancelled the autumn elections to the General Court, with the towns claiming this to be illegal, and elected representatives to a Provincial Congress, which became the revolutionary government of the colony. This January 1776 Proclamation -- just one small step short of declaring independence -- asserts that "no reasonable Prospect remains of a speedy Reconciliation with Great Britain" and espouses open rebellion. The broadside continues from the above: "When Kings, Ministers, Governors, or Legislators therefore, instead of exercising the Powers intrusted with them ... prostitute those Powers ... to destroy ... the Lives, Liberties, and Properties of the People; they are no longer to be deemed Magistrates vested with a sacred Character, but become public Enemies, and ought to be resisted."
At the bottom of the broadside is the order of the General Court with the consent of the House of Representatives that the Proclamation be read at the opening of courts and town meetings, and by Ministers of the Gospel (signed in print by Perez Morton, William Cooper and sixteen others); the Proclamation then boldly and provocatively concludes "God Save the People" rather than the traditional "God Save the King."
"This broadside is important because it so eloquently foreshadows the Declaration of Independence. It is more than an official proclamation; the rhetoric, and the general subject of human freedom, are focussed sharply in an assessment of England's tyranny over the colonies ... Throughout the document, the relationship between specific circumstances of the American colonies and some broader, more general principles of human nature has been drawn. Like the Declaration of Independence, this proclamation is a philosophical statement as well as a list of specific grievances, and its publication six months before the final adoption of many similar principles by all of the colonies, shows how strong the impulse for severance from England was in the Massachusetts Bay Colony" (Lowance and Bumgardner).
Copies of the Proclamation were circulated in January 1776 in broadside form, with the present example sent to the town clerk of Danvers. In 2005, the broadside was discovered in a trunk among the papers, autographs and historic document collection of antiquarian and librarian Fitch Poole (1803-1873) by his descendants. In 2008, the Massachusetts Superior Court found the broadside to indeed be the property of the Poole descendants, and not subject to replevin by Danvers.
Evans 14839; Cushing 914; Ford 1973; Lowance & Bumgardner, Massachusetts Broadsides of the American Revolution , 27.