HANCOCK, John (1737-1793), Signer (Massachusetts), President of Congress, 1775-1777. Printed broadside signed ("John Hancock"), countersigned by selectmen Joseph Jackson, John Ruddock, John Rowe and Samuel Pemberton; Boston, 14 September 1768. 1p, folio, edges untrimmed, neat mends to a few tiny holes at fold intersections, . Bristol B2851; Ford 1430; not in Lowance & Bumgardner.
TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION: HANCOCK AND BOSTON'S SELECTMAN RALLY OPPOSITION TO THE TOWNSHEND ACTS "TAXES...ARE IMPOSED UPON THE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT..."
A key document on the road to Independence. Hancock's circular letter captures the mounting crisis between crown and colony in September 1768. George III had reacted angrily to the legislature's February 1768 circular letter (by Samuel Adams and James Otis) that rejected England's right to tax the colonies and called on other colonies to resist the Townshend duties. The Crown ordered Massachusetts lawmakers to rescind the letter and threatened to suspend the colony's legislature. In June 1768, the assembly voted refused to rescind the inflammatory letter, and Governor Barnard dismissed the lawmakers. Most of the other colonies immediately passed similar resolutions and, in most cases, their legislatures too, were dissolved.
With this circular letter, sent to towns thoughout the colony, Hancock and the Boston Select-Men seek to mobilize colony-wide opposition: "Gentlemen, You are already too well acquainted with the melancholly and very alarming Circumstances to which this province, as well as America in general, is now reduced. Taxes are imposed upon the people, without their Consent; Taxes designed for the Support of the Civil Government in the Colonies, in a Manner clearly unconstitutional, and contrary to that, in which 'till of late, Government has been supported, by the free Gift of the People in the American Assemblies or Parliaments; as also for the Maintenance of a large Standing Army; not for the Defense of the newly acquired Territories, but for the old Colonies and in a Time of Peace....The decent, humble and truly loyal Applications and Petitions...have hitherto been ineffectual" and "not yet reach'd the Royal Ear." The only effect these petitions had brought about was "a Mandate from one of his Majesty's Secretaries of State to the Governor of this Province, to Dissolve the General Assembly." The February protest letter had "imply'd nothing more than a Right in the American Subjects to unite in humble and dutiful Petitions to their gracious Sovereign, when they found themselves aggrieved: This is a Right naturally inherent in every Man, and expressly recognized in the Glorious Revolution as the Birthright of an Englishman." Instead of a civil reply, the Governor had issued a declaration that "one or more Regiments may soon be expected in this province."
Hancock and his colleagues invite fellow select-men throughout the colony to meet to discuss the crisis: "Not doubting but that you are equally concerned...for the Preservation of our invaluable Rights, and for the general Happiness of our Country, and that you are disposed with equal Ardor to exert yourselves in every constitutional Way for so glorious a Purpose." Acting Governor Hutchinson considered prosecuting Hancock and his fellow selectmen for treason. Nevertheless representatives from 96 towns answered Hancock's call, and met at Faneuil Hall from 23-28 September 1768. On the last day of the meeting British troops arrived, followed by another regiment from Canada. In October, a Boston town meeting passed resolutions for the boycott of British manufactures; a tactic soon adopted by other colonies.
This rare broadside strikingly encapsultes nearly all the arguments Jefferson would distill into his Declaration eight years later, and even anticipates some of his phrasing: "invaluable rights" and "the general happiness of our country" are haunting precursors to Jefferson's "unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The idea of natural rights is as prominent in this circular as it would be in the Declaration: "This is a Right naturally inherent in every Man," the Select-Men say of their petitions to the Crown. Likewise, they enumerate many of the abuses that would appear in the 1776 litany of charges against George III: the suspension of legislative assemblies, the disregard of peaceful petitions, and the imposition of standing armies in time of peace. There is, of course, one crucial difference. The circular speaks of the "loyal people of this Province." The colonists were not yet ready to become revolutionaries and many still sincerely hoped to resolve their differences within the fabric of the Empire. The arrival of the troops changed everything. The regiment that came--the 29th Foot--was notorious for poor discipline and for clashing with civilians at every post. Intrusive, threatening, often raucous and drunken, the Redcoats caused daily frictions with all classes of Bostonians, culminating in the Boston Massacre of 1770.