The Massachusetts Town Committees of Correspondence

In November 1772, Samuel Adams orchestrated the creation of a committee at the Boston Town Meeting to correspond with other towns in the province. Adams wanted a systematic method to make sure that the members of every town meeting were acquainted with their rights and the critical components of the constitution. Only properly informed could they be expected to maintain and assert their rights.

Adams was prompted to establish the intracolonial committees by his old nemesis, Governor Thomas Hutchinson. It began in July 1772 when rumors circulating through Boston since December 1771 were confirmed that the Massachusetts Assembly would no longer be responsible for Hutchinson's salary or those of other crown officers; they would come straight from the crown or, rather, from the same customs duties that the Gaspée had endeavored to enforce. The leaders of the assembly recognized then what the Virginia House of Burgesses realized in 1759 when it established a committee of correspondence to communicate with Whitehall: a governor paid by the king is answerable for his actions only to the king; he would act in the king's interest, not the colony's. The Massachusetts Assembly declared the move "a dangerous innovation which renders him a governor not dependent on the people."

On October 5, 1772, Adams began laying the groundwork for his plan in the press. Under the pseudonym "Valerius Poplicola," Adams wrote in the Boston Gazette, "Let Associations & Combinations be everywhere set up to consult and recover our just Rights." He introduced his plan to confront the British "Plan of Slavery" in a town meeting called for that purpose on October 28. Five days later, the Boston Town Meeting created a committee of correspondence, an exceptionally effective propaganda machine wholly outside the structure of royal government. Hutchinson, however, was unimpressed. A week later he wrote that the committee system was such "a foolish scheme that they must necessarily make themselves ridiculous." He added that the committee members were "blackhearted fellows whom one would not choose to meet in the dark."

But after the "blackhearted fellows" used "the foolish scheme" successfully to disseminate the views of radicals throughout the province, Hutchinson had a different point of view. In his History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, Hutchinson wrote, "This was too serious an affair to be treated ludicrously, and it soon after appeared to be sporting with firebrands, arrows, and death." By January 1773 more than a hundred Massachusetts towns could claim their own committee.

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