242 years ago this month: a speech by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (Part I)

Thomas Hutchinson
Many debates and arguments were made within the rooms of the Old State House prior to the American Revolution when it was used as the seat of colonial government, housing both the House of Representatives and the office of the Royal Governor. Although the debates were held by patriots and loyalists, one pivotal speech made by the last civilian royal governor stands out amongst the political upheaval leading up to the outbreak of the war.

On January 6, 1773, the House of Representatives returned to the seat of government for the new year. Governor Thomas Hutchinson opened the new session with a speech acknowledging his awareness of the political disorder caused by new policies coming from the British Parliament without consent from the colonies. He hoped the violence and upheaval within the colony would subside on its own, but it had become clear the problem needed to be addressed to be resolved. Hutchinson felt that by moving from the mother country to the colonies, they never escaped the laws and policies applied to the entire empire. By accepting the protection of the mother country, the colonists agreed to adhere to the laws and governance issued from Parliament regardless of representation and distance.

Hutchinson also feared by offering the mother country an ultimatum to allow colonists representation or to self-govern would estrange the mother country from its colonies, creating a new and separate government from the British Empire:

“I know of no line that can be drawn between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies: it is impossible there should be two independent Legislatures in one and the same state; for, although there may be but one head, the King, yet the two Legislative bodies will make two governments as distinct as the kingdoms of England and Scotland…”

If the colonies operated as separate and independent governments, they would lose the protection of a strong and stable country and could easily be over taken by Spain or France. The colonists would then lose their rights as Englishmen altogether, and would have to adapt to the stricter rules and regulations of the new superior government. Even within one empire, Hutchinson felt that subjects of different provinces could not access the same rights and policies as the subjects in other provinces. In the democratic nature of election of representatives, the colonists agreed to give up some rights to the person elected; whether they voted for that individual or not. The people gave up their rights to the one man who they elected to act as the group voice for them. Not every man elected had the same ideas and motives, so each colony would have different laws and ideas of rights. Therefore, what one colony may have the right or privilege to do may not be the same as other colonies within the empire, and in extension, what the subjects in the mother country had the rights and privileges to do, did not have to be the same rights and privileges that were extended to the colonies.

Check back next week to hear the continuation of this story and the response within the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the British Empire to Hutchinson’s appeal for the return of political peace.

By Roberta DeCenzo, Education Associate