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

Last week we began an examination of a speech that Governor Thomas Hutchinson made here in the Old State House in January 1773.  In today's post, we'll learn more about the response to his speech.

Despite Governor Hutchinson’s fears regarding independent colonial governments, his speech acknowledged that governments make mistakes; no one governing entity is perfect. As a result, he felt that to question policies that came out of one’s government was healthy as long as it was done through channels that were considered constitutional. Hutchinson felt that the rioting and questioning of the superiority of the mother country’s government was unconstitutional. He argued before the legislative branch that he would be willing to hear their arguments, whether he shared their sentiments or not, and was willing to be convinced by them, in a peaceful manner, to understand their cause:
“I have no desire, gentlemen, by anything I have said, to preclude you from seeking relief, in a constitutional way, of any cases in which you have heretofore, or may hereafter suppose that you are aggrieved; and, although I should not concur with you in sentiment, I will, notwithstanding, do nothing to lessen the weight which your representations may deserve.”
In making this speech, Governor Hutchinson hoped to adopt a middle ground between Parliament and the colonists: acknowledging to Parliament that they still had control over the colonies while also acknowledging the right of the colonists to question policies when they felt their government was in error.

Engraving by Paul Revere
Unfortunately for Governor Hutchinson, his speech was too little too late. Though the House of Representatives agreed that political peace should be restored, they felt that they could hardly blame the current upheaval on the people. To them, the people had done nothing unconstitutional. They had only responded to Parliament “assuming and exercising a power inconsistent with the freedom of the constitution,” and therefore it was Parliament who was acting outside of the powers given to them by the constitution. The people of Massachusetts were only protecting their constitutional rights as British subjects, equal to those subjects in the mother country of Great Britain.

Hutchinson’s speech was also poorly received by Parliament. Parliament had adopted a belief that if they ignored the upheaval in the colonies it would eventually blow over, and therefore, had also ignored all of Hutchinson’s letters asking for instructions on how to address the growing disorder. By not responding to Hutchinson’s letters, they had left him to assume the proper course of action as the royal governor and representative of their political body. As a result, when Parliament heard of Governor Hutchinson’s speech, they condemned him for bringing the problem to the forefront of the minds of the colonists when they had hoped it would die away. Governor Hutchinson’s speech was received in the opposite spirit in which it was intended, only resulting in his being alienated from both the colonial government and the government of the mother country.

By Roberta DeCenzo, Education Associate