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American HonorThe Creation of the Nation's Ideals during the Revolutionary Era$

Craig Bruce Smith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638836

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638836.001.0001

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A Matter of Honor and a Test of Virtue

A Matter of Honor and a Test of Virtue

Riots, Boycotts, and Resistance during the Coming of the Revolution

(p.65) Chapter Three A Matter of Honor and a Test of Virtue
American Honor

Craig Bruce Smith

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the period from the end of the French and Indian War to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It analyzes the formation of a communal sense of self before and during the Revolution, based on recognition of British slights to Americans’ personal honor. The origins of the American Revolution are thus cast as a defense of honor on the part of the patriots. This chapter illustrates how ethical changes that occurred during the colonial period directly led to the American Revolution. The central theme is the progression of American honor, virtue, and ethics from simply a direct British offspring to something that is more individualized under the context of a nascent proto-nationalism. This chapter contends that the patriots viewed the American Revolution as a matter of honor and a test of virtue. Men like Washington felt that British policy had attacked their honor, and they were forced to react. America would win or lose based upon maintaining its virtue. It also offers new causes of the war. The chapter shows that the coming of the Revolution was understood by the patriots as more of an ethical question than a question of taxation or sovereignty.

Keywords:   Declaration of Independence, First Continental Congress, Second Continental Congress, Stamp Act, Taxes, Enlightenment thinkers, Boston Massacre, Boycotts, Debt, Sons of Liberty / Daughters of Liberty

The year 1763 marked the end of the French and Indian War, a conflict that fundamentally changed the British Empire’s relationship with the American colonies. The colonists initially viewed the British victory in the war as an opportunity to improve their standing within the empire. What resulted was stricter regulation and subjugation. Americans had fought with their British brethren, and their efforts had helped defeat the French; remove the previous, ever-present fear of hostility along the frontier; and claim large expanses of land for the Crown. For many Americans, it was a moment of triumph—they had proved their valor and gained honor through battle. At the close of the war, most Americans, like Benjamin Franklin, would have considered themselves British. While the war may have been a unifying event for the colonists, its aftermath quickly became divisive. Britain was left with the daunting task of paying the bill for the latest chapter of its centuries-old struggle with France. To the British Parliament, the taxation of the colonies in order to offset the costs of the war and administer Britain’s new territories seemed a viable solution. What began as a matter of money became a matter of honor.

As Britain began to pass invasive legislation, levy taxes, and assert control over colonial commerce, Americans started to question the ethics of their mother country. The idea that Britain has failed in its duty to its subjects, and thus sacrificed its honor, slowly took root in the minds of the colonists. They began to examine every British action through the lens of honor. Honor had always existed in the colonies, but during the period between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, it became a unifying element that was less hierarchical and dominated political and social life.

With the French threat removed from the borders of the American colonies after the French and Indian War, many real estate speculators lustily eyed the newly opened lands west of the Allegheny Mountains. For Virginians—George Washington chief among them—land denoted wealth, power, and gentility. The greater the Virginia planters’ lands, the more crops they could yield, which in turn made them more money. It allowed them to live the life of country gentlemen. As a result of service in the French and Indian War, (p.66) Washington and other officers of the Virginia Regiment had been promised extensive land grants on the western frontier. While these grants were sizeable, they were not enough for a land-hungry Virginian. In September 1763, Washington and nineteen speculators formed the Mississippi Land Company, which laid claim to 2.5 million acres of western lands as far away as Illinois. The foundation intended to expand the influence and wealth of the Virginia gentry far across the horizon.

However, Britain feared that Anglo-American expansion would incite Indian hostility, as Pontiac’s Rebellion did on the western frontier six months earlier, thereby disrupting trade and creating the expense of additional troop deployments. Less than a month after Washington and his associates made their claims, the British Parliament issued the Proclamation of 1763, banning all expansion between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. With the stroke of a quill, Britain had taken the spoils of war from the waiting hands of the colonists. Washington felt that he had spent the duration of the French and Indian War suffering denigrations of pay and status at the hands of the British; now, instead of being rewarded for his efforts, he was again dismissed.

While Washington was being robbed of his anticipated earnings, his London creditors, Robert Cary and Company, came calling for the payment of his debts. It was common for gentleman planters to contract with London merchants to sell their crops (largely tobacco in Virginia) and acquire British goods for them on credit to be paid from the season’s harvest. As a gentleman planter, Washington was a subscriber to this system and relied on these middlemen to both sell his crops and obtain luxury items. The Virginian desired all the trappings of gentility—from fashion to silverware to wine—and he managed to accumulate a considerable debt in the process.

Debt was a fact of life for planters, and Washington’s indebtedness was not the matter at issue. It was perfectly acceptable (though not desirable), and even expected, that Virginia’s gentlemen farmers would have debts; there was no dishonor attached to it. In the eighteenth century money did not dictate one’s honor. Quite the contrary, debts of money were always considered to be in reality “debts of honor.”1 Debt actually bestowed a level of honor on the individual, as it was a sign of trust that indicated that the individual’s reputation alone could be counted on to ensure future payment. To society, those who regularly incurred debt clearly possessed honor, since they were obviously thought of as capable of making good on their promises.

For Washington, the problem was that, in 1764, Robert Cary dared to ask for immediate payment of his debts.2 This was an affront to Washington’s (p.67) honor, as it implied that he was not good for the money or would not pay. Washington responded, in what he regarded as “terms equally sincere and direct,” that the ability to pay was “not in my power … ​to make remittances faster than my Crops … ​will furnish me with the means.” Thus, the debts were not a reflection on him but rather were the result of a poor showing of his crops due to weather and, in a more than slightly accusatory manner, Cary for not securing better prices for his harvest. Washington was clearly sensitive regarding Cary’s demands, as he complained that “if notwithstanding, you cannot be content with this mode of payments you have only to advise me of it and I shall hit upon a method … ​that will at once discharge the Debt, and effectually remove me from all further mention of it.” He announced that he would settle his debt, but the mere “mention” of the requested payment made Washington noticeably uncomfortable and forced him to become protective of his honor and reputation. He was genuinely shocked that his character would be called into question, stating, “I must confess, I did not expect that a corrispondant so steady, & constant as I have proovd … ​woud be reminded … how necessary it was for him to be expedious in his payments.” Washington was incensed that he would be reminded of his obligation, lecturing Cary that he would always choose to do what was “right” and that the merchant should “have rested assured, that so fast as I coud make remittances without distressing myself too much, my Inclinations woud have prompted me to it.”3 Washington took the matter very personally, adding to his growing list of insults at the hands of the British.

While Washington was lamenting London’s interference in his personal finances, the British Parliament was concerned with the empire’s own staggering (and still growing) debt of just under £130,000,000. Strapped for ready cash to pay down the debt’s nearly £5,000,000 annual interest, in addition to the £200,000 yearly cost of garrisoning the colonies, the British resorted to a form of direct revenue taxation that had never before been implemented in America.4 Taxation had always existed as a voluntary gift from the subjects to the king, but it was never directly enforced in America. The colonists, with a few exceptions, took for granted the long tradition that they could only be directly taxed by colonial legislatures.

Spurred by the debt of the war, the British imposed revenue taxation legislation in 1764 in the form of the Sugar Act (a tariff on sugar, cloth, wine, and coffee, partially designed to eliminate smuggling). As this act was viewed simply as trade regulation, its impact was quickly surpassed by the specter of the Stamp Act, which had a profound effect on the psyche of the colonists.

(p.68) While the American uproar against the Stamp Act is mostly credited with producing the immortal words “no taxation without representation,” there were concurrent matters of honor in the balance as well. The Stamp Act placed a duty on all printed articles, which required them to bear the British treasury’s stamp. As it is commonly and correctly understood, the act represented a conflict between Parliament and the colonies over the powers of taxation, issues of direct versus virtual representation, and exactly what rights Americans had as English subjects. However, the colonists were just as concerned with how the Stamp Act infringed on their honor—individually and collectively.

As noted by historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown and anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers, involuntary taxation and honor have always been at odds with each other. Contributing money as a gift by subsidy, as the colonies had done since their founding, denoted a sense of equality. Colonists viewed direct taxation as a form of tribute that denigrated them to the position of “defeated enemies and inferior people.” The American colonists had just fought valiantly for the glory of the British Empire, and they were now being tangibly and symbolically treated as something other than English subjects.5 Bostonian James Otis Jr. stated that the only distinction that should be made between the colonies and Britain was that they owed “deference and dutiful submission” to the Crown—being taxed as a conquered people was a form of shaming and dishonor.6

After the passage of the Stamp Act, nine colonial assemblies adopted resolutions affirming their opposition to the tax based on their lack of representation and Parliament’s lack of rights to direct taxation. At the same time, showing just how expansive the notion of honor was in the American colonies, the outrage aimed at the Stamp Act based on honor was equally exhibited across regional lines, with references being made from Massachusetts to Georgia (the latter of which did not issue a formal resolution). While honor is popularly considered as a Southern ideal, New England actually led the charge in accusing Britain of wounding the colony’s honor. The Harvard-educated, Boston-based Samuel Adams, in conjunction with the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, formally declared that the Stamp Act infringed on their “warm sense of honor, freedom and independence” and that “they esteem it sacrilege for them to ever give them up: and rather than lose them, they would willingly part with every thing else.”7 The members of the Massachusetts legislature made it clear that this was a principled resistance rather than a financial one. They were willing to give up “everything else,” provided they did not have to sacrifice their ideals. The linkage between (p.69) the words “honor,” “freedom,” and “independence” was a conscious choice, one that underpinned the nature of honor itself. Honor required freedom and independence in order to exist; to remove them made a person a slave, a status that, in the eighteenth century, was widely considered devoid of any form of honor. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, Americans continually linked the ideas of honor and virtue with liberty, freedom, and independence; in many ways, these ideas became inseparable and have only been distanced in the linguistics of the modern era. Within the next few years, colonial newspapers, such as the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Providence Gazette, would report that “independence” was the source of “a life of virtue” and that “men of virtue” were followers of “ethics.”8 The terms “honor” and “virtue” became representative of much more than they had previously. John Adams, Samuel’s younger cousin, specifically regarded “Liberty” as “the complication of real Honor, Piety, Virtue, Dignity, and Glory.”9 The colonists resented the Stamp Act because it made them feel subservient and unequal. In even more pointed terms, Samuel Adams and Massachusetts assemblyman Thomas Cushing explained that Parliament’s demand for taxes, rather than its acceptance of them as the traditional gift, reduced the colonists to an inferior status and robbed them of their “Honor or Safety, as Subjects!”10

John Adams, a lawyer and another student of Harvard’s virtue-over-honor curriculum, also felt that he was “under all obligations of … ​Honour” to contend with the illegality of the Stamp Act. The religious Adams, keeping in mind his youthful education, made the Stamp Act an offense against not only the honor of man but also the honor of God. Adams wrote that accepting the Stamp Act was synonymous with “consenting to slavery,” which “is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God, as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness; and that God almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!”11 Despite the religious overtones, Adams’s point remained that to accept the taxation would dishonor them. This rationale was understood and believed throughout the colonies, as its people came to resent this British slight.12

A collective sense of honor developed in response to the Stamp Act, paving the way for a common identity regardless of societal status.13 Since as early as 1761, Adams understood that Boston’s honor was dictated by the combined actions of its citizens.14 By 1765, it was not a leap for him, and others, to begin to imagine the colonies as part of one large whole. Adams spoke of the “Infant Country” of America as being the inheritors of the virtue of ancient Rome, and he asserted that Americans were a “People” who “merited Honour and Happiness” and possessed a “radical sense of Liberty.”15 Adams’s views found (p.70) support in the American press; an article in the Connecticut Courant, symbolically written under the pseudonym of the Roman hero Cato, contended that Americans are “a virtuous People unjustly sunk and debased by Tyranny and Oppression.”16

In 1765, the Eton-, Cambridge-, and Middle Temple–educated Maryland lawyer and politician Daniel Dulany wrote a scathing pamphlet, Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies for the Purpose of Raising a Revenue by Act of Parliament, attacking Parliament’s right to impose the Stamp Act. He saw America’s honor at stake, honor that its people had a duty to defend even against the mother country. He wrote, “Any oppression of the colonies would intimate an opinion of them I am persuaded they do not deserve, and their security as well as honour ought to engage them to confute.” This was not a symbolic defense of honor; Dulany insisted that some form of action be taken—to fail to do so would indicate that the colonists had already lost their honor. He instructed, “When contempt is mixed with injustice, and insult with violence, which is the case when an injury is done to him who hath the means of redress in his power; if the injured hath one inflammable grain of honour in his breast, his resentment will invigorate his pursuit of reparation, and animate his efforts to obtain an effectual security against a repetition of the outage.” Dulany declared that America must act in order to avoid dishonor, and he suggested the way to accomplish this was through a boycott of British-made goods. He urged, “Let the manufacture of America be the symbol of dignity, the badge of virtue, and it will soon break the fetters of distress.”17 The colonies had been a source for Britain’s raw materials, but the actual manufacturing took place across the Atlantic, with the colonists forced to pay high prices for the finished goods. Dulany wanted to defend American honor by hurting Britain’s purse, just as it had injured America’s.

By only using American-made products, they would be defending and embracing their honor and collective ideals, and also distancing themselves from the hierarchical, showy accouterments of gentility. For “a garment of linsey-woolsey, when made the distinction of real patriotism, is more honourable and attractive of respect and veneration, than all the pageantry, and the robes, and the plumes, and the diadem of an emperor without it.” Dulany urged Americans to view their honor as separate from merely the external trappings of appearance and embrace a deeper ideal.18 Wearing simple garments became a symbol of honor through patriotism and resistance. These ideas spread throughout the colonies. As historians Edmund Morgan and Helen Morgan explain, “Dulany’s pamphlet was bought by his countrymen as they had scarcely bought any pamphlet before.”19 Hundreds of American merchants (p.71) from throughout the colonies signed on to support such a nonimportation agreement. From the start, it was recognized as a valid means for the colonists to illicit a response and defend their honor from Britain. These actions even garnered sympathy from their English merchant counterparts, due to a sense of understanding and their own financial woes caused by the boycott.

Nonimportation agreements and boycotts of British goods became common tools for the colonists throughout the run-up to the Revolution. They became tried-and-true responses to all manner of British legislation, always framed by the language of honor and cast as “a public virtue.”20 In Virginia it was declared, “We do hereby engage ourselves, by those most sacred ties of honour and love to our country, that we will not, either … ​hereafter import within the true meaning of this association, [or] make any advance in price, with a view to profit by the restrictions hereby laid on the trade of this colony.”21 In refusing to sell or import British goods, colonists were uniting their personal senses of honor with one another for a higher cause, devoid of economic interest. The nonimportation agreements fostered a collective sense of honor, and Samuel Adams regarded them as “very solicitous for the Honor of the Merchants of Boston, my fellow Citizens, but much more for my Country.”22

Adams’s “fellow Citizens” were not only the men of the colonies; they were also the women. In 1764, Otis had publicly recognized that “women” were “born as free as men” and therefore equals in the quest for colonial rights.23 Women—frequently overlooked in discussions of honor—played an important role in protesting the actions of the British. Female participation in the boycott of British goods, particularly during the Tea Act, helped women gain equality in terms of honor, even if they still lacked social equality. Writing after the conclusion of the war, Mercy Otis Warren, Otis’s sister, recalled that “all the American continent was involved in one common danger” and that the boycotts were “solemn agreements” that “plighted their faith and honor to each other, and to their country.”24 Women stopped consuming and serving British tea, gave up luxurious clothes and fineries, and instituted home manufacturing, particularly of cloth, for the cause. They thereby engaged in both personal and collective matters of honor and illustrated their “Harmony and union,” as well as their “industry and virtue.”25 Philadelphia poet Hannah Griffitts wrote,

  • Let the Daughters of Liberty, nobly arise,
  • And tho’ we’ve no Voice, but a negative here,
  • The uses of the Taxables, let us forbear,
  • (p.72) (Then Merchants import till yr. Stores are all full
  • May the Buyers be few and yr. Traffick be dull.)
  • Stand firmly resolved and bid Greenville to see
  • That rather than Freedom, we’ll part with our Tea
  • And well as we love the dear Draught when adry,
  • As American Patriots,—our Taste we deny.26

As women denied their desires for the greater good, it became a tangible sign of honor, with honor also expanding its meaning. Women demonstrated these values in a variety of ways, from personally making their own cloth to refusing a cup of tea.

But women’s sense of honor also became collectivized, like that of their male counterparts, and in turn expanded their public and political roles. In Newport, Rhode Island, nearly one hundred women, recognized as “daughters of Liberty,” engaged in a “voluntary Bee or Spinning Match” to produce bolts of homespun cloth as a sign of resistance. Such actions by “Ladies of Character” were not isolated incidents and were conspicuous to the “Eyes of the World” as “contributing to bring about the political Salvation of the whole Continent.” Furthermore, this collective action was regarded as “a credit to their fair Sex, and an Honour to America.”27 Their actions were considered not only to benefit women collectively but also to be representative of united colonial sentiment. Boycotting British goods and making their own clothes became an external sign of their inner qualities and so matched the ethic of honor perfectly. Again the Tea Act provided the most prominent examples of collective female honor. On October 25, 1774, in Edenton, North Carolina, fifty-one ladies led by Penelope Baker held their own tea party in which they forswore the beverage as a “duty we owe not only to our near and dear connections … ​but to ourselves” and for “the peace and happiness of our country.”28 The affair was directly organized by women, independent of male influence, and spoke to their conceptions of personal and collective honor. In turn, Warren attempted to galvanize all women into taking action for the cause:

  • Let us resolve on a small sacrifice
  • And in the pride of Roman matrons rise;
  • Good as Cornelia, or Pompey’s wife,
  • We’ll quit the useless vanities of life.29

Warren appealed to virtue based on classical sentiments; just as the men had their Roman heroes, such as Cato, women could look to antiquity for shining examples of honor and virtue to which they could aspire.30

(p.73) All of these actions brought women into the public and political sphere.31 Before this, women were infrequent political actors. Their deeds rarely entered them into the conversation of honor and thus were not typically talked about in such terms. Through political action, they gained honor for themselves and their sex collectively. By offering a degree of political inclusion, the boycotts represented a moment of stark departure from the traditional references to women’s honor and virtue as being confined only to chastity. For some, boycotts served as a gateway to even more patriotic behavior. In the Massachusetts countryside, a tall young lady named Deborah Sampson gained her first taste of honor by weaving cloth for the cause—and she would come to desire more.32

The boycotts included women from all classes, including those of “Rank and Influence.” Women publicly spoke up against the British infringement on liberty, saying it could reduce America to slavery.33 These concepts, already firmly tied to honor, became the backbone of the female protest. Quaker planter and future abolitionist Robert Pleasants celebrated the fairer sex, saying that “in Consequence of this resolution the use of Tea is declined in great measure, and with credit to our Women, it may be said they seem as forward to promote the cause in that respect as the Men.”34 This was not simply rhetoric; the idea that women were active participants in the resistance movement was held broadly in colonial society. Hannah Winthrop, wife of Harvard professor John Winthrop, reveled in the story of a gentleman remarking to a young boy that his mother was a “fine lady.” The boy accepted the compliment but added his own stipulation, “I know my mama is a fine lady, but she would be much finer if she were a Daughter of Liberty.”35 This anecdote illustrates that in America during the 1760s and 1770s, it was understood that a woman could possess all of the traditional female attributes associated with gentility but would be improved by the honor of taking up the cause of America. Not only did men recognize the honor that women possessed, but women also came to see themselves as patriots and began to utilize much of the same language of honor as men.36 America’s females believed that “honor,” “virtu[e],” and “noble resolution” were demanded of both men and women. They became active participants in the fight for freedom, and they wanted “it known unto Britain, even American daughters are politicians and patriots and will aid the good work with their female efforts.”37

On the other side of the debate, those colonists who defied the agreement were considered to be acting dishonorably and as a result were shunned, vilified (often in scathing newspaper articles), or publicly shamed (possibly even through tarring and feathering) by their patriotic neighbors.38 British-educated (p.74) lawyer Arthur Lee regarded opposition as “treachery,” and it made him fear that “there was not virtue enough in America.”39 Samuel Adams, under the pseudonym Determinatus, roused the people against such nonconformity, stating, “Where then is the honor! Where is the shame of these persons, who can look into the faces of those very men with whom they have contracted, & tell them Without Blushing that they resolved to Violate the contract! Is it obstinacy, perverseness, pride, or from what root of bitterness does such an unaccountable defection from the laws of honor, honesty, and even humanity spring?”40

For some colonists, the Stamp Act and the boycott of British goods became personal. Washington, still in the midst of his continuing feud with Cary, began to link his own predicament to the legislation imposed by Parliament. Washington added a slew of additional grievances to his argument with Cary. He accused the merchant of cheating him on the profits for the sale of his tobacco crops, as well as supplying him with inferior goods at disproportionate prices. He linked these personal slights with those suffered by America as a whole. The Stamp Act became an “ill Judgd,” “unconstitutional method of Taxation” and “a direful attack upon their Liberties.” Washington concluded, like Dulany, that the only way to combat such offenses was to disengage from commerce with Britain. Washington’s sense of America’s honor was born from his own personal honor, but over time collective honor took precedence. In a letter to Cary that could have just as easily been addressed to Parliament, he wrote, “The Eyes of our People (already beginning to open) will perceive, that many of the Luxuries which we have heretofore lavished our Substance to Great Britain for can well be dispensed with whilst the Necessaries of Life are to be procurd … ​within ourselves.”41 The colonists were waking up and thinking alike. The boycott was a way for America to defend its honor without sacrificing its virtue by descending to violence.

For many, however, this form of action was not enough; tempers began to overflow and more public and violent displays soon sprang up within the colonies. Displeasure over the Stamp Act was aimed largely at government officials, who were viewed as supporting or at least collaborating with Parliament. Violence was soon directed at the city’s stamp distributer and secretary of Massachusetts, Andrew Oliver, and his brother-in-law Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. Oliver and Hutchinson had been accumulating titles and offices for themselves for years, though they claimed this rise to power was not out of interest but rather out of duty. Outrage over their nepotistic familial networks and hereditary advancement made them a target for the green-tinged eyes of others. Future patriots, such as John (p.75) Adams and Otis, viewed the preferential treatment of these families as an attempt to institute aristocratic rule, a prospect that was “humiliating,” especially after Hutchinson was given the position of chief justice, despite not being a lawyer.42 Heredity had conquered merit, and the patriots of Boston would not forget the insult. Jealousy and slights over personal matters again combined with the political realm to create a storm of hostility focused on the two relatives.

Oliver and Hutchinson became representative of the old style of advancement, which was based on heredity and patronage. Hostility toward them was in effect also a protest against this old system of non-merit-centered, descent-oriented hierarchy. Such animosity showed an evolving understanding of the nature of honor, both personally and professionally. Both men viewed themselves as behaving honorably in the typical manner of the British Empire, but such a style was now less acceptable in American society. Hutchinson was conscious of the American resistance to hereditary advancement; he recognized that the “appointment of natural sons to places of honour had an ill effect upon people’s minds in America.”43 Still, he considered himself as behaving properly given his station and office.

Hutchinson viewed himself as firmly American; his family was made up of successful Congregationalist merchants (although he was more Anglican in belief) who were considered to be among the founders of Massachusetts. He was born in Boston in 1711 and attended the Boston Latin School (his father, Colonel Thomas Hutchinson, donated its building on School Street) and Harvard College. He was “well-to-do, well born, and of good character” and married into an equally prominent family: the Sanfords of Rhode Island, whose patriarch was also that colony’s governor.44 It was through this marriage that Hutchinson and Oliver became linked, as they both married Sanford daughters. Oliver came from a similar background to Hutchinson’s; he was also Harvard educated and from a successful merchant family. As a result, Oliver and Hutchinson moved in virtually identical familial, political, and social circles, linking them inseparably in the minds of Bostonians. By the late 1730s, Hutchinson had entered Boston politics, and he remained ensconced in them for the next four decades.

The patriots resented Hutchinson as a representative of the old ideals of honor and hierarchy, but he was more an amalgamation of his Puritan upbringing and royal offices. Hutchinson was no stranger to the value of reputation, the necessity of virtue, and the laws of honor, and he was begrudgingly regarded as a “very good gentleman” by Otis.45 The former Massachusetts governor Jonathan Belcher called him “a young gentleman of exact virtue.”46 (p.76) Like John Adams, Hutchinson rejected ostentatious displays of wealth and rank in favor of a subtler form of gentility. He possessed “self-respect” and “restraint” created by his “reputation and honor.”47 But these attributes did not stop many colonists from casting Oliver and Hutchinson as the villains behind the Stamp Act; Otis even suggested that Hutchinson had personally negotiated it.

On August 13, 1765, violence erupted. Spurred by the Loyal Nine, a collection of artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers (later renamed the Sons of Liberty), the lower classes of Boston’s North and South Ends lashed out against the city’s stamp distributor, Oliver. Despite the seemingly anonymous face of this collection, the influence of Ebenezer Mackintosh, “Commander of the South,” would have been apparent (the events of the evening may have been influenced by Samuel Adams and Otis). Mackintosh, a cordwainer (shoemaker) by trade, was representative of Boston’s less exalted residents. In a microcosm of colonial society, often divided, the North and South End mobs formed a “Union” and put aside personal interests for “patriotic principles,” as they too understood the dictates of honor. (Only months later, Mackintosh; Samuel Swift, the “Commander of the North”; and their subordinates made an agreement “engaged upon their Honor,” and there is no reason to believe similar promises did not occur here.) Illustrative of this point about speaking in terms of honor, Peter Oliver, a loyalist author, writes unfavorably about Mackintosh but still declares him to be a man of “superior Honor.” In addition, Mackintosh’s actions may have been due in part to his realization that the Stamp Act would negatively affect all tradesmen. Thus, his and the mobs’ involvement may represent an early form of occupational or professional honor.48

With Mackintosh and Swift at the helm, the mob (led by a soon-to-be beheaded effigy of Andrew Oliver) broke through Oliver’s front door and windows and ransacked his house near Fort Hill, all the while searching for the official with obvious malevolent intentions.49 Oliver escaped that night, but his patriot neighbors soon threatened him into resigning his official commission. The event clearly left Oliver shaken, as years later he continued to denounce the evening’s organizers as the “sons of Violence.” He viewed the actions taken against him in his official capacity as both a personal insult and a slight to the British government. And he offered a solution: “If the honour of an insulted Government should require some examples of justice, the men could be easily pointed out, and ought to be offered as victims, if it might be a means of saving the community.”50

(p.77) The following night, a crowd surrounded Hutchinson’s handsome white Georgian three-storied Boston mansion and demanded that he publicly swear he disapproved of the Stamp Act. The leaders of the mob claimed, “Since … ​they respected Hutchinson’s private character they would accept his personal assurance that he did not favor the act.” This ultimatum, though inherently threatening, showed that the colonists at least understood Hutchinson to be a man of honor, as they only questioned his public office. Hutchinson was set against answering such a charge on principle. He was spared by the shouts of an old tradesman in the crowd, who “charged” the mob with “ingratitude in insulting a gentleman who had been serving his country all his days.”51 The crowd dispersed, as this impassioned plea based on honor seemed to shame them, or at least momentarily satisfy their demands. However, less than two weeks later, another mob returned. The elegant governor remained determined to face the oncoming swarm personally and not withdraw from the danger, until his twenty-one-year-old daughter Sarah pleaded with him to flee. As he ran out the rear entrance, the mob descended, split his front door with axes, looted his family’s possessions, and completely ravaged his home.52 Before long, mobs and threats of violence sprang up throughout the colonies, and stamp distributors promptly withdrew from office.

The rage and violence employed by some colonists seems consistent with the nature of primal honor. Primal honor, as defined by historian Wyatt-Brown, involves the act of avenging a slight to one’s honor through force. In many ways, these riots followed the same architecture as a duel, forcing capitulation or contrition by threat of violence. While these riots, which targeted Crown officials, had the same intended purpose as the nonimportation agreement, they were less readily accepted as an appropriate means of defense. As many came to view honor as consistent with ethics, the condemnation of violence was diverse. According to Boston pastor Charles Chauncy, the assault on Hutchinson’s home “was so detested by town and country, and such a spirit at once so generally stirred up, particularly among the people, to oppose such villanous conduct, as has preserved us ever since in a state of as great freedom from mobbish actions as has been known in the country.”53 South Carolinian slave trader Henry Laurens denounced rioters, especially the Sons of Liberty, as enactors of “pretended Patriotism” who were filled with purely selfish and economic motivations. He argued that riots were not done to help relieve the burdens of America but rather were “unbounded acts of Licentiousness & at length Burglary & Robbery.” Laurens then went one step further and denounced the riots’ leaders as only hoping “to pay their debts or at least to (p.78) obtain a Credit during their own pleasure by the destruction of the Stamp’d Papers.”54

Washington also disapproved of this mob justice, as did Pennsylvanian John Dickinson. Dickinson went to great lengths to defend American honor by distancing the majority of the colonists from their more rambunctious brethren. He stated that he resented being grouped with “those few of the lower rank, who disturbed us with two or three mobs in some of the provinces,” and lamented that critiques of America were not limited “to any other particular class of people; but that the censure is designed for all the inhabitants of these colonies.”55 Coinciding with this thinking was the idea that nonviolence also could even lead to social mobility for those of lower rank.56 Dickinson spoke out against mob violence in order “to vindicate the honour of my country, which I think grossly and wantonly insulted.”57 Those using violence, in Dickinson’s view, were acting against the best interest of America and weakening their ethical position.

In many ways Dickinson was an odd champion of honor, as he was born into a Quaker family, married a Quaker, and held many Quaker beliefs (though he was not formally a member of their meeting). Quakers were largely opposed to the notion of honor. Honor was owed to God; it was not the possession of man but humanity’s duty to its creator. There was no concept of honor for men; it was only for God. Despite this belief, there was a heightened sense of duty and virtue in the Quaker faith. They were consistent with the very understanding of honor that they publicly shunned. The Quaker conception of the duty to act virtuously conformed to many of the traditional values. Quakers still had a complex understanding and acceptance of shame and disgrace—and, in turn, dishonor.58 They did not believe dishonor should be avenged through violence, but rather by public affirmations. The mere use of the term “honor” and its conception by Dickinson in light of his religion are significant, and they show the widespread acceptance and importance of the concept, even despite specific attempts to curtail its influence. Even Quakers, who were technically opposed to the notion of honor, realized its importance in colonial affairs. Dickinson’s stance in regard to colonial violence also suggests that in embracing the concept of honor, he was speaking of its ethical variant rather than the older form in opposition to Quaker beliefs.

Despite opposition from many of the exalted men of American society, these Stamp Act riots were not simply the actions of the rabble; they were conducted by those from diverse social stations who sought to take action in defense of their honor and liberty—in the same way as those who supported the nonimportation agreements. Throughout the colonies, men from all walks (p.79) of life contributed to the riots. Gentlemen usually took the helm, with those of humbler origins in tow. In Williamsburg, Virginia, stamp distributer George Mercer was forced from his post by a group that Governor Francis Fauquier gasped, “I should call a Mob, did I not know that it was chiefly if not altogether Composed of Gentlemen.”59 Thus, the matter was not inherently an issue of class division but rather a disagreement on the interpretation of morality.

Violence was not limited to mobs. In January 1766 in New Haven, Connecticut, a brash young merchant and bookseller who had been continuing to illegally trade as if the Stamp Act did not exist and who had already shown a penchant for settling personal slights through duels led a less extravagant public assault against Peter Boles, one of his own merchant sailors who attempted to inform on his employer’s smuggling.60 The twenty-five-year-old, named Benedict Arnold, viewed the Stamp Act and Boles’s conduct as an infringement on his business and as a personal slight. Arnold likely charged Boles with ingratitude, one of the worst offenses against a man of honor. The incident intimately tied the political with the personal. Arnold dragged Boles from his apartment, ripped the clothes from his back, and tied him to the town whipping post. Then Arnold “did with the same force & violence then & there assault … ​beat & abuse in a most cruel shocking & dangerous manner” the unfortunate Boles, who suffered forty lashes “to his grievous damage” and was forced out of New Haven. Arnold was charged for the crime by Justice Roger Sherman, who nearly a decade later would be an architect and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He received barely a slap on the wrist—a sign of the broad acceptance of Arnold’s actions.61 Arnold used the language of honor to justify actions that were clearly extreme. While the fervor of the Stamp Act made his assault slightly more justifiable in the eyes of his neighbors, Arnold’s continued leaps in the defense of honor would place him in a more serious predicament during the Revolution.

The dual nature of the resistance to the Stamp Act is illustrative of the varied interpretations of honor by society. There was agreement among patriotic Americans that Parliament’s actions imposed on the colonists’ and the colonies’ honor, but differences arose as to how to defend or reclaim it. Could a defense of honor justify violence?

At first, Laurens took special pleasure in the fact that such physical outbursts were not native to South Carolina. Laurens delighted in the fact that his colony would be free of “disturbance to the expected Stamp Officer” and of all “riot and Mobbing & every mark of tumult & sedition” against the Stamp Act; even though it was “oppressive,” the act would not be opposed (p.80) through lawlessness. He even looked on the legislation as an opportunity for South Carolina to show its ethical and ideological superiority to the other colonies, as he claimed, “We in Carolina have now a glorious opportunity of standing distinguished for our Loyalty, which we have sometimes boasted of very much, an opportunity of standing single in the only cause wherein singularity merits commendation, the cause of Virtue.”62

Unfortunately for him, under a midnight sky, a sudden pounding on his door drowned out his boasts as a mob of about fifty people demanded to search his house for stamped paper under the cries of “Liberty.” Despite protesting and giving his “word & honour” that he possessed no such materials, Laurens did not sway them from searching his home (only to find nothing incriminating) amid the “shrieking” of the ill and pregnant Mrs. Laurens.63

Primal honor clearly existed within society, but it did not represent the only view of the ethic. Dickinson perceived such actions as unjustifiable for a nonphysical slight to America’s honor. John Adams regarded primal honor, as its name would indicate, as barbaric and a quality of primitive man. Dickinson and Adams both associated this form of honor with the lower class. In addition, Adams long feared that an unchecked proclivity toward primal honor in society would compromise virtue, a view that was not dissimilar from Laurens’s notion of South Carolinian virtue. In 1763, Adams had prophetically written before the Stamp Act violence that “whole armed Mobs shall assault a member of the House—when violent Attacks shall be made upon Counsellors—when no Place shall be sacred.”64 Though opposition to primal honor existed throughout the colonies, it was only the violent methods that were being criticized, not the rationale. Primal honor would find acceptance and resistance throughout the colonies, illustrating that such a concept of honor existed throughout all of America, not simply the South, as is traditionally perceived. Furthermore, some Southerners resented this notion of primal honor as inconsistent with virtue.

The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, a year after it was first initiated, in no small part due to the joint resistance of the colonists. It was this resistance, and the methods employed under it, that united the colonists in defending the honor of their individual colonies. Over time, this cause would be combined with that of the defense of the honor of the colonies as a whole. Personal honor became linked to the collective honor of the colonies, which would become national honor by the outbreak of the Revolution. This display of unity prompted Georgia reverend and religious dissenter John Joachim Zubly to remark that “the unanimous, steady, and prudent union of the Americans, does honour to the present generation.”65 In Boston, Chauncy spoke of (p.81) the “honor” of American resistance, and he illustrated its diversity by stating, “There was never, among us, such a collection of all sorts of people upon any public occasion.”66 Likewise, Samuel Adams wrote in the Boston Gazette, “Their [the colonies’] united and successful struggles against that slavery with which they were threatened by the stamp-act, will undoubtedly be recorded by future historians to their immortal honor.”67 The successful opposition to the legislation showed that by combining their efforts and viewing the honor as collective, they could bring about change.

From the Stamp Act onward, the defense of collective honor remained a constant motif in Anglo-American politics. Colonial reaction to ensuing Parliamentary legislation, such as the Declaratory Act, the Quartering Act, the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, and the Intolerable Acts, all became matters of honor in the same way as first exhibited toward the Stamp Act. Illustrating this point, Dickinson’s Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer, written in 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts, was “a lively resentment of every insult and injury offered to your [an American’s] honour and happiness.” As Dickinson stated, “honour and welfare will be, as they now are, most intimately concerned” with the opposition to British legislation, and these notions would allow the people to be “cemented by the dearest ties” into a “band of brothers.”68 His message was twofold: resistance was a matter of honor, and honor was the link between the colonists. It was this shared commonality of honor that would make union a possibility.

When people failed to uphold the boycotts, it was not considered a failure of honor culture. Even loyalist New York minister Samuel Seabury, while he accused merchants of seeking profit over “honour, virtue, and courage,” simply considered the individual as having “prostitute[d] his honor.”69 In fact, as Warren noted, although it was “not uncommon to see virtue, liberty, love of country, and a regard to character, sacrifice[d] at the shrine of wealth,” it was viewed as an individual not upholding “ties of honor, or the principles of patriotism,” rather than a reduction of these ethics in society as a whole.70 Thus, it actually shows that the joint principles of honor and virtue were indeed viewed as the means to judge right and wrong. While the importance of these ideals was never doubted, the debate over whether violence was a justifiable defense of honor continued on the streets of Boston.

Honor and virtue were always understood as ethical matters, and they were constantly considered throughout the coming of the Revolution. For example, the Essex Journal asked its readers to consider the “justness” of British legislation to enable the colonists “to determine with ethical certainty” whether they “violated the principles of equity with the destruction of the (p.82) tea, or whether it was warrented by a prime law inherent, being wrote indelible characters on the table of the heart.”71 The individual and society were expected to ethically measure their deeds in order to retain moral superiority. The limits of honorable resistance as an ethical matter would largely dominate the contested meaning of the ideal. How far could honor go while still being viewed as ethical?

Well-known Bostonian Otis grew more resentful of British legislation—and, as the decade progressed, he became bolder (possibly because of his progressively worsening undiagnosed mental illness). Otis had become obsessed with the fact that British agents and supporters were conspiring against him. Like Washington, Otis linked his personal slights with those of the people as a whole. On September 4, 1769, he lashed out in an advertisement in the Boston Gazette, vilifying a number of officials—particularly Boston-based customs commissioner John Robinson—and saying that they “frequently and lately treated the character of all true North Americans in a matter that is not to be endured, by privately and publically, representing them as Traitors and Rebels.”72

But words were not enough for Otis; the following evening, he burst into the British Coffee House on King Street with designs to extract “a Gentleman’s satisfaction” (a duel) from Robinson. Dueling was illegal in Boston, but this did not dissuade Otis, who instead opted to use his fists. Otis invited Robinson to join him outside to settle the matter and was turning toward the door when Robinson attempted to tweak his nose (a substantial eighteenth-century insult). Otis struck back with his cane, and for the next minute they fought, Robinson armed with a stick. Unfortunately, Otis had failed to consider his surroundings, and the Coffee House’s patrons (mostly British military or officials) shoved at him the entire time. Passerby John Gridley denounced this gang assault as a dishonorable “dirty Usage” and leapt into the fray to aid Otis, but was promptly beaten as well. Despite the assistance of his would-be savior, Otis was thrown through the door onto King Street. Robinson stalked his prey, pummeling Otis with his bare hands to the crowd’s chorus of “Kill him.” His assault was so furious that the beaten attorney’s hat and wig flew off and were lost among the mass of feet circling the area (or possibly stolen or hidden by British officer Captain Bradford).

Otis was left a bloodied mess, lying in the street amid the cheers of British officers, who felt that he “deserved” his “Drubbing.”73 The Boston Gazette offered a competing view of the heroic Otis and Gridley, lauding them for standing up against British insults despite being greatly overmatched in numbers. The newspaper made them an example to be followed, as it declared (p.83) that both men “acquitted themselves with a Spirit and Resolution becoming Gentlemen and Men of Honor.”74 Warren acknowledged the public acclaim and speculated, “[Do] we have men among us under the guise of officers of the Crown, who have become assassins?” She denounced Robinson and his British brethren as dishonorable, for they “attacked a gentleman alone and unarmed with a design to take away his life.”75

While Warren showed genuine sisterly concern for her brother’s injuries and ordeal, her views on honor continued to show a polarization over the use of violence. Warren’s idea of honor was closely tied to conscience. She mocked the “laws of honour,” meaning the trappings of primal honor (dueling and so on), as nothing more than “false honour.” For Warren, true honor was consistent with the will of God and “promoting the greatest good.”76 This view again shows the more typical New England understanding of virtue as the highest goal, as opposed to Otis’s less common reaction. Though Warren and Otis were from the same family, divisiveness over what could be justified by honor was just as prevalent as within society as a whole.

Less than a year later and only three hundred feet west, a crowd of angry colonists encircled a patrol of eight British soldiers and one officer on a clear and cold March night. The affair was sparked by a minor dispute over a debt and quickly escalated as a mob began to form in the shadow of the State House. Threats of death and various projectiles were hurled at the British. As the circle drew tighter, tensions and fear rose. A well-aimed piece of ice struck the head of a soldier and triggered the first shot. After a moment of pause, perhaps of disbelief, a British volley of fire commenced. Three colonists fell on the spot; two more were carried from the scene but died soon after. Church bells sounded the alarm for fire (flames, not bullets), drawing John Adams from the South End to help fight a blaze—but to his shock he saw not the crimson glow of flames but the shimmer of fresh blood. The blood of the fallen and the blood of countless other wounded stained the blanket of freshly fallen snow—a symbol of America’s fractured innocence.

From a dockside brawl to five bodies littering the Boston streets, both sides of the affair agreed that honor was at the heart of these killings. Colonists argued that the Boston Massacre, as it was termed by Samuel Adams, was the result of the shame a British soldier in the Twenty-Ninth Regiment suffered, as he was bested in a fight with a Boston rope maker.77 This earlier one-on-one fight deteriorated into a free-for-all between citizens and soldiers that saw the British retreating after being driven back. It was claimed that the events of September 5 were an attempt to reclaim their lost honor from the previous fight. The publication of A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in (p.84) Boston, authored by a committee made up of James Bowdoin, Joseph Warren, and Samuel Pemberton, supported the fact that this initial scuffle “made a strong impression on the minds of the soldiers in general, who thought the honour of the regiment concerned to revenge those repeated repulses. For this purpose, they seem to have formed a combination to commit some outrage upon the inhabitants of the town indiscriminately.”78 Boston looked on the affair as a display of false honor at the hands of the British troops. Although this depiction did not prove to be accurate, it still dominated the minds of Boston’s citizens. For a people who had been using the defense of honor as justification for combating parliamentary legislation, this incident complicated what actions were ethically permitted by honor yet again.

John Adams defended the accused soldiers, even though he had commented to Samuel Adams, Otis, and John Hancock less than a year earlier that “common Decency, as well as the Honour, and Dignity … ​will require a Removal of those Cannon, and Guards.”79 John Adams, joined in the defense by attorneys Josiah Quincy Jr. and Robert Auchmuty, was no friend to the recent British legislation. He believed that the accused needed a fair trial to show the world the true virtue that America possessed; against general preconceptions, the most vocal patriot leaders, including Samuel Adams and Hancock, likewise supported the soldiers’ defense on these grounds.80 Quincy centered his opening statements on the nature of honor and virtue. He claimed that the actions of the colonists led to each British soldier being “touched in the Point of Honour, and in the Pride of Virtue, when he saw and felt these Marks of Disrespect.”81 But Quincy was adamant that “words … ​are no justification of blows, but they serve as the grand clues to discover the temper and the designs of the agents: they serve also to give us light in discerning the apprehensions and thoughts of those who are the objects of abuse.” The threats, snowballs, and clubs of the colonists questioned the honor of the soldiers. Quincy equated the slight of the soldiers’ honor with that of the colonies at the hands of Parliament when he asked the jury, “Would you not spurn at that spiritless institution of society, which tells you to be a subject at the expence of your manhood?” Quincy claimed that it was impossible for one to remain “calm and moderate” when “every passion of which the human breast is susceptible” is stirred. The defense insisted that “fear, anger, pride, resentment, revenge, alternately, take possession of the whole man” and were not only understandable but expected—making the firing on the civilians a justifiable action provoked by the behavior of the victims.82

The defense illustrated that there were limits to what could be done in defense of honor, but physical slights could be returned in kind. In many (p.85) respects, the trial set limits on American resistance to British legislation and established honor and virtue as ethical principles. Before, all patriot actions had been billed as a defense of honor against Parliament. But after the conclusion of the trial, when all but two of the soldiers (who were guilty only on a lesser charge) were acquitted, society accepted that only violence could justify violence. More importantly, the trial and verdict illustrated to the colonists and the world that America was a land of honor and virtue, not one of selfishness and revenge. These were not show trials or witch burnings but a real attempt to seek truth and act justly. Adams reminisced on his role in defending the soldiers, “It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” He continued, “Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.”83 Adams, Quincy, the jury, and all those who had behaved properly in seeking justice rather than vengeance, proved themselves capable of Roman disinterested virtue—a form that would serve them well in the years to come.84 The trial was a matter of honor and the first real test of American virtue. And in it, Americans proved themselves to be ethical.

Across the Atlantic, Benjamin Franklin watched the events in the colonies from London with detached optimism. He interpreted the Sugar Act as acceptable and the Stamp Act as regrettable but justifiable. Franklin maintained that Britain “cannot hurt [the colonists] without hurting [itself].”85 Franklin was personally opposed to the Stamp Act; he was willing to allow “a great many debts due to me in America” to “remain unrecoverable by any law, than submit to the stamp act. They will be debts of honour.”86 He also recognized that a tax on paper would hurt him more than anyone, as he was still a partner in several printing firms, although no longer a printer by trade. Still, he dismissed this imposition as a necessary evil in order to maintain the empire. He declared that it would provide the colonies with a chance to cultivate the virtues of “Frugality and Industry.”87 Franklin, as a colonial agent, maintained a spirit of classical disinterestedness. His position made him unpopular among many colonists. Throughout the passage of the Townshend Duties, he sought to bring the colonies and England closer together in understanding. At the same time, he moved to advance himself in government.

By the end of 1772, according to Gordon Wood, “Franklin was as optimistic as he had ever been” about the British Empire.88 As Franklin was busy trying to reconcile the colonies and solidify his own position with Britain, he made a political misstep. And it had profound consequences for his honor and the (p.86) perception of the colonies. Private correspondence between his old acquaintance Governor Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor Oliver, and British undersecretary Thomas Whately came into Franklin’s hands through a third party. The letters were written between 1767 and 1769. They incriminated Hutchinson, whom Franklin hoped the colonists would regard as the true villain behind the treatment of the colonies, not the British government. Franklin believed that if America could have a few key villains to focus on, it would turn its attention away from its anger toward Parliament.

Although the letters possessed incendiary verses, they were not conclusive evidence or even devoid of sympathy for the colonies. Franklin showed he was well aware that he was using both Oliver and Hutchinson, whose guilt was dubious at best, as “scape-goat[s],” when he wrote a cover letter included with his intercepted documents that stated, “But if they are good Men, and agree that all good Men wish agood [sic] Understanding and Harmony to subsist between the Colonies and their Mother Country, they ought the less to regret, that at the small Expence of their Reputation for Sincerity and Publick Spirit among their Compatriots, so desirable an Event may in some degree be forwarded.”89 Franklin’s choice was made in favor of what he regarded as the greater good. He was willing to trade Hutchinson’s and Oliver’s honor and reputations to maintain the empire.90 Even more so, he expected that if they really were truly “good” men (meaning men of honor and virtue), they would willingly sacrifice themselves and their honor for the greater good of America and the empire.

In 1772, Franklin sent these letters to Massachusetts with the intent of privately and anonymously sharing them with a limited number of the colonial leadership. Almost immediately their reach went further than Franklin wished. The papers quickly passed into the hands of John and Samuel Adams, who made their contents broadly known before they were openly debated in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Within the year, the messages were published in a pamphlet, entitled The Representation of Governor Hutchinson and Others, and readily available to the volatile population as a whole. Alarming passages written by Hutchinson, accompanied by instructions to “keep secret every thing I write,” seemed to support the idea of a conspiracy being plotted against American’s rights, and more importantly seemed to prove the accusations leveled against Hutchinson seven years earlier.91

In the letters, Hutchinson, like a latter-day Thomas Hobbes, concluded that the proper solution for the colonies “must be an abridgment of what are called English liberties.” He stated, “I relieve myself by considering that in a remove from the state of nature to the most perfect state of government there (p.87) must be a great restraint of natural liberty.” The American-born Hutchinson was intent on maintaining the subservience of the colonies to Britain, stating, “I wish to see some further restraint of liberty.” He wrote of the tensions of Boston’s “crisis” that Britain must do what “is absolutely necessary to maintain … the dependance which a colony ought to have upon the parent State; but if no measures shall have been taken to secure this dependance, or nothing more than some declaratory acts or resolves, it is all over with us.”92 This threat against liberty and independence (not necessarily in a political sense), both necessary components of honor, was especially startling to many Americans. Such actions could stop or at least delay a growing sense of American honor, and the colonists took the possibility seriously.

The reaction to the letters was swift and severe in both America and Britain. The Massachusetts House of Representatives found Hutchinson and Oliver to be nothing more than two-faced liars “chargeable with the great Corruption of Morals” and out “to raise their own Fortunes and advance themselves to Posts of Honor … ​at the Expence of the Rights and Liberties of the American Colonies.”93 They were vilified for seeking personal gain rather than the greater good of the colonies. They were held up as examples of a false sense of honor, due to their lack of a collective spirit. By their behavior, they had proved themselves dishonorable and unvirtuous. Americans blamed Franklin’s chosen villains, but it did not abate the animosity toward Parliament, which they considered in league with the two men. They petitioned Parliament for the immediate dismissal of Hutchinson and Oliver from their official positions.

Almost concurrently, on December 16, 1773, colonists protested the tax on tea by throwing the cargo of three ships that belonged to the British East India Company into Boston Harbor. For many, especially Hutchinson and those in the British government, the two events were inseparably linked—the Tea Party was the result of the publication of the letters. Throughout the whole affair, Hutchinson professed that he was acting “to save the honour of the Government” and was behaving according to his duty of office.94 It was in this tumultuous environment that Franklin, acting in his role as a colonial agent, appeared before Britain’s Privy Council and represented Massachusetts’s bid to remove Hutchinson and Oliver. Even before news of the latest events in Boston arrived, the fact that private correspondence had been betrayed cast doubt and dishonor on innocent parties. Oliver frantically wrote that it was “an affair w[hi]ch much effect my peace & honour, the peace & honour of my best fr[ien]d the Gov[erno]r, & the Hon[o]r of your family [the Whatelys].”95

(p.88) In England, William Whately, Thomas’s brother, took the matter just as seriously and fought a duel against Member of Parliament John Temple, which resulted in minor injuries, over Temple’s suspected involvement in releasing the papers, prompting Franklin to publicly admit his role in the affair to avoid future violence.96

On January 29, 1774 (nine days after news of the Tea Party reached London), Franklin was called before the Privy Council in White Hall Chapel and excoriated by Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn for behaving “dis-honourably” in his acquisition of the letters, his dispersal of them, and his secrecy and attempted anonymity. Wedderburn accused Franklin of breaking the “sacred” bond of “private letters of friendship” that was “precious to Gentlemen of integrity,” with a design to satisfy his own personal motives of inflaming the colonies against Britain. Franklin remained silent as he “stood the butt of his invective and ribaldry for near an hour.”97 This sense of indignation mounted as the Privy Council assented to Wedderburn’s argument and declared “that nothing has been laid before them, which does or can, in their opinion, in any manner or in any degree impeach the honour, integrity or conduct of the said Governor or Lieutenant Governor.” In London, Hutchinson and Oliver retained their honor, but Franklin did not. Though Franklin attempted to remain stoic and hide his emotions, he was badly shaken. He had been publicly humiliated, his honor had been discredited, and he was declared to be a man only of personal interests.98

Just two days later, the British further shamed Franklin when he was stripped of his position of deputy postmaster in America and virtually barred from future advancement in government.99 He was overtly disgraced yet again when William Whately filed a civil suit against Franklin for the return of the original letters.100 To Franklin and his supporters it was clear that this barrage “was to wound the Doctor’s character.”101 Franklin believed that he “indecently suffered” and that the lambasting he received in London had insulted his reputation, character, and honor.102 He insisted that his actions were ethical, since he “came by them [the letters] honourably,” and his “intention of sending them virtuous.”103

It was a moment that fundamentally changed Franklin’s perception of the British Empire and placed him firmly on a path to becoming a patriot. He felt that his actions had served the greater good, and his degradation convinced him of a disconnect between his own and British thought. Like Washington before him, this personal slight to Franklin’s honor exacerbated a shift away from Britain. At first glance, this change appears immensely selfish, but it (p.89) took firsthand experiences of slights to honor to open both men’s eyes and give them a new appreciation for America’s position.

In America, Franklin received quite a different reception. Instead, people lashed out against Wedderburn and the Privy Council and praised Franklin’s actions. His reputation grew immensely in the colonies, from its low point during the Stamp Act crisis to its resurrection as patriotic hero. The budding patriots took up the matter of Franklin’s honor and virtue as their own. The Boston Gazette paraphrased Franklin’s defense: “The truth is the Doctor came by the letters honorably; his intention in sending them was virtuous; to lessen the breach between Britain and the Colonies, by showing that the injuries complained of by one of them did not proceed from the other, but from Traitors among themselves.”104 By the traditional tenets of British honor, largely centered on reputation and status, Franklin was wrong. But his ethical thinking and support in America illustrated a changed understanding of the ideal.

In his heart, Franklin believed that he had behaved properly and virtuously in trying to bring about the greater good. However, he was clearly conscious of the fact that Hutchinson and Oliver may not be as guilty as the letters (taken out of context) implied, and that he was using them to a degree. In this respect, it does seem that, for the time period, Franklin’s actions were properly censured as being dishonorable by eighteenth-century British standards. However, Franklin’s position illustrates that he possessed a different idea of honor, quite unique from those in London. By his terms, Franklin had acted in the best interests of America and was therefore behaving in accordance with honor. Franklin’s steadfast resolve in his plan shows that he still considered the greater good to be the final justification of honor. Despite these events, Franklin remained loyal to King George III, but he came to regard the Parliament and counselors as the villains.

This dichotomy between the king and Parliament came to dominate a great portion of the discussion regarding the role of honor and virtue for both Franklin and the colonies until the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Likewise, the question of where America fit within the wider empire was also a concern. John Adams expressed such a sentiment to his wife, Abigail, in 1774: “And the Question seems to me to be, whether the american [sic] Colonies are to be considered, as a distinct Community … ? … ​Or Whether they are to be considered as a Part of the whole British Empire, the whole English Nation, so far as to be bound in Honour, Conscience or Interest by the general Sense of the whole Nation?”105 At first many colonists arrived at conclusions similar to Franklin’s in regard to the British government. (p.90) Individual ministers, officials, and officers were singled out for behaving dishonorably. Laurens, running afoul of the authorities—over the seizure and sale of his schooner the Wambaw on a usually neglected technicality and again over fines due to petty discrepancies with his cargo aboard his ship Ann—stated that the court of vice admiralty, which regulated merchant shipping, was only concerned with “amassing and acquiring fortunes, at the Expence of their Honor, Conscience, and almost ruined Country.” Laurens warned that his personal slight “concerns every Merchant on the Continent” and should be viewed as an offense to the collective honor of their trade and country.106 Another wealthy merchant named John Hancock would not disagree, as his ship the Liberty was seized on questionable charges of smuggling, which sparked a dockside riot of a collection of gentlemen, “sturdy boys[,] and Negroes” against British sailors.107

Americans were led to think that their plights were shielded from the British people. As Hannah Winthrop said, “The people of England are made to believe we are perfectly acquiescent under the new model of Government, & other Cruel acts.”108 Lee took a more cynical approach and also accused the British people (whom he was quite familiar with due to his London education) of being blind to honor in allowing the continued behavior toward the colonists.109 While a great deal of the early resentment aimed at Britain was directed only at Parliament, the continuation of slights led this hostility to evolve into animosity toward George III as well.

Many colonists felt bound by their oath of loyalty to the king. How could the Americans maintain their honor while separating themselves from the Crown and breaking their oath? The answer to this predicament came from literature, more specifically from the popularity of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. This influential treatise was written in 1748 (and translated into English in 1750). His ideas had been widespread in the American consciousness since the midcentury and had been a crucial element of the education and reading of many of the key founders. As the American perception of British liberty descended more into tyranny, these ideas began to seem more and more appropriate to America’s present predicament.

Montesquieu’s treatment of government continued to support the close connections between (perhaps even the interchangeable nature of) honor and virtue. He describes a republic as being based on virtue, and a monarchy as founded by honor. Still, there was a fair amount of differentiation when it came to defining these terms. Montesquieu writes, “In a word, honour is found in a republic, though its spring be political virtue; and political virtue is found (p.91) in a monarchical government, though it be actuated by honour.” One seems to have been dependent on the other. You could not have honor without virtue, and vice versa. However, Montesquieu equates the honor of a monarchy with “false honour,” sought only for individual glory rather than for the betterment of society. Furthermore, he posits that a despotic government is devoid of all honor. He asks, “How can honour … ​bear with despotism?” Montesquieu finds that the two are incompatible.110

These ideas resonated with the American colonists, who had been arguing that Britain was a nation without honor and virtue. Montesquieu contended that “the prince never ought to command a dishonourable action; because this would render us uncapable of serving him.”111 It did not take much for the patriots to look on British legislation they already considered dishonorable as a sound and principled justification for opposition to the Crown. As political scientist Sharon Krause states, Montesquieu “thought that spirited resistance to the abuse of power was crucial for individual liberty, and he saw honor as the spring of such resistance.”112 But, as is often the case, the words on the page were taken even further through action. By comparing their own suppositions with the dictates of Montesquieu, Americans had a framework that would allow them to separate from Britain while maintaining their honor. They claimed that Britain was a monarchy driven by “false honour” and had descended into a despotism that was devoid of all notions of honor. Honor and virtue were “extremely dangerous” enemies to despotism. On the contrary, republicanism, virtue, and true honor were based on “love” of one’s country and the public’s interests. The belief that Britain had lost its honor and virtue became the justification for revolution.

In Two Treatises of Government, written much earlier, in 1689, philosopher John Locke proposes similar ideas, suggesting that people could take power from a king through a “miscarriage” of his position if “he divests himself of his crown and dignity.” Locke meant such actions more for a Nero than a George III, but he still insists that if there was a “breach of trust” between the king and his people because the ruler did “not [preserve] the form of government agreed upon,” then such actions against the king were necessary. As Locke explains, “When a king has dethroned himself, and put himself in a state of war with his people, what shall hinder them from prosecuting him who is no king.”113 These ideas resonated with American patriots, as British legislation became more and more oppressive. Coinciding with the thoughts of Enlightenment writers were new religious ideals that helped separate the bonds between a corrupt king and a virtuous people—failing morals could cut (p.92) religious ties, just as tyrannical laws could break civil obligations.114 As Boston began to feel the brunt of British military might, the sense that the mother country had turned on its children became an everyday reality.

Since the passage of the Boston Port Bill, which effectively closed Boston Harbor until the destroyed tea from the Tea Party was paid for, the colonies had formed committees of correspondence and created a united communication network. In the fall of 1774, as British troops garrisoned Boston, each colony sent delegates to Philadelphia to compose the Continental Congress, a legislative representative body deeply concerned with maintaining elevated ideals. While some of the congressmen had prior existing relationships, corresponded with each other, or at least had some awareness of their fellow delegates, the Congress was the first time many of America’s pivotal founders actually met. Each came with personal and regional variants of honor. But face-to-face interaction and debate among these men helped expedite the advancement of an American notion of honor.

Southern and Northern concepts of honor began to blend into a singular definition. As John Adams recalled, “It is certainly true that some of our Southern Brethren have not annexed the Same Ideas to the Words Liberty, Honour and Politeness that we have; but I have the Pleasure to observe every day that We learn to think and feel alike more and more.”115 Honor and proper conduct were always at the forefront of the thought process of the Congress, and as their conception of the terms became a commonality, their bonds strengthened. They considered themselves bound in honor to each other, their constituents, and their colonies.116

Despite this display of union, the colonies were still under British rule, and the Congress technically had no authority. However, on the floor of the Congress, South Carolina delegate John Rutledge recognized that the colonists they represented would be “bound only in Honour, to observe our Determinations.”117 And so it was, as congressional chaplain Jacob Duché marveled at America’s “unshaken unanimity” and the “most striking example” of “three millions of people, or a vast majority of them, bound by no other ties than those of honour and public virtue.”118 The fact that the Congress was particularly successful says a great deal about the faith the American people placed in the notion of honor. At such a precarious stage, wavering from this principle could have crippled the Congress. But both the delegates and the people believed, as voiced by John Adams, that “Our Country is the Post of Honour … ​ and she behaves in Character.”119 By remaining true to the Congress and each other, the colonists proved that they possessed the character and honor on which the delegates rested their hopes of survival.

(p.93) Despite these vocal claims of colonial unity, it would take the shots fired at Lexington and Concord the following spring in 1775 to fully join the colonies together and convince them that Britain was lost to all sense of honor. Before this event, there had been more than a slight hope for reconciliation and reasonable compromise, but, as Thomas Jefferson lamented, “this was before blood was spilt.”120 The emphasis placed on the spilling of blood was crucial, as was the question of who fired the first shot. The controversy surrounding the first shot was of central importance to American honor. Diplomatic theorist Emer de Vattel’s Law of Nations, released in 1759, advanced the principle, “All the right of a power to make war is derived from the justice of his cause,” and Richard Lambert, Earl of Cavan and author of A New System of Military Discipline Founded upon Principle, claimed, “In all quarrels only one party can be culpable, and that is the aggressor.”121 If the British fired first, any reaction by the Americans could justly be regarded as a defense of honor. Confusion still remains today as to who fired first, but the patriots gathered on Lexington Common leveled the blame on a British officer on horseback armed with a pistol.122 America had been wrestling with the ethics of violent resistance in the name of honor since the Stamp Act. The more moderate restraint against the avenging principles of primal honor finally gave way after the first battles of the American Revolution. British words, legislation, and rebuffs had been slights to America’s honor; this point was never in contention, but the methods to respond to these insults had lacked unanimity. British gunshots now proved to the people that their mother country had fallen beyond repair—and American honor needed to be asserted through war. Jefferson considered the battles in Massachusetts to be nothing less than “unprovoked” “murder” that was “in open violation of plighted faith & honor, in defiance of the sacred obligations of treaty which even savage nations observe.”123

All patriots throughout the colonies shared Jefferson’s opinion. Almost immediately after the battles, Mercy Otis Warren wrote that Britain was “lost to that honour and compassionate dignity which has long been the boast of Britons. Indeed the unparalleled barbarity in the late action of Lexington evinces that they had forgotten the laws and usages of civilized nations.”124 Dickinson and the Congress agreed in virtually identical terms with Jefferson and Warren that the affair was an “open violation of Honor.”125 The Americans believed that they had “appealed to the native honour and justice of the British nation; their efforts in our favour have been hitherto ineffectual.”126 Only a justifiable, defensive war could reclaim America’s honor, as Britain had abandoned its own principles.

(p.94) The Battles of Lexington and Concord brought the colonies to a new level of unity, as there was an understanding that “we consider ourselves as bound in Honor as well as Interest to share one general Fate with our Sister Colonies, and should hold ourselves base Deserters of that Union, to which we have acceded, were we to agree on any Measures distinct and apart from them.”127 While prior collective endeavors, such as boycotts, committees of correspondence, and even the Congress, had helped link the colonies, it was this bloody and brazen insult to their honor that cemented them. Despite a variety of opinions as to how to proceed, all patriots shared one conviction: there could be no peace without honor.128

The echo of gunshots triggered the clack of carriage wheels and horse hooves as the delegates of the Second Continental Congress sped from their homes to Philadelphia a few weeks after the conflicts. Samuel Adams and Hancock, who had both escaped the scene at Lexington thanks to Paul Revere, sat together in an open carriage, trailed by John Adams in a less grand two-wheeler. They were a part of the procession of over one hundred carriages that carried the future founding fathers to what would become Independence Hall. This Congress was designed to discuss the major issues affecting America and institute new policies. Within months the members of Congress jointly declared, “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect.”129 But before long there was only one question left to answer: Should America be independent from Britain?

This final hurdle was invariably linked to the matter of retaining honor while separating from the king. Independence and loyalty to the Crown remained a central point of contention throughout the Congress, but one that was moving toward a definite separation from Britain. Echoing Locke and Montesquieu, Vattel advanced that when a “prince” “attacks the constitution of the state,” he “breaks the contract which bound the people to him.” The former subjects are then “free by the act of the sovereign.”130 For the patriots, theoretical support for such action was conspicuous. Enlightenment thought helped pave the way for a secular split from their sovereign, while religious revivalism also contributed to spiritual separation from the head of Anglicanism. According to evangelical preacher and patriot John Cleveland, God was on America’s side. He concluded that since the king had “breach[ed] his sacred covenant,” America’s only response was to “no longer … ​honor you as our mother … ​King George the third adieu!”131

Against the backdrop of the questioning of traditional bonds of fealty, the popular debate was swung largely in favor of independence because of the 1776 publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. This Philadelphia-published (p.95) pamphlet was widely read and circulated, and it used the growing understanding of inclusive honor to support American independence. Paine was a self-taught Englishman who lacked social distinctions, and his work reflects a disdain for hereditary rule while appealing to those who viewed honor as both secular and an offshoot of virtue linked to religion. Appealing to the religious sentiments of the Americans, he considers the “the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings” as a slight on the “Almighty,” who was “ever jealous of his honor,” and he argues that Americans thus “should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogatives of heaven.”132

In a more “eye for an eye” manner, he also presents Britain as lost to all honor after bringing the sword to America. Paine asserts that this severed any ties between America and Britain and labeled the British as inherently dishonorable: “But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families.”133 Since Britain was dishonorable, it was beyond saving, and reconciliation thus could not be counted on or trusted because of Britain’s faulty character. Common Sense suggests that any such accord would be only temporary and ill fated: “Your future connection with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honour, will be forced and unnatural, and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched than the first.”134

Samuel Adams, a vocal proponent for American independence, agreed with Paine on his argument for freedom based on notions of honor. Adams argued that once a state of war existed between America and Britain, independence was a nonnegotiable necessity. As nations in war could not be dependent on one another, independence was the only manner to maintain honor, as dependence inherently suggests a degree of subordination and dishonor. There was a counterargument that such a bold step would prevent any form of truce or reconciliation. Adams dismissed this point as irrelevant, asking, “Upon what Terms will Britain be reconciled with America? … ​Will this redound to the Honor and Safety of America? Surely no.”135

Paine concluded that American independence was in and of itself a matter of honor. Like Adams, Paine reduced the matter to one of dependence versus independence. America no longer had any tangible ties, oaths, or debts to Britain. As Common Sense pronounces,

Debts we have none; and whatever we may contract on this account will serve as a glorious memento of our virtue. Can we but leave posterity (p.96) with a settled form of government, an independent constitution of its own, the purchase at any price will be cheap. But to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the charge, and is using the posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a pedaling politician.136

It was common sense to declare independence and worth the price of a war to obtain it.

Though Common Sense was readily accepted, opposition still remained. Pennsylvania delegate Robert Morris was opposed to independence because he claimed it would not “redound to the honor of America” but would instead “[cause] division when we wanted Union” because the matter was not unanimously supported.137 Dickinson, another Pennsylvania delegate, remained unconvinced of the necessity of declaring independence. Dickinson believed that America’s defensive war was honorable when compared to the dishonor of British aggression (the crucial fact that kept him from being an official Quaker), but he still refused to embrace separation.138 He combated the notion of independence as a matter of honor by arguing from a position of virtue. Since the 1760s, Dickinson had been adamant that the colonists must remain loyal to Britain at all costs and that bonds did not simply dissolve due to a mistake by one party. Quakers generally had a strong sense of devotion and “indebted[ness]” to the king “for the continued Favor of enjoying our religious Liberties.” Their beliefs were integral to making sure that they fulfilled their debts. For their religious freedom, the Quakers believed that they were “under deep Obligations to manifest our Loyalty & Fidelity, & that we should discourage every attempt which may be made by any to execute disaffection or disrespect.”139 Thus, for Dickinson, independence went too far and would “injure the reputation of a people, as to wisdom, valour and virtue.”140

Dickinson recognized that arguing against independence would draw “resentment,” but it would be the “proof of [his] Virtue.” He would do what he felt to be right, and he stated that his resistance was based on his “duty,” a powerful Quaker concept, to oppose any matter that could bring more harm to the colonies. He believed he was acting selflessly. He knew his position would cost him his long-held popularity and the public perception of his “Integrity,” but he was willing to make the sacrifice because he “fear[ed]” that a strict attempt to regain honor caused by “Resentment of the Injuries offered (p.97) to their Country, may irritate them to Counsels & to Actions that may be detrimental to the Cause they would dye to advance.”141 Before the Congress, Dickinson advanced that independence could only bring an escalation of war and death, and that Americans must preserve their virtue and cool their emotions to bring about reconciliation.

This plea, though passionate and framed as a defense of virtue, fell on deaf ears, and, in the words of Rev. Ezra Stiles, Dickinson gained only a “dishonorable Reminiscence with Posterity.”142 Dickinson later attempted to rehabilitate his reputation by serving in the Pennsylvania militia in order to prove he acted “solely” for “the good of [his] country.”143 Regardless, five months after Common Sense’s publication, a committee of Jefferson, John Adams, Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Franklin began drafting what would become the Declaration of Independence. This famed document seized on the arguments advanced by Paine, Montesquieu, and Locke. It formally charged the king with descending into despotism and ravaging his citizens. Also, as argued years earlier by Lee, the declaration indicted the British people for ignoring “native justice and magnanimity.” As a result, their British “brethren” deserved no special regard: “We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” The colonies were honor bound to throw off the shackles of Britain and claim their independence through war. And in July 1776, the Congress adopted the measure and the United States of America was born. On July 4, the members of the Continental Congress, restating their words from years earlier, swore an oath to maintain the declaration’s principles and the interests of the nation by declaring that they “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”144

As Warren argued years later, independence was not just a political choice; it was also an ethical one. The declaration illustrated that Americans “considered themselves no longer bound by any moral tie, to render fealty to a sovereign thus disposed to encrouch on their civil freedom.”145 In essence, the American Revolution was spurred by matters of honor, but not in the sense of the traditional perception of a slight. Instead, British policy enabled Americans to view themselves as being in a position of moral superiority, and their understandings of honor and virtue reflected this ethical dimension. Through shared ethical sentiments and belief in the common good, the formerly exclusive conception of honor began to be opened up to all who served this righteous cause.


(1.) Jonathan Boucher to John James, 10 Sept. 1763, Jonathan Boucher Papers, W&M; HL to Roger Moore, 14 Dec. 1747, HL to James Thomson, 7 Jun. 1748, HL to Grey Elliot, 21 Jan. 1764, in PHL, 1:88, 142, 4:140; Alexander Mackie to Col. Theodorick (p.267) Bland, 24 Feb. 1758, Bland Family Papers, VHS; Bailey, Universal Etymological English Dictionary, s.v. “honor” (one of the definitions for “honor” is credit).

(2.) GW to Robert Cary and Company, 10 Aug. 1764, PGW.Smail, “Credit, Risk and Honor.”

(3.) GW to Robert Cary and Company, 10 Aug. 1764, PGW.

(7.) “Answer of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts to the Governor’s Speech,” 23 Oct. 1765, in WSA, 1:18–19.

(8.) “The Advantage of Independence,” Providence Gazette, 19 Mar. 1768; “For the Pennsylvania Chronicle: The Visitant,” Pennsylvania Chronicle, 25 Jan.–1 Feb. 1768.

(9.) “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” May–Aug. 1765, PJA.

(10.) Thomas Cushing and SA to Rev. G-W-, 11 Nov. 1765, in WSA, 1:31.

(11.) “A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, No. 4,” 21 Oct. 1765, PJA.

(12.) [Robert Beverly] to [William] Rind, Oct. 1768, Landon Carter papers, 1763–1774, VHS.

(13.) For similar findings on emotion “transcend[ing]” traditional “divisions,” see Eustace, Passion Is the Gale, 387–88.

(14.) [Draft of a letter to the Boston Gazette, May 1761], FO: AF.

(15.) 23 Dec. 1765, DAJA.

(16.) “‘Cato’ Denounces a ‘Vile Miscreant,’” Connecticut Courant, 26 Aug. 1765Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 92

(21.) Virginia Nonimportation Resolves, 22 Jun. 1770, PTJ.

(22.) “Populus,” Boston Gazette, 28 Aug. 1769, in WSA, 1:379.

(24.) MOW, History of the Rise, 1:68. For more on the connection between women, politics, and economics, see Hartigan-O’Connor, Ties That Buy, ch. 6.

(27.) Dexter, Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 1:53“Journal of the Times,” Essex Gazette, 20 May 1769.

(29.) MOW, “To the Hon. J. Winthrop, Esq.,” [1774], in Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, 210.

(33.) “The Following Agreement …,” Boston Evening Post, 12 Feb. 1770.

(34.) Robert Pleasants to Charles Pleasants, 22 Aug. 1774, Robert Pleasants Letter-book, W&M.

(35.) 29 Apr. 1769, HWC.

(37.) 1 Jan. 1774, HWC.

(38.) Withington, Toward a More Perfect Union, ch. 8, contends that those who failed to comply were viewed as guilty of failing morally and could be subjected to violence.

(39.) Arthur Lee to Dr. Theodorick Bland, 21 Aug. 1770, Bland Family Papers, VHS.

(40.) “Determinatus,” Boston Gazette, 8 Jan. 1770, in WSA, 2:6.

(41.) GW to Robert Cary and Co., 20 Sept. 1765, PGW.

(43.) 31 Aug. 1774, DLTH, 232.

(46.) Ibid., 12; Jonathan Belcher to Francis Harrison, 27 Jun. 1734, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 6th ser., 1894, 7:77, quoted in ibid.

(48.) “Boston, November 11,” Boston Evening Post, 11 Nov. 1765; “Boston,” Boston Gazette, 11 Nov. 1765; George P. Anderson, “Ebenezer Mackintosh,” 26, 29, 30, 33, 55; Oliver, Origin & Progress, 55. Another shoemaker, George R. T. Hewes, was also among the crowd, and his family also possessed a sense of honor. Thatcher, Traits of the Tea Party, 17, 68.

(49.) Gov. Bernard to Lord Halifax, 15 Aug. 1765, in Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 106–7.Benjamin L. Carp, Rebels RisingBourne, Cradle of Violence

(50.) Andrew Oliver to Thomas Pownall, 19 Sept. 1768, in DLTH, 165–66n.

(52.) TH to Richard Jackson, 30 Aug. 1765, in Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 108–9.

(54.) HL to Joseph Brown, 22 Oct. 1765, in PHL, 5:27.

(58.) Salem Monthly Meeting, Misc. Papers, 1702–1897, SC; Philadelphia Quaker Yearly Meetings, SC.

(59.) Fauquier to Lords of Trade, 3 Nov. 1765; House of Lords Manuscripts, 27 Jan. 1766, quoted in Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 182, 180–204.

(p.269) (61.) Teley Blaksele and John Wise [grand jurors] to Roger Sherman, 31 Jan. 1766, Warrant, 3 Feb. 1766, BAP, NHMGipson, Jared Ingersoll, 234

(62.) HL to Joseph Brown, 11 Oct. 1765, in PHL, 5:24.

(63.) HL to Joseph Brown, 28 Oct. 1765, in PHL, 5:29.

(64.) V. “U” to the Boston Gazette, 1 Aug. 1763, FO: AF.

(67.) “Candidus,” Boston Gazette, 9 Sept. 1771, in WSA, 2:205.

(70.) MOW, History of the Rise, 1:69–70.

(71.) “Number II,” Essex Journal, 8 Mar. 1775.

(72.) Otis, “Advertisement,” 4 Sept. 1769, Boston Gazette.

(73.) Boston Gazette, 11 Sept. 1769, 2; Boston Gazette, 18 Sept. 1769, 1; Boston Gazette, 25 Sept. 1769.

(74.) Boston Gazette, 11 Sept. 1769, 2; Boston Gazette, 18 Sept. 1769, 1; Boston Gazette, 25 Sept. 1769.

(75.) MOW to James Otis Jr., ca. 10 Sept. 1769, in Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters, 3–4.

(76.) Ibid.,.

(77.) Article signed “Vindex,” Boston Gazette, 31 Dec. 1770, in WSA, 2:116n2.

(79.) “Draft Instructions of Boston to Its Representatives in the General Court,” 8 May 1769, FO: AF.

(81.) “Adams’ Minutes of Josiah Quincy’s Opening for the Defense,” 29 Nov. 1770, FO: AF.

(82.) “Josiah Quincy’s Argument for the Defense,” 3 Dec. 1770, FO: AF.

(83.) 5 Mar. 1773, DAJA.

(84.) Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 1:92: “The result of the trial reflect great honour on John Adams, and Josiah Quincy … ​and also on the integrity of the jury, who ventured to give an upright verdict.”

(85.) BF to Peter Collinson, 30 Apr. 1764, PBF.

(86.) The Examination of Doctor Benjamin Franklin in FO: BF and Collection of Interesting, Authentic Papers, 74.

(88.) Ibid., 140

(89.) BF to Thomas Cushing, 2 Dec. 1772, PBF.

(91.) TH to Thomas Whately, 20 Oct. 1769, “Appendix: The Hutchinson Letters,” PBF.

(p.270) (92.) TH to Thomas Whately, 20 Jan. 1769, “Appendix: The Hutchinson Letters,” PBF.

(94.) TH to Sir Francis Bernard, 9 Mar. 1774, in DLTH, 130–31.

(95.) Andrew Oliver to William Whately, 1 Jun. 1773, in DLTH, 83–84.

(97.) “A Letter from London,” [ca.] 7 Feb. 1774, in Boston Gazette, 25 Apr. 1774, PBF.

(98.) “The Final Hearing before the Privy Council Committee …,” 1774, FO: BF.

(99.) Anthony Todd to BF, 31 Jan. 1774, PBF; BF to William Franklin, 2 Feb. 1774, FO: BF.

(100.) “William Whately’s Chancery Suit: II. Franklin’s Answer,” 19 Apr. 1774, PBF.

(101.) “A Letter from London,” [ca.] 7 Feb. 1774, in Boston Gazette, 25 Apr. 1774; BF to Thomas Cushing, 15[–19] Feb. 1774, PBF.

(102.) BF to Joseph Galloway, 18 Feb. 1774, PBF.

(103.) “A Letter from London,” [ca.] 7 Feb. 1774, in Boston Gazette, 25 Apr. 1774, PBFDLTH

(104.) “A Letter from London,” [ca.] 7 Feb. 1774, in Boston Gazette, 25 Apr. 1774, PBF.

(105.) JA to AA, 6 Jul. 1774, AFC.

(106.) “Extracts … ​Court of Vice Admiralty,” in PHL, 6:iiiDavid Duncan Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, 137–49

(108.) 27 Sept. 1774, HWC.

(109.) Arthur Lee to JD, 26 Aug. 1769, R. R. Logan Collection of John Dickinson Papers, HSP.

(115.) JA to Samuel Osgood, 15 Nov. 1775, LDC.

(116.) Richard Henry Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee, 21 May 1775, LDC.

(117.) [Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress, 6 September 1774], FO: AF.

(119.) JA to Josiah Quincy Jr., 18 Sept. 1774, PJAWithington, Toward a More Perfect Union, 13–17

(120.) TJ to John Randolph, 25 Aug. 1775, PTJ.

(123.) “I. Jefferson’s Composition Draft,” [26 Jun.–6 Jul. 1775], PTJ.

(124.) MOW to Sarah Brown Bowen, Apr. 1775, in Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters, 47.

(126.) Virginia Resolutions on Lord North’s Conciliatory Proposal, 10 Jun. 1775, PTJ.

(128.) Petition to the King [Olive Branch Petition], 1775, R. R. Logan Collection of John Dickinson Papers, HSPLDC

(131.) Kidd, God of Liberty, 83Jonathan Boucher to John James, 7 Jan. 1776, Jonathan Boucher Papers, W&M.

(133.) Ibid., 35

(134.) Ibid., 42

(135.) SA to Samuel Cooper, 3 Apr. 1776, in WSA, 3:276.

(136.) Paine, Common Sense, 60–61. For a counterpoint, see [Chalmers], Plain Truth, 76, 88, which supports a reconciliation with Britain but still argues that honor and virtue “guide” and need to continue shaping the American cause for “the eyes of all Europe are upon us.”

(137.) Robert Morris to Joseph Reed, 21 Jul. 1776, LDC.

(138.) JD to Samuel Ward, 21 Jan. 1775, LDC.

(139.) “Epistle,” 9 Sept.–1 Oct. 1774, reprinted in 27 Jun. 1776, Philadelphia Quaker Yearly Meetings, SC.

(140.) JD, Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer, Letter 3, 28.

(141.) “John Dickinson’s Notes for a Speech in Congress,” 1 Jul. 1776, LDC.

(142.) Dexter, Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 2:182–83.

(143.) Jacobson, John Dickinson and the Revolution, 118“Appendix V. Mr. Dickinson’s Vindication: Of His Career during the Revolution,” in Stillé, Life of John Dickinson, 364–414.