Letters to the Ministry

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   STAMP ACT   |   Thomas GAGE   |   Francis BERNARD   |   Samuel HOOD

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(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (STAMP ACT) BERNARD, Francis; GAGE, Thomas; HOOD, Samuel. Letters to the Ministry from Governor Bernard, General Gage, and Commodore Hood. And Also Memorials to the Lords of the Treasury, From the Commissioners of the Customs. With Sundry Letters and Papers annexed to said Memorials. Boston: Edes & Gill, 1769. Octavo, original ivory wrappers, original stitching; pp. (1-3), 4-108.

First edition of momentous letters from Bernard that triggered colonial revolt, published without his authority, charging Boston patriots with sedition, issued the same year he was called back to Britain but not before "he firmly established in American minds what Benjamin Franklin later called 'the Grenvillian Notion of a necessary Connexion between Subjection and Taxation.'"

Massachusetts governor Bernard "was one of the most unpopular royal servants in America" (Walett, in New England Quarterly V.38, No.2:27). Seen as "an implacable arch-enemy of the American struggle for self-government, his adversaries included some of the Revolution's most venerated leaders," chiefly Samuel Adams, James Otis and the influential Boston minister, Jonathan Mayhew (Nicolson, Governor Francis Bernard, 2-3). To John Adams, these three figures were at the core of the "five men who started the American Revolution" (Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, 697). "They and other patriots believed that the movement for American self-determination originated during Bernard's administration" (Nicolson, 3). Bernard, whose position gave him "control over the customs duties and patronage of the Port of Boston… arrived in Boston on August 2, 1760, with instructions from the king's Privy Council to begin aggressively prosecuting violators of parliamentary regulations on colonial trade. Bernard was only too eager to comply. If a ship were seized for smuggling and its cargo confiscated, one third of the proceeds went to the Crown, one third to the customs officers, and one third to the governor… That fall, the customs service took four ships… exploiting every legal loophole to claim ships and their freight, Bernard initiated… what one historian called the 'era of customs racketeering.'" Jonathan Mayhew was certain "that Bernard would be a tyrant if he could." At the time "Bernard had already endured anonymous accusations of political gangsterism in the public papers (most of them by Otis)." As Bernard and Mayhew clashed, Bernard also "plotted to replace the Massachusetts Charter with a new one under which the people would have less power within the General Court " (Mullins, in Massachusetts Historical Review V.1:27-56).

As news of the 1765 Stamp Act reached America, "the 'common talk' in Boston was of conspiracies in London to deprive Americans of their rights 'as Englishmen." In Bernard's determination to accept "Parliament's supreme authority to do what it liked, he firmly established in American minds what Benjamin Franklin later called 'the Grenvillian Notion of a necessary Connexion between Subjection and Taxation.'" When Boston exploded against the Stamp Act, Bernard declared the colonists to be seditious and speculated that the "riots were a prelude to a coup d'etat… He urged the British to move to Boston permanently one of the regular regiments stationed at Halifax or New York… [and] recommended concentrating British forces at strategic points on the eastern seaboard" (Nicolson, 109, 120, 167-68). In 1767, after further colonial uproar over the Townshend Acts, "Bernard repeatedly declared that military assistance was needed to restore order. In the fall of 1768 the ministry listened… and from October 1768 to March 1770, two regiments were encamped in Boston. With this development the popular indignation reached a boiling point" (Walett, 217-226).

Throughout this period Bernard corresponded with the ministry, the Earl of Shelburne, Earl of Hillsborough, and Customs Commissioners. At rumors of the letters' content, the Boston press "reported that some 'persons of credit' had ventured to say: 'They believe he [Bernard] is a Snake in the Grass, and writes double Letters, pro and con, to be used as the Occasion serves'… Several times in early 1768 the Massachusetts House of Representatives asked Bernard for copies of his letters to the ministry, but to no avail… and in March 1769 the town went so far as to ask the King to order Bernard to turn over the letters and other papers relating to recent events. It was not until April 1769, however, that the Sons of Liberty obtained some of the desired papers. William Bollan, acting as agent for the Massachusetts Council in England, was able to procure copies of six of Bernard's letters and one from General Gage to Lord Hillsborough. These he transmitted to Massachusetts immediately… the Council read and discussed the letters, and then sent them to Edes & Gill… to be printed immediately." Copies were not distributed, however, until the Council's observations on the letters could be completed and included in the publication… In April 1769 the Boston edition [this copy] appeared, and was followed by the Salem and London reprints" (Walett, 217-26). Jefferson had a copy of the first English edition in his library (Sowerby 3074).

This rare first edition of Letters to the Ministry contains Bernard's letters to Shelburne and Hillsborough from January to October 1768, along with correspondence by others to January 1769, as well as the printing of a June 16, 1768 "Memorial of the Commissioners of Customs," and related materials. In Bernard's letters, he particularly accuses the publishers' Boston Gazette of "virulent Libel" (8), and declares "the Authority of the King, the Supremacy of Parliament… are the real Objects of Attack" (11). He claims the 1768 Boston uprising, often known as the Liberty Riot, was inflamed by an unnamed Boston leader who declared: "We will support our Liberties, depending upon the strength of our own Arms and God" (21)—a quote later proudly cited by Samuel Adams. Uproar against Bernard "grew in intensity after the publication of his letters." On his recall to England in 1769, the "joy of the Sons of Liberty knew no bounds. The 'Union Flag' was flown from the Liberty Tree, bells were rung, cannon were fired, and there were bonfires on Fort Hill and in Charlestown. On August 7 the Boston Gazette reported… '[Bernard] has been a Scourge to this Province, a Curse to North-America, and a Plague to the whole Empire'" (Walett, 217-26). Howes B383. Adams, American Independence 69a. ESTC W13583. Sabin 4923. Evans 11176. With an early owner signature “Col. Lincoln” on the title page.

Interior quite fresh; light edge-wear, trace of soiling with small bit of loss to spine of fragile original wrappers. An exceptional near-fine copy.

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