Otis, james - History

Otis, james

Otis, James (1725-1783) Pamphleteer: Otis graduated from Harvard in 1743, and was admitted to the bar five years later. By 1760, he became the King's advocate general to the vice-admiralty court of Boston. He resigned his position in 1761, in order to represent Boston merchants in their case against Britain's use of writs of assistance to enforce the Sugar Act of 1733. Later that year, he was elected to the General Court, and remained a member until his death. Otis became one of the most influential patriot leaders before the Revolutionary War, writing pamphlets such as Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764). He became a member of the Sons of Liberty, and attended the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. He became more moderate as the 1760's progressed, and he admitted the supremacy of Parliament despite his opposition to British policy. After a customs agent hit him on the head in 1769, he gradually became insane, and was unable to take part in the Revolutionary War effort. Otis was struck by lightning and killed in 1783.

Bissell Family History

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Joyce, Meredith, George, Gwen, Roger, Arthur, Eleanor, Chip, Carolyn, Betsy, Clyde

Adelaide Lyon Boutelle --- Richard Meredith Bissell

Myrtie Ella Bisbee --- Herbert Hunt Bissell

George Bisbee 1840 --- Betsey Smith 1853

Asahel Bisbee 1801 --- Eliza Burt Stebbins 1805

Levi Stebbins 1774 --- Amia Pierce 1779

Benjamin Pierce 1745/46 --- Priscilla Merritt 1743 ]

James Otis, Jr. b. 1725 Elisha Merritt 1720 --- Priscilla Holbrook 1724

Col. James Otis, Sr. 1702 --- Mary Allyn 1702 Samuel Holbrook, Jr. 1683 --- Jane Clapp 1689

John Otis 1657 --- Mercy Bacon 1659 Samuel Clapp 1642 --- Hannah Gill 1645

John Otis 1621 --- Mary Jacobs 1632 Thomas Gill 1616 --- Hannah Otis 1618

James Otis, Jr.

Listen to Episode 12 of Ned Ryun's podcast, Days of Revolution. It has a very good twelve-minute overview of the life of James Otis.

James Otis, Jr., American patriot, was born at West Barnstable, Massachusetts, in 1725. He was the eldest son of James Otis (1702 – 78), fourth in descent from John Otis (1581 – 1657), a native of Barnstable, Devon, and one of the first settlers (in 1635) of Hingham, Massachusetts. The elder James Otis was elected to the provincial General Court in 1758, was its speaker in 1760 – 62, and was Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas from 1764 until 1776 he was a prominent patriot in the colony of Massachusetts. The son graduated at Harvard in 1743 and after studying law in the office of Jeremiah Gridley (1702 – 67), a well-known lawyer with Whig sympathies, he rose to great distinction at the bar, practicing first at Plymouth and after 1750 at Boston.

In 1760 Otis published Rudiments of Latin Prosody, a book of authority in its time. He wrote a similar treatise upon Greek prosody but this was never published, because, as he said, there was not a font of Greek letters in the country, nor, if there were, a printer who could have set them up.

Soon after the accession of George III to the throne of England in 1760, the British government decided upon a rigid enforcement of the Navigation Acts, which had long been disregarded by the colonists and had been almost wholly evaded during the French and Indian War. The Writs of Assistance issued in 1755 were about to expire, and it was decided to issue new ones, which would empower custom house officers to search any house for smuggled goods, though neither the house nor the goods had to be specifically mentioned in the writs. Much opposition was aroused in Massachusetts, the legality of the writs was questioned, and the Superior Court consented to hear argument. Otis held the office of advocate-general at the time, and it was his duty to appear on behalf of the government. He refused, resigned his office, and appeared for the people against the issue of the writs, Gridley appearing on the opposite side. The case was argued in the Old Town House of Boston in February 1761, and the chief speech was made by Otis. His plea was fervid in its eloquence and fearless in its assertion of the rights of the colonists. Going beyond the question at issue, he dealt with the more fundamental question of the relation between the English in America and the home government, and argued that even if authorized by act of parliament such writs were null and void.

The young orator was elected in May of the same year a representative from Boston to the Massachusetts General Court. To that position he was re-elected nearly every year of the remaining active years of his life, serving there with his father. In 1766 he was chosen Speaker of the House of Representatives, but the choice was negatived. In September 1762 Otis published A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in defense of the action of that body in sending to the governor a message (drafted by Otis) rebuking him for asking the assembly to pay for ships he had (with authorization of the Council and not of the representatives) sent to protect New England fisheries against French privateers. According to this message it would be of little consequence to the people whether they were subject to George or Louis, the king of Great Britain or the French king, if both were as arbitrary as both would be if both could levy taxes without parliament. He also wrote various state papers addressed to the colonies to enlist them in the common cause, or sent to the government in England to uphold the rights or set forth the grievances of the colonists.

His influence at home in controlling and directing the movement of events which led to the War of Independence was universally felt and acknowledged and abroad no American was so frequently quoted, denounced, or applauded in Parliament and the English press before 1769 as the recognized head and chief of the rebellious spirit of the New England colonists. In 1765 Massachusetts sent him as one of her representatives to the Stamp Act Congress at New York, which had been called by a Committee of the Massachusetts General Court, of which he was a member. There he was a conspicuous figure, serving on the committee which prepared the address sent by that body to the British House of Commons.

In 1769 he denounced in the Boston Gazette certain customs commissioners who had charged him with treason. Thereupon he became involved in an altercation in a public house with Robinson, one of the commissioners the altercation grew into an affray, and Otis received a sword cut on the head, which is considered to have caused his subsequent insanity. Robinson was fined £2000 in damages, but in view of his having made a written apology, Otis declined to take this sum from him.

From 1769 almost continuously until his death, Otis was harmlessly insane, though he had occasional lucid intervals, serving as a volunteer at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 and arguing a case in 1778. He was killed by lightning (it is said that he had often expressed a wish that he might die in this way) at Andover, Massachusetts in 1783.

Otis’s political writings were controversial but exercised an enormous influence, his pamphlets being among the most effective presentations of the arguments of the colonists against the arbitrary measures of the British ministry. His more important pamphlets were A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (1762) The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764) A Vindication of the British Colonies against the Aspersions of the Halifax Gentleman in his Letter to a Rhode Island Friend — a letter known at the time as the Halifax Libel (1765) and Considerations on Behalf of the Colonists in a Letter to a Noble Lord (1765).

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.

James Otis

James Otis (1725-1783) was a Massachusetts lawyer and politician, best known for coining the slogan “taxation without representation is tyranny”.

Born in Cape Cod, Otis was the son of a prominent lawyer and the brother of Mercy Otis Warren, a future chronicler of the revolution. He was educated at Harvard, graduating in 1743 and commencing a law practice in Boston.

In 1760, Otis became a royal official, representing the crown in Boston’s Vice Admiralty Court. Within a few months he ‘changed sides’ to represent colonial merchants against the hated writs of assistance (search warrants).

During these cases, Otis delivered long but eloquent courtroom speeches, challenging the legality of the writs of assistance and describing them as the “worst instrument of arbitrary power”.

In the mid-1760s Otis penned several tracts that asserted the rights of the American colonists to oppose taxation and intrusive measures decided in London. This made Otis one of the earliest of the revolutionaries (one historian has dubbed him a “pre-revolutionist”) – but Otis was less radical than later figures, urging reform and purification of the status quo rather than American independence. Otis also sat as a member of the Massachusetts legislature, was involved with the Sons of Liberty and served as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. In 1769 Otis was assaulted by a customs official and struck on the head. The blow brought on bouts of mental illness verging on insanity, forcing Otis to withdraw from public and political life. He did not play a role in the Revolution but lived long enough to see an American victory. Otis died in 1783 after being struck by lightning while standing in a doorway.

James Otis – The Forgotten Founding Father

When it comes to the American Revolution, such names as Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin are recognized the world over. Mention the name James Otis however, and you are more likely to be met with a confused look or a blank stare. But despite his relative anonymity, James Otis was the man directly responsible for the birth of American independence, at least that is what John Adams believed.

The historic contributions of James Otis occurred in the context of British success during the Seven Years War, and in the crucible of colonial Boston. Great Britain had decisively gained the upper hand in North America, claiming a tremendous amount of territory from the French. In doing so, however, the British had also expended a massive amount of national resources. When King George II died in 1760, his young son George III was tasked with tackling this financial problem.

Because taxes in England were already quite stifling, George III instead decided to raise revenue by more tightly regulating trade flow in Boston harbor. While anti-smuggling laws had already existed in Boston, customs officials had long adopted a rather lax approach. As a result, colonial merchants had grown accustomed to an arrangement which tacitly permitted bribery and evasion.

A key component of British customs enforcement was a generalized search warrant known as the “Writ of Assistance“, which officially gave agents the authority to search one’s private property at any time, even where no probable cause was established. While the British had long possessed the Writ of Assistance, this powerful warrant had not been put to much use in practice. By law, the writ was set to expire with the death of the king in 1760. But when colonial merchants caught wind that the new king was taking steps to renew the document, many feared that unlike the past, this time the new king intended to use it. Consequently, many colonists feared that their livelihoods were in jeopardy.

In response, a group of concerned Boston merchants made common cause and hired a thirty-six-year-old lawyer by the name of James Otis. Otis had been a well-respected lawyer both in Boston and in England and had in fact been in line for the position of Solicitor General, part of the most powerful judicial body in New England. But it was also the case that Otis harbored a grievance against the local legal system for having passed over his father when filling an opening on the New England Supreme court. As a result, Otis took the case, which pitted him against Thomas Hutchinson, the very man who had filled the vacancy which Otis believed had been so richly deserved by his father.

Representing the merchants, Otis argued with a spectacular enthusiasm and ability over the course of four long hours. His imaginative line of argument challenged the very constitutionality of the writ of assistance search warrant. Otis argued that despite having been approved by Parliament (a constitutional body), the writ itself was not constitutional since it abrogated one of the most fundamental assertions upon which British law was based: the right to private property.

The judge, however, regarded Otis’s reasoning as absurd and ruled against the merchants. Nevertheless, the courtroom performance succeeded in making a profound impact more generally. John Adams, who was in attendance at the courthouse on that very day, described the events this way:

Otis was a flame of Fire! With the promptitude of clasical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glare of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him… Every man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take up arms against Writs of Assistance.

Later in life, Adams pointed back to this moment as the critical spark which inspired so much of what followed. Adams boldly remarked:

Then and there, the child Independence was born

But Otis’s impact did not end there. By virtue of the Writ of Assistance case, Otis was flung to the front of Boston politics henceforth. He became an early leader of the burgeoning resistance. His pamphlets were to play an instrumental in developing the foundational thinking and vocabulary of the Revolution. In 1762, Otis penned the “Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives“, an influential pamphlet which articulated the rights of colonists as well as the limits to the King’s power.

In 1764, it was Otis who led much of the effort against the Sugar Act as well as release yet another important pamphlet entitled “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved” In it, he hammered out the logic by which taxation and representation came to be so permanently linked. He wrote:

The very act of taxing exercised over those who are not represented, appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights as freeman, and if continued, seems to be in effect an entire disenfranchisement of every civil right

By the mid-1760s, Otis had established himself as a fixture of Boston politics. Whatever the revolutionary movement was to become, it seemed Otis was sure to be a key element. But in fact, that is not the way history transpired. Instead, the story of James Otis takes an unexpected and dramatic turn.

Tragically, mental illness began to invade Otis’s life, as he was increasingly plagued by severe spells of dementia. His temper began to swing violently between despondency and rage. His writings became so convoluted that readers could not determine whether he was for the resistance or against it. By the end of the decade, Otis had come crashing down from his soaring heights, his prominent public role prematurely curtailed, and Otis found himself almost entirely removed from the movement he had done so much to inspire.

The downward trend continued and by the time of the Revolutionary War, Otis was said to have been a mere shadow of his former self. Regarding his state, Adams remarked:

I never saw such an object of admiration, reverence, contempt, and compassion all at once as this. I fear, I tremble, I mourn for the man and his country. Many others mourn for him with tears in their eyes

Another first-hand account from amongst the army in New York described Otis as a lunatic strolling around the grounds of the camp.

The great and fervent mind which first grasped the idea of independence was then in melancholy ruin

When the end finally came for James Otis, the nature of his death seemed to underscore the mythical proportions of his life. Just months before the Revolutionary War concluded in 1783, Otis was struck down by a bolt of lightning while speaking to a family member from a doorway, on an otherwise clear day. By the time of his death, Otis had been largely incapable of grasping what the movement had become. Nevertheless, he remained the man responsible for providing such critical groundwork in the early Revolutionary movement, and the legacy of American independence still bears his indelible mark. For all students of the human story, we would do well to remember James Otis. Perhaps we would also do well to reserve a space for him in the American pantheon, and in the conversation, the next time we hear the name of one of those more famous founding fathers.

Chris Galbicsek

Chris Galbicsek is the founder of, a historical tee shirt site which aims to promote neglected pieces of human history through fashion. He is a graduate of Colgate University and resides in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Speech Against Writs of Assistance

By 1760 the British seemed poised for victory in the French and Indian War. But as the expense of the war weighed on the British treasury, Parliament eyed the North American colonies as a source of revenue. To increase the payment of taxes on imports and curtail rampant smuggling, customs officials sought renewal of their writs of assistance, which authorized them to enter and search individuals’ homes, ships, shops, and warehouses unannounced and without warrants.

Massachusetts lawyer James Otis (1725––783) so firmly embraced the principle that “a man’s house is his castle” that he resigned as his colony’s Admiralty Court advocate general when pressed to defend the writs of assistance. Considering them a violation of “one of the most essential branches of English liberty,” he served as attorney for a group of merchants challenging the writs. In a case heard by the Massachusetts Superior Court, Otis spoke for nearly five hours. John Adams, who was in the audience, took notes on Otis’s remarks.

Although Otis lost the case, his passionate opposition to the writs launched his career as a leading critic of British imperial policy. In May 1761, Bostonians elected him to represent them in the legislature. He helped orchestrate resistance to the 1765 Stamp Act and 1767 Townshend Acts. In 1769, however, a tax collector clubbed him in the head during a barroom brawl, prompting (or exacerbating) a mental illness that continued until 1783, when he was struck by lightning and died. Adams considered Otis a great patriot, perhaps “the greatest orator” of his era, and “a man whom none who ever knew him, can ever forget.”

Source: John Adams’s Reconstruction of Otis’s Speech in the Writs of Assistance Case, in The Collected Political Writings of James Otis, ed. Richard A. Samuelson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2015), 11–4.


I was desired by one of the Court to look into the books, and consider the question now before them concerning writs of assistance. I have accordingly considered it, and now appear, not only in obedience to your order, but likewise in behalf of the inhabitants of this town, who have presented another petition, and out of regard to the liberties of the subject. And I take this opportunity to declare, that whether under a fee or not (for in such a cause as this I despise a fee) I will to my dying day oppose with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand, and villainy on the other, as this writ of assistance is.

It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law book. I must, therefore, beg your honors’ patience and attention to the whole range of an argument, that may perhaps appear uncommon in many things, as well as to points of learning that are more remote and unusual that the whole tendency of my design may the more easily be perceived, the conclusions better discerned, and the force of them be better felt. I shall not think much of my pains in this cause, as I engaged in it from principle. I was solicited to argue this cause as advocate general and because I would not, I have been charged with desertion from my office. To this charge I can give a very sufficient answer. I renounced that office, and I argue this cause, from the same principle and I argue it with the greater pleasure, as it is in favor of British liberty, at a time when we hear the greatest monarch upon earth declaring from his throne that he glories in the name of Briton, and that the privileges of his people are dearer to him than the most valuable prerogatives of his crown and as it is in opposition to a kind of power, the exercise of which, in former periods of English history, cost one king of England his head, [1] and another his throne. [2] I have taken more pains in this cause, than I ever will take again, although my engaging in this and another popular cause has raised much resentment. But I think I can sincerely declare, that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for conscience’s sake and from my soul I despise all those, whose guilt, malice, or folly has made them my foes. Let the consequences be what they will, I am determined to proceed. The only principles of public conduct, that are worthy of a gentleman or a man, are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen in public life, the patriot and the hero. I do not say, that when brought to the test, I shall be invincible. I pray God I may never be brought to the melancholy trial but if ever I should, it will be then known how far I can reduce to practice principles, which I know to be founded in truth. In the mean time I will proceed to the subject of this writ.

In the first place, may it please your honors, I will admit that writs of one kind may be legal that is, special writs, directed to special officers, and to search certain houses, etc., specially set forth in the writ, may be granted by the Court of Exchequer at home, upon oath made before the lord treasurer by the person who asks it, that he suspects such goods to be concealed in those very places he desires to search. The act of 14 Charles II, which Mr. Gridley [3] mentions, proves this. And in this light the writ appears like a warrant from a Justice of the Peace to search for stolen goods. Your honors will find in the old books concerning the office of a justice of the peace, precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are concealed and you will find it adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition, being general, is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say I admit that special writs of assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain person on oath but I deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to other acts of Parliament. In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed “to all and singular Justices, Sheriffs, Constables, and all other officers and subjects” so, that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the king’s dominions. Everyone with this writ may be a tyrant if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner also may control, imprison, or murder anyone within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. Now one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle and while he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses, when they please we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court, can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient. This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion of a heated brain. I will mention some facts. Mr. Pue [4] had one of these writs, and when Mr. Ware [5] succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware so that these writs are negotiable from one officer to another and so your Honors have no opportunity of judging the person to whom this vast power is delegated. Another instance is this: Mr. Justice Walley [6] had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a constable, to answer for a breach of Sabbath-day acts, or that of profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him if he had done. He replied, Yes. Well then, said Mr. Ware, I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods. [7] And [Ware] went on to search his house from the garret to the cellar and then served the constable in the same manner. But to show another absurdity in this writ if it should be established, I insist upon it, every person by the 14 Charles II has this power as well as custom-house officers. The words are, “It shall be lawful for any person or persons authorized,” etc. What a scene does this open! Every man, prompted by revenge, ill humor, or wantonness, to inspect the inside of his neighbor’s house, may get a writ of assistance. Others will ask it from self-defence one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood.

Again, these writs are not returned. Writs in their nature are temporary things. When the purposes for which they are issued are answered, they exist no more but these live forever no one can be called to account. Thus reason and the constitution are both against this writ. Let us see what authority there is for it. Not more than one instance can be found of it in all our law books and that was in the zenith of arbitrary power namely in the reign of Charles II, when star-chamber powers were pushed to extremity by some ignorant clerk of the exchequer. But had this writ been in any book whatever, it would have been illegal. All precedents are under the control of the principles of law. Lord Talbot says it is better to observe these than any precedents, though in the House of Lords, the last resort of the subject. No acts of Parliament can establish such a writ though it should be made in the very words of the petition, it would be void. An act against the constitution is void…. But these prove no more than what I before observed, that special writs may be granted on oath and probable suspicion. The act of 7 and 8 William III that the officers of the plantations shall have the same powers, etc., is confined to this sense that an officer should show probable ground should take his oath of it should do this before a magistrate and that such magistrate, if he think proper, should issue a special warrant to a constable to search the places.

Study Questions

A. Why did the principle that “a man’s house is his castle” cause James Otis to oppose writs of assistance? Why was this principle important to the preservation of individual liberty? How did it limit the powers of government?

B. How were the principles for which Otis took a stand protected in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (Appendix)?

A Brief, Interesting History of the Otis Elevator Company

Otis elevators are in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building at 2,722 ft. Image © Emaar properties.

What do the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Kremlin, and the Burj Khalifa have in common?

Elevators from the Otis Elevator Company. The company, which is celebrating its 160th anniversary today, has an interesting history: it was founded in 1853, the year Elisha Otis invented the elevator safety brake. Before Otis' invention, buildings rarely reached seven stories (elevators were considered just too dangerous to implement).

But it was Otis' elevator that would allow for the creation, and proliferation of, the skyscraper - an explosion that would for ever alter the 20th and 21st century skylines.

Read more about the Otis Elevators influence on skyscraper design (and how Otis performed a death-defying feat to increase the invention's popularity), after the break.

The first elevator shaft (built in 1853) actually preceded the first elevator by about four years architect Peter Cooper, confident that a safe elevator would soon be invented, designed New York's Union Foundation building with a cylindrical shaft (thinking that the most efficient shape). Otis would later design a special elevator just for the building.

In 1854, Otis attempted to shatter the public's conception of the elevator's perilousness by performing a dramatic, death-defying demonstration of his safety break feature, cutting the hoisting platform rope at New York's World Fair in 1854.

It seems the stunt worked - in 1857 the first Otis passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway. Soon after, the Otis elevator appeared in the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.

Today, in conjunction with the implementation of the steel frame, the Otis elevator is generally considered the invention that paved the way for the global proliferation of skyscrapers.

While the original invention of the safety break elevator precipitated the design of 20th century skyscrapers, today's modern buildings are demanding the elevator's transformation. For example, the Otis Elevator Company's latest invention, the Gen2 Switch™ elevator, is solar-power capable.

It will be interesting to see if our century holds an invention that could similarly revolutionize architecture - what do you think it could be? Let us know in the comments below.

James Otis Jr.

Otis didn’t establish himself as a revolutionary his friends, too, usually seen him as extra cautious than the incendiary Samuel Adams. Otis at occasions endorsed towards the mob violence of the radicals and argued towards Adams’s proposal for a conference of all of the colonies resembling that of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Yet, on different events, Otis exceeded Adams in rousing passions and exhorting folks to motion. He even known as his compatriots to arms at a city assembly on September 12, 1768, based on some accounts. [18]

Some teachers have famous Otis’ opinion in favor of a court docket or choose’s having it as their obligation to evaluation and strike down a legislation opposite to the written structure in impact. [16] In the Writs case, Otis stated that “An Act towards the structure is void….. and if an act of Parliament must be made….. the manager courts should cross such acts into disuse.” [17]

Otis expanded his argument in a pamphlet revealed in 1765 to state that the overall writs violated the British structure harkening again to the Magna Carta. The textual content of his 1761 speech was a lot enhanced by Adams on a number of events it was first printed in 1773 and in longer types in 1819 and 1823. [13] According to James R. Ferguson, [14] the 4 tracts that Otis wrote throughout 1764–65 reveal contradictions and even mental confusion. Otis was the primary chief of the interval to develop distinctive American theories of constitutionalism and illustration, however he relied on conventional views of Parliamentary authority. He refused to observe the logical path of his pure legislation principle by drawing again from radicalism, based on Ferguson, who feels that Otis seems inconsistent. Samuelson, then again, argues that Otis must be seen as a sensible political thinker relatively than a theorist, and that explains why his positions modified as he adjusted to altered political realities and uncovered the constitutional dilemmas of colonial parliamentary illustration and the connection between Great Britain and the North American colonies. [15]

Otis thought of himself a loyal topic to the Crown, but he argued towards the writs of help in a virtually five-hour oration earlier than a choose viewers within the State House in February 1761. His argument did not win his case, but it surely galvanized the revolutionary motion. John Adams recollected years later: “Otis was a flame of fireplace with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of analysis, a fast abstract of historic occasions and dates, a profusion of authorized authorities.” [12] Adams promoted Otis as a serious participant within the coming of the Revolution. Adams stated, “I’ve been younger and now I’m outdated, and I solemnly say I’ve by no means recognized a person whose love of nation was extra ardent or honest, by no means one who suffered a lot, by no means one whose service for any 10 years of his life have been so essential and important to the reason for his nation as these of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.” Adams claimed that “the kid independence was then and there born, each man of an immense crowded viewers appeared to me to go away as I did, able to take arms towards writs of help.”

In the 1761 case Paxton v. Gray, [7] a gaggle of outraged Boston businessmen which included Ezekiel Goldthwait engaged Otis to problem the legality of “writs of help” earlier than the Superior Court, the predecessor of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. These writs enabled the authorities to enter any residence with no advance discover, no possible trigger, and no motive given. [8] [9] [10] [11]

Otis graduated from Harvard in 1743 and rose to the highest of the Boston authorized career. In 1760, he obtained a prestigious appointment as Advocate General of the Admiralty Court. He promptly resigned, nevertheless, when Governor Francis Bernard did not appoint his father to the promised place of Chief Justice of the province’s highest court docket the place as a substitute went to Otis’s longtime opponent Thomas Hutchinson.

In 1755, Otis married Ruth Cunningham, a product owner’s daughter and heiress to a fortune worth £10,000. [5] Their politics have been fairly totally different, but they have been hooked up to one another. Otis later “half-complained that she was a ‘High Tory,'” but in the identical breath declared that “she was a great Wife, and too good for him”, [6] within the phrases of John Adams. The marriage produced youngsters James, Elizabeth, and Mary. Their son James died at age 18. Their daughter Elizabeth was a Loyalist like her mom she married Captain Brown of the British Army and lived in England for the remainder of her life. Their youngest daughter Mary married Benjamin Lincoln, son of the distinguished Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln.

Otis was born in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, the primary of 13 youngsters and the primary to outlive infancy. His sister Mercy Otis Warren, his brother Joseph Otis, and his youngest brother Samuel Allyne Otis turned leaders of the American Revolution, as did his nephew Harrison Gray Otis. [3] His father Colonel James Otis Sr. was a outstanding lawyer and militia officer. Father and son had a tumultuous relationship. His father despatched him a letter articulating his disappointments and inspiring him to hunt God’s righteousness to higher himself. [4]

James Otis Jr. (February 5, 1725 – May 23, 1783) was an American lawyer, political activist, pamphleteer, and legislator in Boston, a member of the Massachusetts provincial meeting, and an early advocate of the Patriot views towards the coverage of Parliament which led to the American Revolution. His well-known catchphrase “Taxation with out Representation is tyranny” turned the fundamental Patriot place. [1] [2]

The story of Barnstable’s James and Mercy Otis

Seven-foot bronze statues by Cape Cod sculptor David Lewis memorialize James Otis, Jr. and Mercy Otis Warren outside the Barnstable County Courthouse. Courtesy of the author.

In the years leading up to the Revolution, Warren wrote a series of satiric verse dramas that openly mocked the British and rallied support for American independence. Her first published poem, appearing unsigned on the front page of the Gazette in March 1774, was a thinly veiled celebration of the Boston Tea Party. Her pamphlet after the war, “Observations on the New Constitution” (1788), helped win ratification of the Bill of Rights, though it was not recognized as hers until the 20th century. The first publication to carry Mrs. Warren’s name was a 1790 collection titled “Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous.” And the crowning achievement of her life’s work was the “History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution” (three volumes, 1805), which earned her the reputation as America’s first female historian.

John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson each invoked the same superlative in assessing Mercy’s writing: “genius.” Her role as a mother and wife was paramount in her Congregational value system, yet she was the most accomplished and influential American woman of her time. Behind the scenes, without fanfare, she lent valued counsel to leaders of the Revolution and statesmen of the new republic. Her writings helped shape the values and principles of the American experiment as she and Jemmy had understood them from a young age. She made history, and she wrote it, too.

Seven-foot bronze statues by Cape Cod sculptor David Lewis memorialize James Otis, Jr. and Mercy Otis Warren outside the Barnstable County Courthouse. Courtesy of the author.

According to family lore, James predicted to Mercy that he would perish in a flash of lightning. Tragically, his life came to an end on the afternoon of May 23, 1783, when during a storm a bolt of lightning struck the house in Andover where he resided, instantly killing him. Mercy lived another three decades, most of them quietly in Plymouth, with diminishing eyesight. She endured her own share of tragedy over the years, outliving her entire birth family, a husband she adored, and three sons.

A stone marker and commemorative plaque identify the site of the old Otis estate in what is now the village of West Barnstable. Courtesy of Nancy Viall Shoemaker

Mercy’s passing came on October 19, 1814, the 33rd anniversary of the British surrender at Yorktown. The War of 1812 was at high pitch, and Massachusetts lay under siege once again. The 86-year-old “conscience of the Revolution” remained vigilant and faithful to the end, writing to a friend in one of her last letters:

I would not have you think me alarmed by womanish fears or the weakness of old age. I am not. I sit very tranquilly in my elbow-chair—patiently awaiting the destination of providence with regard to myself, my family, my friends, and my country.

History all but forgot the brother and sister of liberty for centuries. Twin bronze statues of James Otis Jr. and Mercy Otis Warren were erected outside of the Barnstable County Courthouse on July 4, 1991—proper reminders of their contributions to America’s founding and the relationship that inspired them both.

James Otis Sr.

His son James Otis Jr. performed a key function in opposing the British writs of help in 1761, serving to encourage the concept of revolution within the colonies.

Otis was the presiding justice of the Barnstable County Court of Common Pleas throughout the Sept. 27, 1774, protest towards the British “Intolerable Acts.” In assembly the protesters calls for, he agreed to disregard the necessities of the Parliament’s new laws and so preserved for Barnstable the big measure of self-government that Massachusetts had loved beneath its 1691 constitution.

Born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, Otis grew to become the undisputed head of the bar within the colony. As a results of his distinguished service, in 1748 Colonel James was appointed Attorney General of the province. Later, in 1762, like his father John (a choose, consultant to the Massachusetts Bay General Court, and member of the Council of Massachusetts), he was elected to the Council. Otis anticipated to be appointed Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, however the place as an alternative went to Thomas Hutchinson appointed in 1761 by Governor Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet creating enmity between the Otis and Hutchinson households.

James Otis Sr. (1702–1778) was a outstanding lawyer within the Province of Massachusetts Bay. His sons James Otis Jr. and Samuel Allyne Otis additionally rose to prominence, as did his daughter Mercy Otis Warren. He was usually referred to as “Colonel James” due to his militia rank and in addition to differentiate between him and his well-known son. He was a stalwart member of the Popular Party, as was his son, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Watch the video: Historical Boston: James Otis (January 2022).