Massachusetts Circular Letter

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Engraving of the events set off by the passage of the Townshend Acts. Created by Paul Revere

Massachusetts Circular Letter was a popular response by the Massachusetts House in 1768 after the passage of the 1766 Townshend Acts. It was authored by Samuel Adams and James Otis Jr.


The Townshend Acts were a series of import duties imposed upon tea, glass, paper, lead, and paint, passed shortly after the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766.[1]

After the Massachusetts General Court received the text of the Townshend Acts, the assembly put together a committee for a response which was the circular letter. Being "circular" means that it should be circulated or distributed. Other colonies reviewed the letter with positive responses, including Connecticut, Virginia, and New Jersey.[2]

In the letter, it was argued that the new duties were unconstitutional, it also argued that the salary payments to governors and judges undermined local popular control of government.[3]

In Britain, Lord Hillsborough, who was at the time the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was incensed and outraged over the circular. He immediately demanded that the assembly recall the letter.[4] The assembly overwhelmingly refused the royal command, by a vote of 92 to 17.[5] In response, Lord Hillsborough ordered Governor Francis Bernard to dissolve the legislature.[6]

No longer having any legal way to channel their grievances, the colonists entered a period of discontent with belligerent mobs gathering and protesting British officials.[7][8]

These acts of protest and defiance were answered by the British government, who ordered a fleet of ships to sail into Boston harbor, with two regiments of Regulars and cannons. Paul Revere, who was a witness to the events, made an engraving of the event which he called an "insolent parade".[9] The presence of British soldiers remained, and tensions continued to increase until the Boston Massacre in 1770.

See also