Lot #200
Samuel Adams

Adams demands that justice be done, for injustice “furnishes an argument against the practicability of permanently establishing civil Governments under, & directing them by the Authority of the People”

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Adams demands that justice be done, for injustice “furnishes an argument against the practicability of permanently establishing civil Governments under, & directing them by the Authority of the People”

Manuscript DS, one page both sides, 7.75 x 12.5, February 29, 1796. As governor of Massachusetts, Adams orders the magistrates of Lincoln County to restore order and expedite the prosecution of men who had threatened a surveyor employed by the government. In part: “The Legislature of the Commonwealth being desirous to bring to an end, those litigations respecting Land titles in the County of Lincoln, which have for a long time embarrassed and retarded the settlement and cultivation of that part of the Commonwealth…The Power of the Government in regard to the property of individuals is reasonably limited by our free & happy Constitution. By affidavits now before the Supreme Executive, copies of which are enclosed, it appears that certain persons within the said County where you are Magistrates have, either from the want of proper information, or from the instigation of wicked & designing men, in an unwarrantable & violent manner, interrupted the progress of this business by assaulting the persons employed by the Government in running the lines between the land of this Commonwealth & divers Citizens thereof. The Government is moreover informed, that no legal proceedings have been instituted to bring those offenders to justice…The necessity of suppressing disorders in a free Government is very obvious because every opposition to the power of it if not immediately restrained furnishes an argument against the practicability of permanently establishing civil Governments under, & directing them by the Authority of the People…It is with the advice of the Council that I address you on this important subject. The Supreme Executive cannot admit the idea that the execution of the Laws has been for a moment restrained by fear; for should your candid and friendly explanation, and your firm determination to carry the laws into execution…prove insufficient to produce actual submission, such part of the force of the Commonwealth as shall be necessary must be exerted to suppress every opposition to the Government.” In fine condition, with a couple light vertical wrinkles through a portion of the signature. Accompanied by two testimonies written in another hand, both signed by secretary John Avery. All documents are housed in a red half-morocco clamshell box.

Unrest and lawlessness that was rooted in the Whiskey Rebellion—the suppression of which was endorsed by Adams—continued to fester in Massachusetts in 1796 via a series of land disputes on the Maine ‘frontier.’ This document refers to a conflict in which a hostile group of men assaulted land surveyor Ephraim Ballard, threatening him with murder and destroying his surveying equipment. The manuscript witness statements accompanying the Adams document include a copy of Ballard’s own testimony, as well as that of two men who overheard the plot to kill him and attempted to warn him. Land disputes—which often turned violent—characterized this area of Maine, as old boundaries, deeds, and maps were unclear, and because many of the original landholders were Loyalists who had been granted their land charters by the Crown. Following the Revolutionary War, veterans, farmers, and other settlers looked to the Maine wilderness for free or cheap lands, many believing that the lands had been confiscated by the Massachusetts government to be turned over to the people. It was not until the amended Betterment Act was passed in 1810 that this issue was resolved, outlining the requirements of land dealings and imposing strict punishments for anyone agitating against surveyors and proprietors—it allowed the militia to be called in whenever a proprietor’s representative was threatened, and those arrested faced fines up to $1000 and year-long jail terms. Most interesting about this document is Adams’s statement about the concept of free government being undermined, as the fledgling United States was still establishing itself as a viable nation—the Constitution had been ratified less than a decade earlier. Although Adams was running a state government and this document focuses on a single incident, he maintained a broad view of the effects of law and order on the nation as a whole. An exceptional, historic document. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Rare Manuscript, Document & Autograph
  • Dates: #436 - Ended September 10, 2014

This item is Pre-Certified by PSA/DNA
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