Amendments V and VI

Document 16

John Adams, Novanglus, no. 5

20 Feb. 1775Papers 2:282--84

That the high whigs took care to get themselves chosen of the grand juries I don't believe. Nine tenths of the people were high whigs; and therefore it was not easy to get a grand jury without nine whigs in ten, in it. And the matter would not be much mended by the new act of parliament. The sheriff must return the same set of jurors, court after court, or else his juries would be nine tenths of them high whigs still. Indeed the tories are so envenom'd now with malice, envy, revenge and disappointed ambition, that they would be willing, for what I know, to be jurors for life, in order to give verdicts against the whigs. And many of them would readily do it, I doubt not, without any other law or evidence, than what they found in their own breasts. The suggestion of ledgerdemain, in drawing the names of petit jurors out of the box, is scandalous. Human wisdom cannot devise a method of obtaining petit jurors more fairly, and better secured against a possibility of corruption of any kind, than that established by our provincial law. They were drawn by chance out of a box, in open town meeting, to which the tories went, or might have gone, as well as the whigs, and have seen with their own eyes, that nothing unfair ever did or could take place. If the jurors consisted of whigs, it was because the freeholders were whigs, that is honest men. But now, it seems, if Massachusettensis can have his will, the sheriff who will be a person properly qualified for the purpose, is to pick out a tory jury, if he can find one in ten, or one in twenty of that character among the freeholders; and it is no doubt expected, that every news paper that presumes to deny the right of parliament to tax us, or destroy our charter, will be presented as a libel, and every member of a committee of correspondence, or a congress, &c. &c. &c. are to be indicted for rebellion. These would be pleasant times to Massachusettensis and the junto, but they will never live to see them.

"The judges pointed out seditious libels, on governors, magistrates, and the whole government to no effect." They did so. But the jurors thought some of these no libels, but solemn truths. At one time, I have heard that all the newspapers for several years, the Massachusetts Gazette, Evening Post, the Boston Chronicle, Boston-Gazette, and Massachusetts-Spy, were laid before a grand jury at once. The jurors thought there were multitudes of libels written by the tories, and they did not know who they should attack if they presented them; perhaps governor Bernard, lieut. governor Hutchinson, secretary Oliver--possibly the attorney general. They saw so many difficulties they knew not what to do.

As to the riots and insurrections, it is surprizing that this writer should say "scarce one offender was indicted, and I think not one convicted." Were not many indicted, convicted, and punished too in the county of Essex? and Middlesex, and indeed in every other county? But perhaps he will say, he means such as were connected with politicks. Yet this is not true, for a large number in Essex were punished for abusing an informer, and others were indicted and convicted in Boston, for a similar offence. None were indicted for pulling down the stamp office, because this was thought an honorable and glorious action, not a riot. And so it must be said of several other tumults. But was not this the case in royal as well as charter governments? Nor will this inconvenience be remedied by a sheriff's jury, if such an one should ever sit. For if such a jury should convict, the people will never bear the punishment. It is in vain to expect or hope to carry on government, against the universal bent and genius of the people; we may whimper and whine as much as we will, but nature made it impossible, when she made men.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendments V and VI, Document 16
The University of Chicago Press

Papers of John Adams. Edited by Robert J. Taylor et al. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977--.

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