Amendments V and VI

[Volume 5, Page 251]

Document 12

John Adams, Instructions of the Town of Braintree on the Stamp Act

10 Oct. 1765Papers 1:141--42

But the most grievous Innovation of all, is the alarming Extension of the Power of Courts of Admiralty. In these Courts, one Judge presides alone! No Juries have any Concern there!--The Law, and the Fact, are both to be decided by the same single Judge, whose Commission is only during Pleasure, and with whom, as we are told, the most mischievous of all Customs has become established, that of taking Commissions on all Condemnations; so that he is under a pecuniary Temptation always against the Subject. Now, if the Wisdom of the Mother Country has thought the Independency of the Judges, so essential to an impartial Administration of Justice, as to render them independent of every Power on Earth, independent of the King, the Lords, the Commons, the People, nay independent, in Hope and Expectation, of the Heir apparent, by continuing their Commissions after a Demise of the Crown; What Justice and Impartiality are we, at 3000 Miles distance from the Fountain to expect from such a Judge of Admiralty? We have all along thought the Acts of Trade in this Respect a Grievance: but the Stamp-Act has opened a vast Number of Sources of new Crimes, which may be committed by any Man, and cannot, but be committed by Multitudes, and prodigious Penalties are annexed, and all these are to be tried by such a Judge of such a Court!--What can be wanting, after this, but a weak or wicked Man for a Judge, to render Us the most sordid and forlorn of Slaves? We mean the Slaves of a Slave of the Servants of a Minister of State:--We cannot help asserting therefore, that this Part of the Act will make an essential Change in the Constitution of Juries, and is directly repugnant to the Great Charter itself. For by that Charter "No Amerciament shall be assessed, but by the Oath of honest and lawful Men of the Vicinage."--And "No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, nor passed upon, nor condemned, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land."--So that this Act will "make such a Distinction, and create such a Difference between" the Subjects in Great-Britain, and those in America as we could not have expected from the Guardians of Liberty in "Both."

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendments V and VI, Document 12
The University of Chicago Press

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