History and Text of
The Braintree Instructions
Site of the General Court, Boston
On September 24, 1765, Town Meeting of Braintree held at Middle Parish Meeting House on this Elm Street site, responded to a motion by young lawyer and Town Meeting representative, John Adams, to appoint a committee of five to draft an official protest to the invasive Stamp Act tax imposed by Britain in March, 1765. The protest was called The Braintree Instructions.
This group of Braintree Patriots: Rep. Ebenezer Thayer, Judge Samuel Niles, Captain John Hayward, Ensign James Penniman, and Norton Quincy, led by one great Patriot, John Adams, took the necessary steps to organize the first response against the tyranny of British taxation that would lead to the American Revolution.
It was here in Braintree, ten years before shots were fired in Lexington and Concord, that these Patriots raised the first voices of Freedom in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and led to the first united call for Liberty in the American colonies!
The First Voice of Freedom in Massachusetts
In 1763 Lord George Grenville became Prime Minister and First Lord of the British Treasury, with the tremendous task of recovering the millions of British pounds spent on the French and Indian War which ended in 1763 after seven years of conflict. Grenville was also faced with supporting the 10,000 British troops then stationed in North America.
One action that Grenville took was the Stamp Act, passed in Parliament in March 1765. The Stamp Act required attached paper stamps or pressed seals, purchased from government “Stamp Masters”, to be placed on most printed materials, including newspapers, pamphlets, posters, wills, mortgages, deeds, contracts, licenses, and even diplomas, dice, and playing cards. While Britain had already placed taxes on trade, this was the first direct tax Britain had placed on the colonists of North America. The Stamp Act was set to take effect on November 1, 1765. As word of the Stamp Act spread through the colonies in the Spring of 1765, a huge protest began as editorials, pamphlets, speeches and resolutions, and even mob violence against the tax flooded the colonies.
The Braintree Instructions was Read at Braintree Town Meeting
The Braintree Instructions was read on September 24, 1765 at Braintree Town Meeting, held at the Middle Parish Church on Elm Street, by John Adams, and was approved without dissent. The Braintree Instructions was published in newspapers throughout the Commonwealth and was endorsed by over forty cities and towns in petitions to the General Court of Boston.
As a result, the Massachusetts Legislature called for the first general inter-colonial conference in America. In October, 1765 representatives from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina colonies met in New York for what became known as the Stamp Act Congress. Using the Braintree Instructions and similar resolves from other colonies, Pennsylvanian lawyer John Dickinson drafted the Declaration of Rights and Grievances to be sent to King George III: “…that it is inseparably essential to the Freedom of a People, and the undoubted Right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own Consent, given personally, or by their representatives.”
In March, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.
John Adams Drafted The Braintree Instructions
John Adams drafted The Braintree Instructions at his home in the North Precinct (now Quincy), then presented the document to Judge Samuel Niles and the committee. It was unanimously approved. It was agreed that Adams would present the document at the next Town Meeting on September 24th, 1765. After it was approved by Town Meeting, it was sent to Braintree’s Representative to the General Court (colonial legislature) in Boston, the Hon. Ebenezer Thayer, Jr.
The Instructions Committee
Judge Samuel Niles, Chairman, aged 54. He was a lawyer, Deacon of Middle Parish church, former Selectman, former Colonial Representative to the General Court, former Town Moderator from 1754-1764, Justice of the Peace for Norfolk County and Chief Magistrate of Braintree for the last twenty years.
Norton Quincy, aged 49. Selectman and Braintree Town Meeting Moderator in 1765.
James Penniman, aged 57. Former Selectman, Deacon, land-owner, and Ensign in the Braintree Militia.
Captain John Hayward, aged 52. Former Selectman, Deacon of Middle Parish church, land-owner, and Captain of the Braintree Militia.
John Adams, aged 29. Just seven years after passing the legal bar, and recently married to Abigail Smith of Weymouth, a minister’s daughter, he was an ambitious, rising young lawyer who in 1764 successfully defended millionaire shipping magnate and local celebrity John Hancock on molasses smuggling charges in violation of Britain’s Sugar Act of 1764.
Hon. Ebenezer Thayer, Jr., aged 44, had been Braintree’s representative to the General Court (or colonial legislature) in Boston since 1760, and would serve ten more years. He was a lawyer, judge, land-owner, tavern keeper, Selectman, political leader, Captain in the Braintree Militia since 1742, and had been Town Moderator the previous year, 1764.