The American Revolution didn’t start in Philadelphia, or at Lexington and Concord. Instead, as John Adams put it, the Revolution started on February 24, 1761, when James Otis, Jr., rose in Boston’s Massachusetts Town House to defend American liberty.
He gave a 5 HOUR speech in opposition to the “Writs of Assistance.” These were general warrants allowing the government to search anywhere, anytime. Otis was Advocate-General when the legality of these warrants was attacked, but promptly resigned his office when called upon to defend that legality. The Boston merchants then retained him as their counsel to oppose the writs before the Superior Court of Massachusetts. Otis refused the fee they offered, saying that in such a cause he despised all fees. In a five-hour speech, which was witnessed by a young John Adams, Otis argued that the writs were unconstitutional. He based his case on the rights guaranteed in English common law.
Over the years, Otis worked closely with other revolutionaries in Boston, including Samuel Adams – who is often referred to as the “Father of the American Revolution.” Many of the principles they espoused became the basis for the Declaration of Independence – and even the Constitution years later.
In the video below – recorded in early 2016 – we explain how both Adams and Otis warned us against supporting a “living, breathing” constitution.
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