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JAMES OTIS. JAMES Otis was born at Great Marshes, now West Barnstable, in this State, February 5, 1724. The want of a classical education had taught his father properly to appreciate its advantages, and the son was placed under the tuition of the Rev. Mr. Russell to prepare for the University at Cambridge. He entered college in June, 1739. During the two first years, bis wit and vivacity led the elder students to scek his society, and his time was devoted more to amusement than books. It was not until towards the close of his collegiate course that the powers of his mind began to be disclosed, and his true character to be developed. He received his first degree in 1743, and his second, in regular course, three years afterwards. From his junior year, he applied himself with great assiduity to his studies, and the levity and playfulness heretofore marking his character, were exchanged for gravity and reflection. While spending his vacations at his father's house, such was the constancy with which he applied himself, that the neighbors rarely saw him. Notwithstanding his diligence and apparent sobriety, his wit and humor would occasionally discover themselves. He sometimes amused bimself by playing on the violin. A small party, consisting of young people, once visiting his father's, during a vacation, persuaded him to unite with them in their sports. A set was made up for a dance, and after much entreaty, Olis was made to take bis violin and play for them. When they had become fairly engaged, he suddenly stopped playing, and holding up his fiddle in one hand, and his bow in the other, exclaimed, “ So Orpheus fiddied, and so danced the brutes !" and throwing them away, fled into the garden, leaving the disconcerted dancers in the midst of their figure.
After he left college be devoted himself to miscellaneous reading for near two years. He then commenced the study of the law in the office of Mr. Gridley, one of the most eminent lawyers and civilians of the province. Having completed his studies, he first opened his office and began the practice of law in Plymouth. But he remained here only two years, when he removed to Boston, where he soon became one of the most distinguished in his profession. His integrity, his learning, and bis eloquence, in a short time furnished bim a very extensive business. No member of the bar was thought to possess more general information than Mr. Otis.
His reputation had gone abroad into the adjoining provinces, and in cases of difficulty and importance, the council and aid of no one was sought with more eagerness and relied on with such confrience. His frank and undisguised manners gave him an almost unlimited control over the minds of the jury, while the correctness of his principles and his magnanimity, acquired for him the admiration of the court. The perfect urbanity of his manners, and the ardor of his patriotism, joined with these other popular qualities, made him no less the delight of the whigs, than the terror of the government party.
Soon after the conquest of Canada, the provinces were alarmed by a report that some unpleasant changes were about to be made in their government. The truth of the rumor was first seen in an order of council to carry into effect the acts of trade. For tbis purpose writs ot'assistance, as they were called, were to be granted to the officers of the customs, on petition, by the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Sewall gave it as his opinion that the writs were unconstitutional, and that the court had no right to grant them. The other judges were silent. The writs being demanded by officers of the Crown, they could not be dismissed without a hearing, and the term of the Court held in February, 1761, at Boston, was apo pointed for arguing the question. The merchants looked forward to the decision with the deepest solicitude. Mr. Otis, as advocate general, was called on by the officers of the customs to manage their cause. He regarded the writs as illegal and tyrannical, and to avoid appearing in support of measures he deemed oppressive and unjust, be resigned his office. He was then applied to by the mercantile interest of Salem and Boston to oppose the granting the writs. He was aided by Mr. Thatcher, one of the most eminent of the profession of the law. Mr. Gridley, his former instructor, was employed by Government to oppose him. The case was opened by the latter gentleman, and argued with much learning and dignity. He was followed on the other side by Mr. Thatcher, in a speech remarkable for its ingenuity and candor, and the mildness and moderation with which it was pronounced. “But Otis," to use the language of the ex-president Adams, “ was a fame of fire; with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, and rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American lodependence was then and there born. The seeds of
patriots and heroes to defend the vigorous youth, were then and there sown. Every man of an immense crowded audience appear ed to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition, to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born. In fifteen years, i. e. in 1776, he grew up to manhood and declared biaself free.”
Few periods in history have been more fortunate for the developement of character than the fifteen years preceding the American Revolution. The sense of a constantly increasing oppression on the one hand, and the determined efforts of the ministry on the other, to enforce the most tyrandic councils, enlisted the greatest talents and drew forth all the intellectual resources of the country. Mr. Otis' natural love of liberty and his ideas of independence prompted him to espouse with warmth, and defend resolutely the cause of the colonies. He was sent at an early age to the provincial legislature, and soon became one of the most efficient and infuential members of that assembly. His talents, supported by the most irreproachable integrity, gave him entire dominion over the minds and feelings of his party. From 1761 to 970, he devoted himself almost wholly to the service of the public. In his conversation and his writings he ever manifested the most ardent patriotism. His republican principles brought down upon him the hatred of Gov. Bernard, and afterwards of Gov. Hutchinson. His unwearied efforts to counteract the tyranny of the British ministry, and his unabated zeal in what he considered the cause of liberty, made him the idol of the popular party. No man spoke with more energy. His wit, bis eloquence, and the force of his arguments bore away every thing before him. Such was his influence that the ministry began to devise measures for removing him from the country. It was reported that a motion was made in Parliament to arrest him for high treason. He had declined offices of profit and honor under the English Government, and measures of severity were now resorted to for removing him to a place where his influence could no longer defeat the plans of the ministry. Assassination was the base mean by which the American people were to be deprived of his efficient and active services. Representations regarding him the most disbonorable had been made by the provincial governor, and others to the British parliament; these had been detected, and their hatred of him increased. It was said that was it not for Otis, with Samuel Adams, and a few other factious demagogues, the col
onies might enjoy peace, and the plans of the ministry go into successful operation. The idea of taxing America without giving her a representative in Parliament, and making her governors independent of the people, were the least tolerable features in the oppressive measures of the parent country. The insulting conduct of the officers of the customs, enriching themselves at the expense of the people, and that of Hutchinson, then Lt. Governor, Chief Justice, Counsellor, and Judge of Probate, holding all these lucrative stations at the same time; these acts of injustice to his country, with the disclosure of the calumnies against him in their communications to the ministry, stung him to madness. He inserted an advertisement in the Boston Gazette, setting forth the abusive manner in which he had been treated by the commissioners of the customs, with some reflections of contempt on their characters. . The next evening, Otis visited the British coffee house, where the commissioners, with some officers of the pavy, army, and revenue, were sitting together. No sooner had he entered the room, than an altercation took place between him and one of them, named Robinson. From harsh language they soop came to blows. Robinson gave Otis a blow with his cape, which was immediately returned. Upon this the lights were extinguished, and Otis, surrounded by bis bitterest enemies, all of them adherents to the crown, received most barbarous and unmanly treatment. A young man passing by the house and hearing the affray, boldiy went in and offered his assistance; he was shockingly bruised, beaten, and turned out of doors. was left alone to maintain the unequal contest. They were, at length, however, separated, and Robinson made bis escape at a back passage, and Otis was led home dangerously wounded and bleeding.
This affray created much excitement. The whole community was filled with the deepest indignation. The general impression was, that it was a preconcerted plan of assassinating him. Five or six bludgeons and a scabbard were found on the floor after the struggle was over. Otis received a deep wound on his head, which, in the opinion of his physicians, must have been inflicted with some sharp instrument. The public mind, already sore from the aggression and tyranny of the parent country, indignant at the insolence of a few petty oppressors, and now moved with highest resentment for this brutal and cowardly assault upon one in whom the friends of liberty had reposed the fullest confidence, was ready to avenge itself on its authors. The treatment Otis had re