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Otis, James (1725-1783) to Catharine Macaulay

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01796 Author/Creator: Otis, James (1725-1783) Place Written: Boston, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 27 July 1769 Pagination: 8 p. ; 23 x 19 cm.

Summary of Content: Praise's Macaulay's "The History of England from the accession of James I to that of the Brunswick line" and her skill as an historian. States that "God & Nature...have been equally kind to both sexes" and it is only the "Tyranny of Custom" that keeps more women from rivaling men in art and science. At her request, he discusses American affairs at length, denouncing greedy governors, oppressive revenue officers, and the damage being done to commerce by seizure of vessels owned by loyal Americans. He exclaims, "Good God! This is British liberty & felicity with a vengeance." Criticizes the Townshend Acts, commenting on the problem of Britain maintaining North America as a dependent and refuting the idea that it could be done in perpetuity. Discusses colonial history.

Background Information: James Otis (1725-1783), one of the early leaders in the American struggle for independence, informs Catharine Macaulay (1731-1791), an English liberal sympathetic to the colonists cause, about the situation in ...America. A year before he wrote this letter, Otis had outspokenly rejected the British demand that the Massachusetts assembly withdraw its appeal for colonists to repudiate the Townshend Acts. "We are asked to rescind?" he asked rhetorically. "Let Great Britain rescind her measures, or the colonies are lost to her forever."

The colonists considered Macaulay, an eminent English historian with many valuable political connections, one of the most important figures in Britain to whom they could present their grievances. Steeped in the British historical traditions of revolution, Lady Catharine played a critical role in reviving knowledge of English radicalism. Many colonists likened their situation to that of seventeenth-century radicals who had sought to protect English liberties against the usurpations of the Stuart kings. Lady Catharine later toured an independent United States in 1787.
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Full Transcript: You have condescended to intimate your pleasure that I should transmit you an account of American affairs. Were I equal to the business it would require an album. At present ...I can only say No. America is really distressed as you justly perceive. The governors of too many of ye colonies are not only unprincipled, but...rapacious.... The revenue officers in general are to the last degree oppressive. The commerce of the Country is...dying--[a mutual friend] told of captures & prizes taken from truly loyal subjects here inasmuch as the same [practice] as is sent out against traitors, rebels, and others the worst of his enemies. Indeed, all the least endearing appellations are liberally bestowed on the colonists for no apparent fault...[except] petitioning ye King, & living as... peaceably as possible on ye fistful pittance lest them call blasphemy & treasonSee More

People: Otis, James, 1725-1783
Macaulay, Catharine, 1731-1791

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: Women's HistoryLiterature and Language ArtsGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGovernment and CivicsTaxes or TaxationLawFreedom and IndependenceRevolutionary War

Sub Era: Road to Revolution

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