The Hutchinson Letters Affair


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"The die is cast. The people have passed the river and cut away the bridge."

—John Adams

In the year of 1772, a most peculiar incident occurred that would come to be known as the Hutchinson Letters Affair.

It was a scandal that shook the very foundations of the American colonies and the British Empire, involving a series of letters that were never meant to see the light of day.

These letters, written by one Thomas Hutchinson, then Governor of Massachusetts, and his brother-in-law, Andrew Oliver, were of a most seditious nature, revealing their authors' desire to undermine the liberties of the American colonies.

Now, I must confess that I am not one to indulge in gossip or scandal, but the Hutchinson Letters Affair has long piqued my curiosity, and I find it to be a most fascinating tale.


Benjamin Franklin
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The story begins with a certain Benjamin Franklin, a man of great renown, who at the time was serving as the agent for the colonies in London.

Mr. Franklin, in his capacity as agent, was privy to many secrets and correspondences, and it was in the course of his duties that he stumbled upon the Hutchinson Letters.

The letters, as I have mentioned, were penned by Governor Hutchinson and Mr. Oliver, and detailed their desires to abridge the liberties of the American colonists.

Mr. Franklin, being a staunch defender of the colonies, was naturally incensed by the contents of these letters, and decided that they must be made public.

And so, with great care and secrecy, he sent the letters to the Massachusetts Assembly, where they were met with equal parts shock and outrage.


portrait of Govenor Hutchingson
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Upon receiving the Hutchinson Letters, the Massachusetts Assembly wasted no time in calling for the removal of Governor Hutchinson and Mr. Oliver from their posts.

The assembly believed that these men, who had sworn to uphold the rights and liberties of the colonists, had instead sought to undermine them.

The news of the letters spread like wildfire throughout the colonies, and the outrage was palpable.

The colonists, already chafing under the yoke of British rule, saw in the Hutchinson Letters confirmation of their worst fears: that their leaders were in league with the British, and were actively working against them.

In the midst of this uproar, the question of how Mr. Franklin had come into possession of the letters became a matter of great speculation.

Some believed that he had stolen them, while others suspected that he had been given them by a secret informant.

Mr. Franklin, for his part, refused to reveal his source, further fueling the flames of suspicion and intrigue.


Benjamin Franklin on trial
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In the unfolding of that most scandalous affair, the dignified government of Great Britain, with its sensibilities affronted and seeking to quell the tempestuous agitation in the colonies, resolved to take the bull by the horns.

In this spirit, they insisted that our very own Mr. Franklin, that eminent gentleman of Philadelphia, stand trial for his purported hand in the mischief.

They accused him of thieving the Hutchinson Letters and stirring up the flames of insurrection in the colonies.

Now, Mr. Franklin, being a seasoned statesman of the highest caliber, consented to stand trial, demonstrating a confidence that bordered on audacity.

And so, in the frosty month of January, in the year of 1774, he presented himself before the Privy Council in the grand city of London.

The trial, I tell you, was nothing less than a spectacle fit for kings, with the cream of British society clamoring to witness the anticipated humbling of that audacious fellow who dared to defy the mighty Empire.

But lo and behold, Mr. Franklin, that sly and cunning fox, had not arrived unprepared.

No, sir, he had secreted a stratagem or two within the folds of his waistcoat. He stood before the council, unbowed and unbroken, and defended himself with the eloquence of a Demosthenes, maintaining that he was no thief of letters, but had merely sought to bring to light the dastardly machinations of Governor Hutchinson and his accomplice, Mr. Oliver.

The council, I must say, found themselves considerably swayed by the sheer force of Mr. Franklin's oratory.

In the end, they deemed it fitting to acquit him of the charges that weighed upon him, and thus our Mr. Franklin, that embodiment of American cunning and resourcefulness, strode forth from the hallowed halls of the Privy Council, a free man and with his honor unsullied.


American Revolution
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Though Mr. Franklin was acquitted, the Hutchinson Letters Affair left a lasting impact on the American colonies.

The scandal had laid bare the deep divisions between the colonists and their British rulers, and had sown the seeds of distrust and resentment that would eventually lead to the outbreak of the American Revolution.

Governor Hutchinson, for his part, was recalled to England, his reputation in tatters.

He would spend the rest of his life in relative obscurity, forever haunted by the scandal that had brought him low.

As for Mr. Franklin, he would go on to play a pivotal role in the founding of the United States, his reputation as a champion of liberty and justice only strengthened by his role in the Hutchinson Letters Affair.