John Adams thought that James Otis set the whole American Revolution in motion in 1761. Otis’ argument against writs of assistance, in a legal case that year, Adams wrote, “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.” Of course, Adams also though that July 2nd would be the most famous date in history. So forgive me for at least questioning Adams’ view that the “Writs of Assistance Case” basically jumpstarted the Revolution. That said, I do think the evidence base for the “Writs of Assistance Case” suggests that it was a major turning point in the development of the colonial legal profession. Picking up on themes in yesterday’s guest post by Craig Hanlon, the case may help make sense of the connections between legal professionalization and the American Revolution. Continue reading
Today’s guest post comes from Craig Hanlon, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stirling. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a M.Res., both from Stirling. His dissertation focuses on John Adams’s legal career.
John Adams is a familiar figure to early American historians. His public service before, during, and after the Revolution has received considerable attention over the years, and quite rightly so. But there are gaps in Adams-related scholarship. Perhaps most prominently, Adams’s legal career prior to the American Revolution has been heretofore underappreciated. From 1758 until his appointment to the Continental Congress, in 1774, Adams was an attorney and barrister. He practiced in the courts of Massachusetts. My research examines Adams’s legal career in detail, particularly his professional and intellectual development between 1758 and 1774. I start from the premise that Adams’s knowledge and understanding of the law related to, and indeed influenced, his political ideology. Continue reading