we have recorded, he must have been one of this class.
That this criticism and disaffection concerning Otis was of short duration, and justly so, is shown by the fact that at the end of the legislative session he was appointed chairman of the committee charged with securing the co-operation of the other Colonies in a united effort of opposition to the scheme for taxing America. That he was sufficiently alive to the true interests of the Colonies and watchful of any imposition upon their rights as subjects under the English Constitution, we may cite one or two brief extracts from the letter of instructions to the provincial agent in England, written by him and adopted by the representatives. "The silence of the province," he says in regard to the Sugar Act, "should have been imputed to any cause, even to despair, rather than be construed into tacit cession of their rights, or an acknowledgment of a right in the Parliament of Great Britain to impose duties and taxes upon a people, who are not represented in the House of Commons." "Ireland is a conquered country, which is not the case with the northern Colonies, except Canada; yet no duties have been levied by the British Parliament on Ireland. No internal or external taxes have been assessed on them, but by their own Parliament."
"Granting that the time may come, which we hope is far off, when the British Parliament shall think fit to oblige the North Americans, not only to maintain civil government among themselves, for this they have already done, but to support an army to protect them, can it be possible that the duties to be imposed and the taxes to be levied shall be assessed without the voice or consent of one American in Parliament? If we are not represented, we are slaves."
The charge that Otis turned from his support of the government policy because his father failed to receive the desired appointment as Chief Justice is as unfounded as it is improbable.
The office of Chief Justice was worth not over a hundred and twenty pounds sterling a year, and as Colonel Otis's practice at the bar was worth much more than this, and his seat in the legislature gave him all the power and reputation he needed, the loss of the Chief Justiceship could not have been a very great concern to him. On the other hand one of the first measures of Otis in coming into public life was to resign his office as Advocate-General which was worth twice as much as the seat on the bench. Of course a person of his fiery disposition felt keenly the insult involved in the rejection of his father, and doubtless the event imbittered his language towards Hutchinson; but it would hardly be likely to shape his whole political career when public questions of such great moment were at stake.
There was no trace of meanness or selfishness in his disposition.
To be sure, Otis's admitted superiority over his legal associates and the natural impetuosity of his nature sometimes made him excessively dogmatic, and his manner though courteous even to a fineness towards those whom he liked was imperious and even unguarded toward his political enemies. At one time, having cited Dormat (the noted French jurist, 1625-1696, author of "The Civil Laws in their Natural Order," 1689) in the course of an argument, Governor Bernard inquired "who Dormat was." Otis answered that "he was a very distinguished civilian, and not the less an authority for being unknown to your excellency." Yet notice the high-minded courtesy exhibited in the following incident: When Charles Lee was in command of the left wing of the army with his headquarters at Winter Hill, in what is now Somerville, he refused to have an interview and conference with his old friend Burgoyne, then lately arrived in Boston, looking toward the restoration of an amicable understanding between the colonies and the mother country. Four months later, a letter came from the Old World containing a warning that Lee was not a man of trustworthy character. Otis was at that time the executive head of the provisional government which had been formed in Massachusetts, during one of the last of his lucid intervals. On behalf of the government he sent a letter to Lee, quite touching for its fairminded simplicity. The council had come into possesssion of a letter from Ireland making very unfavorable mention of Lee. It produced no impression upon the council. "On the contrary," says Otis, "we are at a loss to know which is the highest evidence of your virtues--the greatness and number of your friends, or the malice and envy of your foes." This was a most delicate and effective way of offering good advice.
When he had suffered so cruelly at the hands of Commissioner Robinson and his companions at the British Coffee House, and had been awarded damages by the court, Otis's high spirit revolted at the idea of receiving pecuniary compensation for a personal insult; and Robinson's release drawn up by Otis himself is to be found in the files of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, along with Robinson's written acknowledgment and apology.
Next to his impetuous devotion to the true relations of things, the source of Otis's power lay in his adequate preparation for the life of an advocate. Bred to the law at a time long before the pathway had been smoothed by the multiplication of elementary works and other modern improvements, he yet fully mastered that abstruse science, which perhaps does more to quicken and invigorate the understanding than many of the other kinds of learning put together. As a sufficient foundation for his later legal studies he had pursued at Harvard, the foremost college in the colonies, not only the regular undergraduate classical course, but also the three years of work required for the Master's degree. Moreover, in conformity with his views on the necessity of a generous and comprehensive culture of the mind as a means of success at the bar, or in any professional career, Otis did not plunge at once from his collegiate courses into the routine of the legal office; but allowed himself two years of self-directed general study with a view toward further disciplining his mind and widening his information. The subjects thus pursued and the general culture which he acquired served to open and to liberalize his mind in nearly the same proportion as the assiduous study of the law was next to invigorate and quicken it. In conversation with his brother he remarked, "that Blackstone's Commentaries would have saved him seven years' labor pouring over and delving in black letter." He appears to have formed a very correct judgment respecting the nature of professional education and the best means of mastering its abstruse details. He constantly inculcated upon the young men who came to study in his office the maxim, "that a lawyer ought never to be without a volume of natural or public law, or moral philosophy, on his table or in his pocket."