Successful Boston lawyer, active member of the Sons of Liberty, and noted political essayist, Josiah Quincy Junior (1744–1775) left a lasting impression on those he met--for his passion in the courtroom as well as his orations in the Old South Meeting House, and for his determination to live fully, despite being afflicted with a disease that would cut his life short. Gathered in this, the sixth and final volume of the Quincy Papers, are Quincy’s surviving correspondence, his essays for the Boston press written between 1767 and 1774, and his 1774 pamphlet Observations, which was the culmination of his thinking and writing about the problem of balancing imperial authority and colonial liberty. He represented, as well as any of his longer-lived contemporaries, the difficulty of protesting British policy without turning on Britain itself, the uneasy blending of reasoned political discourse with a desire to denounce perceived injustice, and the quest to find a peaceful solution and yet reserve the right to use force if all else failed. In his attempt to define and defend American rights, he borrowed as readily from classical sources as modern, drawing on a rich philosophical and legal tradition that served him well throughout his public life. He well understood the power of the ideas that he mustered for political debate. That understanding also shows through in Quincy’s other writings, from his law commonplace book and Latin legal maxims (in volume 2) to the journal of his 1773 southern journey (in volume 3) to his still-cited reports for cases argued in the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1761 to 1772 (in volumes 4 and 5).
This last volume stands as a companion piece to the first. There, Quincy’s political ideas are discussed and traced, in part through Quincy’s political commonplace book, compiled between 1770 and 1774. Here, readers can follow how Quincy expressed those ideas in the newspaper pieces and pamphlet that became an essential part of the debate over rights in the empire. Here too can be found his deep concern, expressed in letters from London to his beloved wife, Abigail, that he serve Massachusetts--"my country," as he called it--well, that he give his last full measure of devotion, if necessary, to the patriot cause.
Distributed for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Daniel R. Coquillette is the J. Donald Monan, S.J., Professor at Boston College and the Charles Warren Visiting Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School. Neil Longley York is the Karl G. Maeser Professor of General Education and Chair of the History Department at Brigham Young University.