Edited Book

The Papers of Francis Bernard, Governor of Colonial Massachusetts, 1760-69, Vol. 3: 1766-1767

Alternative title The Bernard Papers Volume 3, Digital Editition



Nicolson C (ed.) (2017) The Papers of Francis Bernard, Governor of Colonial Massachusetts, 1760-69, Vol. 3: 1766-1767 [The Bernard Papers Volume 3, Digital Editition], Digital Edition ed. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 83. Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts. https://www.colonialsociety.org/node/2342

Francis Bernard was the first colonial governor to encounter sustained opposition to the authority of the King-in-Parliament. The documentary record of the middle years (1766 and 1767) of Bernard's troubled administration reveals a governor at odds with his American charges and discomfited by the knowledge that his British masters did not appreciate his predicament. As crown-appointees who reported directly to the secretary of state and the Board of Trade, governors were the prime agents for negotiating the maintenance of British imperialism. Their office did not confer political power but the power to influence British perceptions of America. Governor Bernard was a candid and self-effacing narrator with a penchant for revelation and a talent for dramatization. His colonial opponents would not have recognized themselves in the hostile portraits that Bernard dispatched to London. But Bernard was not writing for the colonists but for the king's ministers and officials in London; Bernard's letters were also read in Parliament and in the king's Privy Council and were probably discussed at cabinet meetings. Bernard crafted a case for direct British intervention in the aftermath of the Stamp Act Crisis, even proposing that British Regulars be sent to cow opponents. "I should be glad that when they are taught that they have a superior, they may know it effectually." He was patently unable to cure either the "Madness of the people" or the insane "Virulence" of James Otis Jr., Boston's senior representative. The brilliant but unpredictable Otis drew Bernard's ire like no other enemy, and whenever Otis appears in the historical record, Bernard's voice is shrill and dripping with invective. He relished the chance of one day exposing "the grand Incendiary" and "his Gang" and detaching his "deluded Partisans from him." That was because, in early 1766, Otis turned a full barrage of patriotic propaganda against the governor -- enlisting, among others, the talented lawyer John Adams. Bernard consequently dispatched to London torrents of newspaper cuttings containing, he claimed, evidence of insurgent radicalism. His objectives were to illustrate his own predicament and to "furnish . . . sufficient proof of the Overthrow of this Government." His aim was to have the king's secretaries of state take colonial radicalism seriously. Success, Bernard concluded, depended upon being able to convince British ministers of the Americans' seditious practices and rebellious tendencies. It was a dangerous diplomatic game. That he succeeded had enormous ramifications for British-colonial relations. In Bernard's correspondence of 1766 and 1767 historians will find explanations about two major causes of the Revolution. The first is why British policymakers were prepared to take a firmer line with the Americans and send British Regulars to Boston in 1768. The second is why many Americans convinced themselves that the British government was predisposed to ignore their aspirations and grievances. The Bernard Papers assists historians in negotiating these processes, whilst providing hard evidence of how British imperialism was itself negotiable in the decade before the War of Independence.

Bernard; Colonial; Francis Bernard; governor; Massachusetts; papers; Massachusetts; American Revolution; British policy; imperial crisis

Output Type: Digital Edition

EditorDr Colin Nicolson
FundersArts and Humanities Research Council and Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Title of seriesPublications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Number in series83
Publication date18/05/2017
PublisherThe Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Publisher URLhttps://www.colonialsociety.org/node/2342
Place of publicationBoston

People (1)


Dr Colin Nicolson
Dr Colin Nicolson

Senior Lecturer, History

Projects (2)

The Bernard Papers

AHRC Fellowship - The Bernard Papers