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regulation of government in the interest of the people, evokes the clearest logic, the most fervid passion, and the most effective rhetoric of oratory. Its range is general, but its appeal is personal; and the finest examples of public speech in any nation will therefore be found in its political records.
It is inevitable, then, that a collection of American orations must be chiefly from the utterances of its statesmen upon the great issues of their times; so that this little gathering of themes and thinkers presents almost an outline sketch of the history of our country, as is shown by the chronological table of Contents. In any largely representative compilation of such addresses there are many - very many — that might be advantageously included; but in so compact a selection as the present, only the most notable and influential may be taken. Even of these, some treat of so numerous a range of subordinate matters or are so variously illustrated that our limits have compelled abridgment of portions which, however, are always indicated in the text.
OF a wealthy and aristocratic colonial family in Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard, with fine classical training and a wide taste in literature, a brilliantly successful lawyer, JAMES Otis was not a Tory, like many of his social grade, but an ardent defender of the rights of the colonies.
In 1760 the royal governors had arranged a new device called Writs of Assistance, or search-warrants, to enable them to seek out goods suspected of not having paid taxes due, which greatly troubled the merchants of Boston and Salem. The application of the Crown to the court to issue such writs was argued in February, 1761. OTIS, who had been Crown Advocate-General, resigned that position, to appear for the merchants in opposition. He was, wrote JOHN ADAMS, flame of fire; with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American independence was then and there born." As to the writs, the court withheld its decision, and at the next term no more was heard of them.
This speech, of which but a portion remains, placed Otis among the friends of colonial freedom and the enemies of royalty, and he was so received by both parties. He was a member of the Massachusetts legislature in 1761, of the Congress at New York in 1765, and again legislator in Massachusetts in 1766. Everywhere Otis took high rank as lawmaker, lawyer, and orator. He was also one of the most convincing writers on the hotly contested political topics of the time, and throughout the Revolution was a prime factor in sustaining the cause of independence.