For Independence Day, Let's Remember a Leak That Helped Spur on the Revolution

For Independence Day, Let's Remember a Leak That Helped Spur the American Revolution:
By the end of his life, no one loved former Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson. A loyalist's loyalist, Hutchinson led the state during both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. He was hated by the Americans and never fully accepted by the leaders of Great Britain, where he lived after fleeing the gathering war fever. After he died, John Adams pretty much called him a dick.

But the man wrote letters, tons of 'em. Someone gave Benjamin Franklin a stack of letters that Hutchinson, as chief justice and then governor, along with province secretary Andrew Oliver, wrote to Great Britain in 1767-1769, letters that said things like, "I wish the good of the colony when I wish to see some further restraint of liberty rather than the connection with the parent state should be broken," as well as asking for more British troops to help squelch the nascent rebellion. Hutchinson implored the receiver to keep the communications secret.

For his part, in 1772, Franklin showed the letters only to the leaders of the Revolution, but Adams said, "Fuck that," and printed some of them in the Boston Gazette in 1773, which, of course, caused a huge public uproar against Hutchinson and fanned the flames against the British. When three people were charged by the British with the leak, and two others were going to duel over accusations of who stole them, Franklin stepped up and said he did it. It cost him his job as Postmaster General. Hutchinson put himself into exile in England for the rest of his life rather than face impeachment at home. He became something of a right-wing troll for the crown, as one letter of his criticizing the Declaration of Independence demonstrates.

In his confession, Franklin admitted to the leak of the letters, but he defended his intentions: "They were written by public officers to persons of public station, on public affairs, and intended to procure public measures; they were therefore handed to other public persons who might be influenced by them to produce those measures." And then Franklin concluded with a great middle finger to those accusing him of some kind of treason: "The chief caution expressed with regard to privacy was to keep their contents from Colony Agents, who the writers apprehended might return them, or copies of them, to America. That apprehension, it seems, was well-founded; for the first agent who laid his hands on them thought it his duty to transmit them to his constituents."

Franklin thought that the people deserved to know what their leaders were plotting against them. That we honor him today must mean we believe there is some good to such actions.