Joseph Hawley Sends Broken Hints to John Adams

Joseph Hawley Sends Broken Hints to John Adams

Joseph Hawley was one of the most important instigators of rebellion in colonial Massachusetts.

His Broken Hints Letter is one of the most underrated documents of the early Founding Period.

Joseph Hawley

Most Americans remember Samuel Adams, and to a lesser extent, James Otis, as the major instigators of rebellious sentiment in colonial Massachusetts.

Forgotten in most circles is the name Joseph Hawley.

Many readers may be shocked to know that Joseph Hawley may have done more than either Adams or Otis, if not in igniting the Revolutionary War, then in the successful Founding of the United States.

This despite not being involved after 1776…

Choosing Delegates

As a young man, Joseph Hawley studied theology and spent time as a schoolteacher. However, this career path did not suit him and instead he turned to law.

When Parliament began activating new tax laws, Joseph became one of the most outspoken critics in the colonies. During this time, he became a mentor to a young up-and-coming lawyer/rebel named John Adams.

The Hawley-Adams relationship would be of profound importance to the creation of the United States.

When the First Continental Congress was scheduled to assemble, Hawley was a member of the secret meeting which chose the Delegates who would represent Massachusetts.

In fact, Joseph himself was nominated to attend, but it was decided he should not go as he never had (nor was he inoculated for) smallpox. As Philadelphia was a hotspot for the disease, it was deemed to risky for him to go.

Having a Delegate die upon arriving would not be a great way for the Congress to begin.

Broken Hints

When the Delegates left for the Congress, Hawley wrote a letter with John Adams discussing his opinions on the current situation and he belief on what needed to happen.

This message, now known as the ‘Broken Hints Letter’ is astoundingly accurate in its predictions.

For example, eight months before Lexington and Concord, Hawley discusses the need to fight for freedom. He insists that the main cause of the Continental Congress should be to prepare for war and establish a means of supplying the troops.

It was expected that the Congress would call for a boycott, and Joseph knew that troops would be needed to enforce the decision. Additionally, he knew that Britain would never back down through diplomacy alone.

Furthermore, Hawley goes on to predict the Union which would only be established under the Constitution fifteen years later when he says, “Our salvation depends upon an established persevering union of the colonies.”

He continues with:

“Every grievance of any one colony must be held and considered by the whole as a grievance to the whole, and must operate on the whole as a grievance to the whole. This will be a difficult matter to effect: but it must be done.”

Keep in mind, Alexander Hamilton, who would be one of the driving forces behind the Constitution, was just 17-years-old when Hawley wrote these words. He was writing to his protege John Adams, who eventually would be President, overseeing the very Union Joseph discussed.

Losing It

The Broken Hints Letter would be the high-water mark of Hawley’s revolutionary career.

Back when he was a pre-teen, Joseph’s father had committed suicide. The famous First Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards claimed the elder Hawley’s mental illness was due to sin.

Edwards made a lot of enemies, and when he was finally kicked out as the local preacher, Joseph Hawley was a driving force behind the decision (despite the two men being first cousins).

The suicide was probably not due to sin, but rather psychological problems. These issues, unfortunately, seem to have been hereditary.

Much like his friend James Otis, Joseph Hawley had a nervous breakdown early in the Revolutionary War. Hawley could not even enjoy American Independence as his awareness had been dimmed.

This man, who had all the potential to be one of the great early leaders of the United States, lost his mind, and with it his place in American History.


Want to read about a similarly forgotten early leader from Virginia?

You might like to try Richard Bland and the Early Days of American Rebelliousness.

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Want to read a biography of Joseph Hawley?

You can peruse through his one and only bio ‘Colonial Radical’ FOR FREE here.

If you’d like a precious copy for your very own you can through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

Joseph Hawley, Colonial Radical
By Ernest Francis Brown
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