A new poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire for the Boston Globe reveals that 40 percent of Massachusetts residents oppose “the government obtaining phone and electronic records of US citizens,” while only 25 percent support it. These numbers make clear that Commonwealth residents still hold dear the very principles of American justice that were born under our feet.
After all, our state has long been a cradle of liberty, and the Fourth Amendment was practically born in Boston.
Do you know about James Otis, his struggle against the British Empire, and the making of the Fourth Amendment? A brilliant, young attorney, Otis became practically obsessed with what he viewed as a profound injustice visited upon the American colonists by their British rulers: the writs of assistance.
Writs of assistance were essentially general warrants. They allowed British soldiers to raid and search homes based on no suspicion whatsoever of criminal activity. Any soldier could violate the sanctity of anyone’s person or home. The British foot soldiers didn’t have to have any reason whatsoever for these searches. The writs of assistance were extreme violations of the basic privacy and property rights of Americans, and the American revolutionaries loathed them – no one more eloquently or passionately than Otis.
An extremely talented and ambitious man, Otis was Advocate-General of the colony of Massachusetts at only 31 years old, the equivalent of today’s attorney general. His ambition did not surpass his commitment to justice, however: Otis resigned in disgust when