James Otis

From Academic Kids

James Otis (February 5, 1725May 23, 1783) was a lawyer in colonial Massachusetts who was an early advocate of the political views that led to the American Revolution. The phrase "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny" is usually attributed to him, along with the phrase "If we are not represented, we are slaves".

He was born at Barnstable to James Otis and Mary Allyne, the second of thirteen children. His older sister, Mercy Otis Warren and his youngest brother, Samuel Allyne Otis also rose to prominence.

Writs of Assistance

Otis began speaking and writing in support of liberty in a case involving the Writs of Assistance. Before 1761 he had been the colony's Attorney General, and was asked to defend the Customs officer's request for a writ. When he examined the case, he decided that the government was on the wrong side. He resigned his post, and appeared at a trial in February on the other side of the issue. As was customary at the time, he spoke for several hours in an impassioned defense against the writs.

Besides specific issues in the way these warants were handled, he spoke of the origin and nature of rights. He particularly emphasized the rights to "life, liberty, and property". We have a limited record of his statements, mainly from notes taken by John Adams, whom he profoundly affected.

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