The Constitution Reader Challenge: Day 12

With special thanks to Constituting America and Heritage College, we will be taking part in their project:The U.S. Constitution: A Reader. It is a 90 day challenge to learn and dive deeper into understanding the Constitution.

In case you missed it, catch up with day 11 HERE. We hope you are enjoying this journey to dig deeper into what inspired those who wrote the Constitution. If you are, TWEET IT!

Today we have the honor of learning about James Otis. His influence was key to those who were writing the Constitution, and if you read further you will find out why.

Who is James Otis?

James Otis (1725-1783) was a highly respected lawyer who later became outspoken against the Crown of England. This happened upon them enacting a new “legal” way of going into homes who were suspect in being against the Crown, which were called writs of assistance.

Otis grew critical of the writs. He disagreed so much that he went to court and challenged this new authority of Parliament. He argued that they were in violation of Natural rights.

His five-hour argument was heard by none other than John Adams, who at the time said of Otis:

“Then and there, the child Independence was born.”

Although James lost his case, he some three years later edited his courtroom speech into the essay: Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. Read it HERE.

The Essay

This essay by James Otis is said to ‘contain the seed of the American Revolution.’ It is easy to see when you consider the ideas that can be found within it. Everything from slavery to taxation to Natural rights to separated powers can be found.

Otis understood that Natural rights were supreme and came directly from Heaven. He felt that of the law of nature salus populi suprema lex esto. Which is to mean “Let the good of the people be the supreme law.” It was an indisputable right.

Also of those rights, was freedom from slavery. He argued that all are born free, black and white. That freedom, he said, is “entitled to all the essential civil rights of such.”

Taxation without representation is tyranny! TWEET that to your friends

That phrase has long been in use. Arguably one of those credited with using it first at the birth of the American Revolution is James Otis. In this essay he says:

“The very act of taxing, exercised over those who are not represented, appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights, and freemen; and if continued, seems to be in effect and entire disfranchisement of every civil right.”

The issuance of the idea of Natural rights, in the eyes of Otis, is the very foundation for humanity. His relationship between taxation and slavery has been around since the dawn of civilization. It is easy to see without being represented for your taxes, you become slave to that person. Evident when looking at Proverbs 22:7 that reads: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” It is easy to see that Otis was a faithful man, and that certain principles and virtues were held close.

Checks and Balances

The idea of checks and balances has been around for a long time. Otis expressed this in saying, “The supreme legislative, and the supreme executive, are a perpetual check and balance to each other.”

This very concept found its way into the Constitution. It is a manual for how their powers are separate, and how they balance power. Separation of power is evident when looking at the structure of the American government as it is directed by the Constitution. Judicial, Legislative and Executive all have their duties before them. They are balanced by their separations.

One must not forget that Otis was a faithful man, knowing that God is the giver of Natural law. He said:

The supreme power in a state, is jus dicere only:-jus dare, strictly speaking, belongs alone to God.


Knowing who James Otis is, and how his essay helped shape the Constitution is essential to knowing how it helped shape the minds of those who wrote it also. John Adams said ‘that he had never known a man “whose service for any ten years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those of Mr. Otis.”‘

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