James Otis

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We are bold and vigorous, — and we call no man master.

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 only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman or a man are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country.
    • Argument Against the Writs of Assistance (1761).
  • An act against the Constitution is void; an act against natural equity is void.
    • Argument Against the Writs of Assistance (1761).
  • Now one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle!
    • Argument Against the Writs of Assistance (1761).
  • ALL PRECEDENTS ARE UNDER THE CONTROUL OF THE PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW … No Acts of Parliament can establish such a writ [writ of assistance enabling British search of homes for no reason]: … it would be void, "AN ACT AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION IS VOID." Vid. Viner. But … special writs may be granted on oath and probable suspicion.
    • Massachusetts Spy (April 29, 1773)(Principle of judicial review. In addition, much like the prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution).
  • … [Slave] trade … is the most shocking violation of the law of nature, has a direct tendency to diminish … liberty, and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an African company to the petty chapman [peddler]…. It is a clear truth, that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own.
    • The Rights of British Colonists Asserted (1764).
  • If we are not represented, we are slaves.
    • Report on the Sugar Act (13 June 1764).
  • England may as well dam up the waters of the Nile, with bulrushes, as to fetter the step of freedom, more proud and firm in this youthful land, than where she treads the sequestered glens of Scotland, or couches herself among the magnificent mountains of Switzerland. Arbitrary principles, like those, against which we now contend, have cost one king of England his life, another, his crown — and they may yet cost a third his most flourishing colonies.
    We are two millions — one fifth fighting men. We are bold and vigorous, — and we call no man master. To the nation, from whom we are proud to derive our origin, we ever were, and we ever will be, ready to yield unforced assistance; but it must not, and it never can be extorted.
    Some have sneeringly asked, "Are the Americans too poor to pay a few pounds on stamped paper? No! America, thanks to God and herself, is rich. But the right to take ten pounds, implies the right to take a thousand; and what must be the wealth, that avarice, aided by power, cannot exhaust? True the spectre is now small; but the shadow he casts before him, is huge enough to darken all this fair land.
    • As quoted in The Class Book of American Literature (1826) edited by John Frost, Lesson XLIX : Specimen of the Eloquence of James Otis i extracted from "The Rebels."


  • Taxation without representation is tyranny.
    • Attributed as a statement by Otis in court in 1761, but no record of the remark has been found prior to notes written by John Adams in 1820.
  • A man's house is his castle.
    • Not original to Otis, but a familiar proverb dating as far back as the 16th century

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