By 1769, pre-revolutionary excitement was straining James Otis’ already fraying mind and nerves.
After witnessing the speech “Against the Writs of Assistance,” Massachusetts revolutionary John Adams wrote: “James Otis was a flame of fire; with … classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity…American Independence was then and there born.”

In our Statehouse, front and center above the stairway directly facing the offices of the governor, Senate president, and Speaker of the House, sits Robert Reid’s massive 1901 mural portraying James Otis and the famous scene Adams described.

It is a story of our country’s early struggle for political independence, but is anyone teaching it to our schoolchildren?

Sadly, U.S. history and civics scores on the 2010 “nation’s report card” were abysmal; the average 12th grade score is largely unchanged since 1994. And Massachusetts education officials have been derelict in giving U.S. history its appropriate place in our K-12 public schools.

The eldest of 13 children, James Otis Jr. was born in the remote Great Marshes of West Barnstable on Cape Cod. He came from a family of loyal and public-spirited colonial subjects. Otis’ father was a lawyer, judge, and colonel in the local militia.

Otis graduated from Harvard College and cultivated his passion for ancient and English verse by authoring two booklets analyzing Greek and Latin prose and poetry. The latter was used as a textbook at his alma mater. Otis studied with a prominent Boston lawyer and, after marrying the daughter of a loyalist Boston merchant, seemed destined for a flourishing legal career and happy life.

But by February 1761, Otis became increasingly irritated about the legal abuses and arbitrary use of clerical power by the British Crown, Parliament, and its colonial officials. As Great Britain sought additional colonial revenues for its mounting imperial costs, it enforced obscure provisions of its Navigational Acts with Writs of Assistance.

Chafing under these Writs’ authority to allow Britain’s petty bureaucrats to enter colonists’ homes and shops to