A Flame of Fire
If the king of Great Britain in person were encamped on Boston Common at the head of
twenty thousand men, with all his navy on our coast he would not be able to execute
these laws. They would be resisted or eluded.
James Otis, in arguing in the Council Chamber of the Old Town House in Boston,
against the writs of assistance,
The Treaty of Paris gave England control over Canada, which, together with the British colonies in America, offered the mother country a unique opportunity for monopolistic trade. George III was determined to take advantage of this opportunity and to enforce his trade laws strictly. The colonists were not hostile to these trade laws, as such, because they recognized their obligation, as English subjects, to assist t-heir country economically. However, they refused to tolerate the enforcement of the trade laws through writs of assistance and the imposition by Parliament of excise taxes on specific products, such as cider, to be enforced by writs of assistance.
A writ of assistance was the broadest and vaguest of all general warrants. The holder of such a writ had unlimited authority to enter any home, shop, ship, or warehouse, at his discretion, to search broadly for contraband or evidence of violation of the tax laws. Worse yet, the writ of assistance gave the holder the right to command the assistance of others to provide the manpower for sweeping dragnet searches.1