The fabled New England town-meeting was no more than a local debating body of radical commoners who sought “to destroy all privilege, political, economic and social.” While they debated and drank against the aristocracy, the real power brokers of New England made political appointments and decisions.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
New England Town Meeting Superstition
“In the year 1764 Boston had a population of about sixteen thousand persons, and it is a popular superstition that its town-meeting was a thoroughly democratic forum where, if ever in this troubled world, the voice of the people might make itself heard.
The fact was, however, that the average number of voters in the decade from that year to the revolution was only about five hundred and fifty-five, or three and one-half percent of the population. Not only so, but of these sturdy citizens who turned out thinking they were freely voting for their rulers, nearly all were unconscious puppets in the hands of political leaders.
That extremely useful machine tool, the caucus, had been deftly used for many years, although the discovery that such was the case seems to have come somewhat as a shock to the young John Adams.
“This day I learned,” he wrote in his diary in February 1763, “that the Caucus Club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Dawes . . . There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose . . . selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, firewards and representatives are regularly chosen in the town.
At this stage, therefore, it is evident that the “people” whose voice was heard consisted of the members of the Caucus and Merchants’ Club harmoniously and unobtrusively working together in the sphere of practical politics, each for the “benefit of his business.”
(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 304-305)