The british search warrants were called

Early Settlement of America

In her fear that the colonies would sell to other countries anything she could use, England even forbade Americans to cut down any very large or straight trees without her permission. She said that all this timber should be kept until she needed it as masts for her vessels.

Of course, the colonies did not like this, but they bore it for a long time as patiently as they could. Other countries did not approve of England's trade and navigation laws, either. Both the French and the Dutch, for instance, wanted to trade with the colonies. As the coast was very long, and there were customhouse officers in only a few of the towns, some foreign vessels managed to slip into small bays unseen, and thus began smuggling goods in and out of the country.

As long as France owned Canada, smuggling could not very well be stopped, for French or Dutch vessels caught along the coast said that they were on their way to or from Canada, and that they had been driven out of their course by contrary winds.

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But when the last French and Indian War was over, foreign vessels no longer had any excuse for coming near North America. The British, therefore, declared they would now seize any foreign vessel they met, and search any house where they fancied smuggled goods could be found. Orders to search houses were called search warrants. They gave government officers the right to go over every part of a dwelling, and look into every closet and drawer. But people like to feel that their houses are their own, and that no one can come in unless invited.

However, the case lit the fire that became the American Revolution. In a pamphlet published three years later, in , Otis expanded his argument that the general writs violated the British unwritten constitution hearkening back to the Magna Carta. Any law in violation of the constitution or " natural law " which underlay it, he said, was void. A writ of assistance was used in an incident known as the "Malcom Affair", which was described by legal scholar William Cuddihy as "the most famous search in colonial America.

On 24 September , customs officials in Boston, with a deputy sheriff, searched merchant Daniel Malcom's home, which was also his place of business. They claimed the authority to do so by a writ of assistance issued to customs official Benjamin Hallowell, and the information of a confidential informant. Malcom allowed them to search, but denied them access to a locked cellar, arguing that they did not have the legal authority to break it open.

According to customs officials, Malcom threatened to use force to prevent them from opening the door; according to Malcom and his supporters, his threat specified resisting any unlawful forced entry. The officials left and returned with a specific search warrant, only to find that Malcom had locked his house.


A crowd supportive of Malcom had gathered around the house; Tories claimed that this "mob" numbered or more people and was hostile to the customs officers, while Whigs insisted that this was a peaceful gathering of about 50 curious onlookers, mostly boys. No violence occurred, but reports written by Governor Francis Bernard and the customs officials created the impression in Britain that a riot had taken place. The incident furthered Boston's reputation in Britain as a lawless town controlled by "mobs", a reputation that would contribute to the government's decision to send troops in Although British officials, and some historians, described Malcom as acting in defiance of the law, the constitutional historian John Phillip Reid argued that Malcom's actions were lawful—so precisely lawful, in fact, that Reid speculated that Malcom may have been acting under the advice of his lawyer, James Otis.

According to Reid, Malcom and Otis may have been attempting to provoke a lawsuit so that they could once again "challenge the validity of writs of assistance" in court. This was one of several incidents when a Boston merchant resisted a search with a seemingly exact knowledge of the law; John Hancock would act in a similar manner when customs officials attempted to search his ship Lydia in Uncertainty about the legality of writs of assistance issued by colonial superior courts prompted Parliament to affirm that such writs were legal in the Townshend Acts. However, most colonial courts refused to issue general writs, and the Malcom case was apparently the last time a writ of assistance was issued in Boston.

The Root Causes of the American Revolution

Writs of assistance continue to have force in the United Kingdom and may be used by customs officers to enter any building by force and search and seize anything liable to forfeiture. The officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect that goods liable for forfeiture are kept on the premises and that the goods are likely to be removed, destroyed or lost before a search warrant can be obtained and executed.

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  • Five federal judges have held this section of the Patriot Act to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment which provides that only judges may issue search warrants and thus unconstitutional. The Patriot Act also prohibits the recipient of an agent-written search warrant from telling anyone about it — that includes a lawyer in confidence, a priest in confession, a spouse in the home, even a judge in open court. Twitter and Google have apparently received many of these unconstitutional agent-written warrants, and they want their customers to know what the government is doing.

    How Britain Tried to Intimidate Colonial Taxpayers into Compliance

    The Patriot Act is the most unconstitutional legislation since the Alien and Sedition Acts of , which proscribed speech critical of the government; yet the FBI loves it. Its premise is that in dangerous times, if we surrender our freedoms to the government, the government will keep us safe until the danger passes. This is a flawed argument. And history teaches that government does not return freedoms once stolen or surrendered. Without freedom, who will protect us from the government?

    Who would trust it with personal freedoms? He will argue that if the evidence from these agent-written warrants is not used in court, there is no harm to the unknowing victim, and hence no foul.

    Yet the Constitution was written to keep the government from interfering with our natural rights even when it does so in secret, because no government violation of inalienable rights is harmless. Email Address.