Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Atwood, William

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ATWOOD, WILLIAM (d. 1705?), political writer, chief justice of New York, was an English barrister, and the author of a large number of controversial pamphlets on political questions during the last two decades of the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth. In politics he was a staunch whig, and a resolute upholder of the rights of parliament and the people against the pretensions of Filmer, Brady, and the extreme tories and high-churchmen. As a disputant, he is rather clumsy and ineffective; but his constitutional theories are grounded on a considerable knowledge of early charters and other documents, and of the older writers of English History, in which he seems to have been unusually well read. Among his works are: 'Jus Anglorum ab Antiquo,' 1681; 'The Fundamental Constitution of the English Government,' 1690; 'the Antiquity and Justice of an Oath of Abjuration,' 1694; 'The History and Reasons of the Dependency of Ireland,' &c., 1698. In August 1701 he arrived in New York, where he had been appointed chief justice and judge of the court of admiralty. He was almost immediately involved in violent quarrels with some of the inhabitants, and afterwards with Lord Cornbury, the governor. He was accused of gross corruption and maladministration, and was finally (June 1702) suspended from his employments by Lord Cornbury, and compelled to escape from the colony. On his return to England he published a statement of his 'Case' (London, 1703), in which he endeavoured to prove that his difficulties in the colony were due to his rigorous administration of English law, especially in its application to maritime and commercial matters; but he met with no redress, and the lords commissioners of trade and plantations endorsed Lord Cornbury's action. In 1704 he published 'The Superiority and Direct Dominion of the Imperial Crown of England over the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland,' and in 1705 'The Scotch Patriot unmask'd.' Both these pamphlets excited great indignation in Scotland, and were ordered by the Scotch parliament to be burnt by the common hangman. The year of Atwood's death is uncertain. He appears to have published nothing later than 1705.

[Bishop Nicolson, English Historical Library, 1736, p. 193; Boyer, Annals of Queen Anne, iv, 52; O'Callaghan, New York Colonial Documents, iv. 971. 1010, v. 105-8. &c.; The Case of William Atwood, Lond. 1703, fol.]

S. J. L.