A Writ of Assistance was a general search warrant used in English and American colonial history to address the issue of smuggling. The writ enabled custom officials to search any vessel or building that they suspected was carrying smuggled goods. The writs of assistance were authorized by the English parliament to extend to British America after they received information that smuggling was not only aiding their wartime enemies but also diverting the much-needed government revenues.
The colonists were concerned and openly opposed the writs of assistance because they believed that the instrument infringed on their rights. The writs were permanent, transferable and the officials were not liable for any damages during the search. In Boston Massachusetts, the Boston merchants through their lawyer, James Otis sought legal redress. Otis made scathing arguments against the writs and termed them an illegality in the face of English common law and natural justice.