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Adams, Samuel (1722-1803)

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

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Revolutionary leader

The Famous Adams. When John Adams arrived in France in 1778, he was greeted with a persistent question: was he le fameaux Adams? John Adams often bristled at the attention paid to others in the Patriot cause, such as James Otis, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. But in 1778 he acknowledged that he was not the famous Adams; that was his cousin, Samuel, leader of the Massachusetts Patriots, and the only American whom King George III exempted from a promise of amnesty. If the American Revolution was a blessing, and not a curse, John Adams wrote later, the name and character of Samuel Adams ought to be preserved. It will bear a strict and critical examination even by the inveterate malice of his enemies.... His merits and services and sacrifices and suffering are beyond all calculation.

Education. Samuel Adams was born in Boston on 27 September 1722. His father, Samuel, a successful brewer, had served as a deacon of both the Old South Church and New South Church and as a Boston selectman and representative to the assembly. Samuels mother, Mary, was deeply religious, influenced by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Only three of their twelve children survived infancy. Samuel and his sister and brother were kept away from the influence of other children, instead instilled with deep feelings of personal responsiblity and isolation. At the age of fourteen Samuel entered Harvard. With class rank determined by a familys social position, he was ranked fifth in a class of twenty-two. At graduation (1740) he won the class debate on the subject of liberty, and in 1743 he was awarded a masters degree for his thesis Whether It Be Lawful To Resist The Supreme Magistrate, If The Commonwealth Cannot Be Otherwise Preserved.

Entrance to Public Life. Adams studied for the bar briefly and then went into business. He was not a good businessman, and he quickly went bankrupt. His father paid off his debts and established Samuel as the manager of the brewery, which had grown so successful it needed little management. Father and son now had more time to devote to politics. In 1746 Governor Shirley vetoed the senior Adamss appointment to the Governors Council, elevating Andrew Oliver instead. Young Samuel regarded this as an insult, and on 4 June 1746 he was elected by a special town meeting to fill Olivers seat in the assembly. In his annual report Shirley reported to the king that the elder Adams, whom he said was a gentleman of great ability, was disgruntled by the veto of his appointment, but the younger Adamss indefatigable zeal made him more dangerous.

Political Career. In January 1748 Adams launched a newspaper, the Independent Advertiser, which he would publish until British authorities shut it down in 1775. The Advertiser was devoted entirely to politics, and Samuel Adams wrote most of the material, including the letters to the editor. His political position from the 1740s to the 1770s remained consistent: Massachusetts, or any political society, should be free to govern itself. These political essays attracted few readers, and the Advertiser never had a wide circulation. His fathers sudden death in March 1748 left Samuel Adams responsible for the family brewery and other interests, and his brother and brother-in-law, better businessmen, handled most of the financial affairs. Political activity paid little, and Samuel Adams was not attentive to the businesses his father had left him. Adams spent most of his time talking, either with members of the Caucus Club, the leaders of Bostons business and political communities, or with the sailors and longshoremen who spent long hours in waterfront taverns. Adams would forget everything when he had a chance to talk politics, but if the conversation veered in another direction, Adams would leave in disgust. In 1749 he married Mary Checkley, the daughter of the New South pastor, with whom he had five children, two of whom survived infancy. Politics consumed Samuel Adams, and neither family nor business could distract him. The children especially suffered when Mary Checkley Adams died from a fever in 1757.

Political Passion. When his father died, Adams had been elected to the Caucus Club, a political group whose members were able to dominate the Boston town meeting. Because few men had the time to pay close attention to civic affairs, and few were willing to devote the hours necessary to attending such meetings, a handful of organized men were able to control the town meeting. In 1753 the town meeting elected Samuel an assessor, and in 1756 he was a Boston tax collector; but Adams was so lax in collecting taxes that in 1758 the sheriff gave notice that on 5 August his property, including his house and gardens, the brewery, a wharf, and several apartment buildings, would be auctioned off to pay Adamss outstanding debts. The day of the auction Adams responded with a public letter to the sheriff, threatening to sue anyone who took his property. He and the sheriff conducted a newspaper argument over the auction, which never took place. By 1765, when he was finally removed as tax collector, he had failed to collect more than £8,000 that was owed by his fellow citizens.

Breach with England. Though Adams devoted himself almost completely to politics, his career by 1764 had taken him nowhere. He was in debt; the house and businesses his father had left him were in ruins; and he seemed not the least concerned. In 1764 he married Elizabeth Wells, who was twenty years his junior. They would have no children, but Elizabeth would become responsible for the care of his son and daughter. Along with James Otis and John Hancock, Adams was one of the leaders of the group opposed to Thomas Hutchinson, but Hutchinson continued to rise in power while Adams, Otis, and Hancock were shut out. The Sugar Act, though, changed this. Hutchinson opposed the Sugar Act, but merely because it was unwise. For Adams the Sugar Act raised the same issue he had been writing about for twenty years: the right of the people of Massachusetts to govern themselves. Adamss long days and nights in political gatherings had also given him a new outlook on politics. Most opponents of the Sugar Act, wealthy merchants, expressed opposition in letters to men of influence in England. For Adams political action meant something more dramatic than writing letters. He would use mass protests against the political establishment, using public opinion, rather than private intrigue, to make policy. Parliament repealed the Sugar Act before Adams could completely bring his political theories into practice, and even his allies believed he had tried to carry things too far.

Stamp Act and Aftermath. But in 1765, when Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Adams was prepared with a campaign of massive public resistance. Able to mobilize both the merchant elite and the men of the lower orders, able to articulate the cause with both passion and eloquence, Adams became the leader of resistance. He was elected to the assembly in September and prepared both the Houses answers to the governors speech and resolutions asserting American rights. In 1766 the radical faction that looked to Adams as a leader took control of the assembly, and from 1766 until General Gage dissolved the assembly in 1774, Adams was its clerk. Adams used his position as spokesman for the House to harass every British official sent to the province. The colonial assemblies, Adams insisted, were not subject to Parliament. The colonial assemblies had the exclusive power to guarantee the natural and constitutional rights of Americans. These principals, Adams insisted, rested on the British Constitution, which was not, as English practice made it, subject to Parliamentary whim; instead, according to Adams, the British Constitution embodied the inherent and inalienable natural rights of men, which no legislative body could limit.

Committees of Correspondence. In 1770 the assembly appointed a committee of correspondence, of which Adams was a member, to keep in contact with other colonies. In 1772 Adams, as leader of Bostons town meeting, moved that the town appoint a committee of correspondence to state the rights of the Colonists ... as men, as Christians, and as Subjects; and to communicate the same to the several towns and to the world. Adams drafted its declaration and privately urged other towns to form similar committees. When the British government in Massachusetts collapsed following the Boston Tea Party, these committees became the provinces new government. When the British government closed the port of Boston, Adams called for an intercolonial Congress to unite all the colonies in opposition to British policy. Adams was chosen to the first Continental Congress, and he may have been the only delegate already thinking of independence. Before he left for Philadelphia, friends provided him with new clothes and a wig; while he was gone, other local supporters built a new barn and repaired his dilapidated house. Adams refrained from an active part in Congresss debates, but he used his influence in small informal meetings, successfully convincing the delegates to adopt the militant Suffolk Resolves and repudiate Joseph Galloways plan for a colonial union under Parliamentary rule. Returning to Massachusetts, Adams narrowly escaped arrest when Gages forces attacked Lexington and Concord, and in 1776 he returned to Congress publicly advocating independence. He signed the Declaration and continued to serve in Congress until 1781.

Covering his Tracks. His cousin John was the great speaker and public organizer; but Samuel Adams was the influential figure behind the scenes. As such, it is harder to trace all of his influence, but Adams is visible in the results. The committees of correspondence had operated with a large degree of secrecy; the planning for the Boston Tea Party also had to be done with great discretion since destroying the tea would be considered an act of treason. John Adams asked many years later, The letters he wrote and received, where are they? I have seen him ... in Philadelphia, when he was about to leave Congress, cut up with his scissors whole bundles of letters into atoms that could never be reunited, and throw them out the window, to be scattered by the winds. ... In winter he threw whole handfuls into the fire.... I have joked him, perhaps rudely, upon his anxious caution. His answer was, Whatever becomes of me, my friends shall never suffer by my negligence.

Later Years. Adams, more than any other man, was responsible for independence, and more importantly, he was responsible for the particular causes for independence. Franklin believed that the colonies ultimately would be independent because of their demographic and geographic destiny; Adams believed the colonies would need to be independent because all men had the inalienable right to govern themselves. From 1746 until the end of his life he advocated this simple idea; and though his ideas found warm support in Boston after 1764, and in the rest of the United States after 1776, he, as an admirer said, was an austere and distant man, feared by his enemies, but too secret to be loved by his friends. Once independence was declared, leadership passed to other hands, including those of John Hancock, whom Adams did not entirely trust. Adams continued to be active in Boston politics, continuing to lead the town meeting. In 1788 he served in the Massachusetts ratifying convention though his only son died as it met. At first he opposed the new Constitution since it created a distant government that the people would not be able to control. He was defeated for election to the first Congress under the Constitution, but he was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1789, serving in that post until 1794, when he became governor on the death of Gov. John Hancock, serving in that office until 1797. In 1801 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Adams, I addressed a letter to you, my very dear and ancient friend, on the 4th of March [the day Jefferson became president]; not indeed to you by name, but through the medium of my fellow citizens. ... In meditating the matter of the [Inaugural] address, I often asked myself, Is this exactly in the spirit of the patriarch Samuel Adams? Will he approve of it? After Adamss death on 2 October 1803 he was given a state funeral against his wishes, and members of the Massachusetts legislature and of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate all wore mourning bands in his memory for the duration of the year.

Source

Paul Lewis, The Grand Incendiary: A Biography of Samuel Adams (New York: Dial Press, 1973).

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Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams

The colonial leader Samuel Adams (1722-1803) helped prepare the ground for the American Revolution by inflammatory newspaper articles and shrewd organizational activities.

Afundamental change in British policy toward the American colonies occurred after 1763, ending a long period of imperial calm. As Great Britain attempted to tighten control over its colonies, Adams was quick to sense the change, and his invective writings at first irritated and finally outraged the Crown officials. As a prime mover in the nonmilitary phases of colonial resistance, Adams undoubtedly pushed more cautious men, such as John Hancock, into leading Whig roles. However, his service in the Continental Congress and as a state official lacked political finesse. Once the struggle shifted from a war of words to one of ideas and finally of military encounters, Adams's influence declined.

Samuel Adams was born on Sept. 27, 1722, in Boston, Mass., the son of a prosperous brewer and a pious, dogmatic mother. When he graduated from Harvard College in 1740, his ideas about a useful career were vague: he did not want to become a brewer, neither did work in the Church appeal to him. After a turn with the law, this field proved unrewarding too. A brief association in Thomas Cushing's firm led to an independent business venture which cost Adams's family £1,000. Thus fate (or ill luck) forced Adams into the brewery; he operated his father's malt house for a livelihood but not as a dedicated businessman. In 1749 he married Elizabeth Checkley.

When his father suffered financial reverses, Adams accepted the offices of assessor and tax collector offered by the Boston freeholders; he held these positions from 1753 to 1765. His tax accounts were mismanaged and an £8,000 shortage appeared. There seems to have been no charge that he was corrupt, only grossly negligent. Adams was honest and later paid off the debts.

Adams's wife died in 1757 and in 1764 he married Elizabeth Wells, who was a good manager. His luck had changed, for he was about to move into a political circle that would offer personal opportunity unlike any in his past.

Growth in Politics

Adams became active in politics, and politics offered the breakthrough that transformed him from an inefficient taxgatherer into a leading patriot. As a member of the Caucus Club in 1764, he helped control local elections. When British policy on colonial revenues tightened during a recession in New England, passage of the Sugar Act in 1764 furnished Adams with enough fuel to kindle the first flames of colonial resistance. Thenceforth, he devoted his energies to creating a bonfire that would burn all connections between the Colonies and Great Britain. He also sought to discredit his local enemies—particularly the governor, Thomas Hutchinson.

Enforcement of the Sugar Act was counter to the interests of those Boston merchants who had accepted molasses smuggling as a way of life. They had not paid the old sixpence tax per gallon, and they did not intend to pay the new threepence levy. Urged on by his radical Caucus Club associates, Adams drafted a set of instructions to the colonial assemblymen that attacked the Sugar Act as an unreasonable law, contrary to the natural rights of each and every colonist because it had been levied without assent from a legally elected representative. The alarm "no taxation without representation" had been sounded.

Mature Propagandist

During the next decade Samuel Adams seemed a man destined for the times. His essays gave homespun, expedient political theories a patina of legal respectability. Eager printers hurried them into print under a variety of pseudonyms. Meanwhile Parliament unwittingly obliged men of Adams's bent by proceeding to pass an even more restrictive measure in the Stamp Act of 1765. Unlike the Sugar Act, this was not a measure that would be felt only in New England; Adams's audience widened as moderate merchants in American seaports now found more radical elements eager to force the issue of whether Parliament was still supreme "in all cases whatsoever." In one of many results, Governor Hutchinson's home was nearly destroyed by a frenzied anti-Stamp Act mob.

Adams's hammering essays and unceasing activities helped crystallize American opinion into viewing the Stamp Act as an odious piece of legislation. Through his columns in the Boston Gazette, he sent a stream of abuse against the British ministry; effigies of eminent Cabinet members hanged from Boston lampposts testified to the power of his incendiary prose. Adams rode a crest of popularity into the provincial assembly. As calm returned, he knew that the instruments of protest were developed and ready for use when the next opportunity showed itself.

The Townshend Acts of 1767 furnished Adams with a larger and more militant forum, projected his name into the front ranks of the patriot group, and earned him the hatred of the British general Thomas Gage and of King George III. Working with the Caucus Club, the radicals overcame local mercantile interests and demanded an economic boycott of British goods. This nonimportation scheme became a rallying point throughout the 13 colonies. Though its actual success was limited, Adams had proved that an organized, skillful minority could keep a larger but diffused group at bay. Adams worked with John Hancock to make seizure of the colonial ship Liberty seem a national calamity, and he welcomed the tension created by the stationing of British troops in Boston. Almost singlehandedly Adams continued his alarms, even after repeal of the Townshend duties.

In the succession of events from the Boston Massacre of 1770 to the Boston Tea Party and the Bill, Adams deftly threw Crown officials off guard, courted the radical elements, wrote dozens of inflammatory newspaper articles, and kept counsel with outspoken leaders in other colonies. In a sense, Adams was burning himself out so that, when the time for sober reflection and constructive political activity came, he had outlived his usefulness. By the time of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, when he and Hancock were singled out as Americans not covered in any future amnesty, Adam's career as a propagandist and agitator had peaked.

Declining Power

Adams served in the Continental Congress between 1774 and 1781, but after the first session he occupied himself with gossip, uncertain as to what America's next steps should be or where he would fit into the scheme. He failed to perceive the forces loosed by the Revolution, and he was mystified by its results. While serving in the 1779 Massachusetts constitutional convention, he allowed his cousin John Adams to do most of the work. Tired of Hancock's vanity, he let their relationship cool; Hancock's repeated reelection as governor from 1780 on was a major disappointment. Against Daniel Shays's insurgents in 1786-1787, Adams shouted "conspiracy," showing little sympathy for the hard-pressed farmers.

As a delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention in 1788, Adams made a brief show as an old-time liberal pitted against the conservatives. But the death of his son weakened his spirit, and in the end he was intimidated by powerful Federalists. He was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1789 to 1793, when he became governor. As the candidate of the rising Jeffersonian Republicans, he was able to exploit the voter magnetism of the Adams name and was reelected for three terms. He did not seek reelection in 1797 but resisted the tide of New England federalism and remained loyal to Jefferson in 1800. He died in Boston on Oct. 2, 1803.

Further Reading

Harry Alonzo Cushing edited The Writings of Samuel Adams (1904-1908). Ralph V. Harlow, Samuel Adams, Promoter of the American Revolution: A Study in Psychology and Politics (1923), is a brave attempt at interpretive analysis. John C. Miller, Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda (1936), is readable and reliable. An older standard work is William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (1865). Stewart Beach, Samuel Adams: The Fateful Years, 1764-1776 (1965), is a useful study. Philip Davidson, Propaganda and the American Revolution, 1763-1783 (1941), and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764-1776 (1958), provide background information. □

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Adams, Samuel

Samuel Adams

Born: September 27, 1722
Boston, Massachusetts
Died: October 2, 1803
Boston, Massachusetts

American colonial leader

The colonial leader Samuel Adams was an influential figure in the years leading up to the American Revolution (177583). His newspaper articles and organizational activities helped inspire American colonists to rebel against the British government.

Early life and education

Samuel Adams was born on September 27, 1722, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a woman of strong religious beliefs and of a prosperous brewer who was active in local politics. For this reason Adams was familiar at a young age with Boston politics and politicians. As an adult he would play a strong role in Boston's political resistance to British rule.

The young Adams studied Greek and Latin in a small schoolhouse. He entered Harvard College at age fourteen. When he graduated in 1740 he was not sure what his career should be. He did not want to become a brewer like his father, nor did he want to enter the clergy. Although his father loaned him money to start his own business, Adams did not manage his funds well. As a result he went to work for his father's brewery after all. In 1749 he married Elizabeth Checkley.

For serveral years Adams struggled in his career. He worked as a tax collector in Boston, but he mismanaged funds and had to pay the difference when his accounts came up short. There seems to have been no charge that he was corrupt, only extremely inefficient. After his first wife died in 1757, he married Elizabeth Wells in 1764. Adams's second wife turned out to be a good manager. His luck had changed, for he was about to move into a political circle that would offer political opportunities unlike any in his past.

Political activities

Adams became active in politics, transforming himself from an inefficient tax gatherer into a leading patriot. As a member of the Caucus Club, one of Boston's local political organizations, Adams helped control local elections in 1764. When Britain began an attempt to tighten control over its American colonies by passing laws such as the Sugar Act (1764), Adams was influential in urging colonists to oppose these measures. The Sugar Act was a tax law imposed by the British aimed at increasing the prices Boston merchants paid for molasses. Urged on by radicals in the Caucus Club, Adams wrote instructions to local representatives attacking the Sugar Act as an unreasonable law. Adams argued that the law violated colonists' rights because it had not been imposed with the approval of an elected representative. He argued that there should be "no taxation without representation."

During the next decade Adams wrote essays about political ideas that were developing in Boston. Eager publishers hurried his writings into print. Meanwhile the British Parliament passed an even harsher tax law than the Sugar Act. This tax law was the Stamp Act of 1765, which placed a tax on printed materials throughout the American colonies.

Adams's fiery essays and continual activities helped solidify American opinion against the Stamp Act. His columns in the Boston Gazette newspaper sent a stream of abuse against the British government. Riding a wave of popularity, Adams was elected into the Massachusetts legislature.

Adams's next move was to protest the Townshend Acts of 1767, which placed customs duties on imported goods. His stand against the Townshend Acts placed him in the front ranks of the leading colonists and gained him the hatred of both British general Thomas Gage (17211787) and England's King George III (17381820). To protest the Townshend Acts, Adams and other radicals called for an economic boycott of British goods. Though the actual success of the boycott was limited, Adams had proved that an organized and skillful minority could effectively combat a larger but disorganized group.

In the series of events in Massachusetts that led up to the first battles of the Revolution, Adams wrote dozens of newspaper articles that stirred his readers' anger at the British. He appealed to American radicals and communicated with leaders in other colonies. In a sense, Adams was burning himself out. By the time of the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 17, 1775, which marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War, his career as a revolutionary bandleader had peaked.

Declining power

Adams served in the Continental Congress between 1774 and 1781. However, after the first session his activities lessened and his ties to other leaders cooled. He was uncertain about America's next steps and where he would fit into the scheme. Adams served in the 1779 Massachusetts constitutional convention, where he allowed his cousin, John Adams (17351826), to do most of the work. He attended the Massachusetts ratifying convention in 1788, but he contributed little to this meeting.

Although his political power had lessened, Adams served in political office for several more years. He was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1789 to 1793, when he became governor. He was reelected for three terms but did not seek reelection in 1797. Samuel Adams died in Boston on October 2, 1803.

For More Information

Alexander, John K. Samuel Adams: America's Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Fradin, Dennis B. Samuel Adams: The Father of American Independence. New York: Clarion Books, 1998.

Jones, Veda Boyd. Samuel Adams: Patriot. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

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Adams, Samuel

Samuel Adams, 1722–1803, political leader in the American Revolution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Boston, Mass.; second cousin of John Adams. An unsuccessful businessman, he became interested in politics and was a member (1765–74) and clerk (1766–74) of the lower house of the Massachusetts legislature. As colonial resistance to British laws stiffened, Adams spoke for the discontented and replaced James Otis as leader of the extremists. He drafted a protest against the Stamp Act in 1765 and was one of the organizers of the non-importation agreement (1767) against Great Britain to force repeal of the Townshend Acts. He drew up the Circular Letter to the other colonies, denouncing the acts as taxation without representation. More important, he used his able pen in colonial newspapers and pamphlets to stir up sentiment against the British. His polemics helped to bring about the Boston Massacre. With the help of such men as John Hancock he organized the revolutionary Sons of Liberty and helped to foment revolt through the Committees of Correspondence. He was the moving spirit in the Boston Tea Party. Gen. Thomas Gage issued (1775) a warrant for the arrest of Adams and Hancock, but they escaped punishment and continued to stir up lethargic patriots. Samuel Adams was a member (1774–81) of the Continental Congress, but after independence was declared his influence declined; the "radical" was replaced by more conservative leaders, who tended to look upon Adams as an irresponsible agitator. He later served (1794–97) as governor of Massachusetts.

See writings ed. by H. A. Cushing (4 vol., 1904–08, repr. 1968); biographies by J. C. Miller (1936, repr. 1960), S. Beach (1965), W. V. Wells (2d ed. 1969), and N. B. Gerson (1973).

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Adams, Samuel

Adams, Samuel (1722–1803) American revolutionary leader. As a member (1765–74) of the Massachusetts legislature, he was the chief spokesman for revolution. Adams helped form several radical organizations, led the Stamp Act protest in 1765, helped plan the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence (1776). He was a delegate to the Continental Congress until 1781.

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