Americana: Samuel Adams


ADAMS, SAMUEL

(1723-1803)

Samuel Adams was an American revolutionary political leader and the son of a Boston merchant and minister. Adams was a graduate of Harvard College, 1740,
where he publicly defended the thesis that it is lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved. This was the central theme of his career.

He began a career as a brewer and newspaper publisher, but these failed, so he turned to preoccupying himself with politics, which was his
passion. Following his extended experience in Boston town affairs, Adams rose to prominence in the Massachusetts assembly during the period of
opposition against the Stamp Act in 1765. He was an organizer of Boston’s Sons of Liberty, and played a major role from 1765 until the end of the War of Independence in Patriot opposition to what he believed to be a British plot to destroy constitutional liberty.
SamuelAdams’ contributions to the independence movement were many and variedin scope. During the 1760s and 1770s, he wrote numerous articles for theBoston newspapers, and he recruited talent from younger men, like Josiah Quincy, Joseph Warren, and his second cousin John Adams, among others – in support of the Patriot cause. It was Samuel Adams who conceived the Committee of Correspondence and took a leading role in its formation and operation from 1772 through 1774. He was among those who planned and coordinated Boston’s resistance to the Tea Act, which climaxed in the famous (or infamous, whatever one’s point of view) Boston Tea Party, and he later worked for the creation of the Continental Congress, helping to propel it into supporting Massachusetts in its crisis.

From 1774 through 1781, Samuel Adams represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress, where his stamina, realism and commitment made him one of the workhorses who served constantly on numerous committees. His influence in state and national affairs fell into history during the 1780s, yet he was elected to the Massachusetts convention on the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, which he was persuaded to support even though it contradicted his Whig political party principles. In the past he had been wary of a central government and its power, never became part of the Federalist movement that dominated the colony-state of Massachusetts.

After serving as John Hancock’s lieutenant governor from 1789 to 1793, Samuel Adams became governor at the death of Hancock. Although he opposed Jay’s Treaty with England in 1795, he was reelected three times before he became infirm due to age and retired in 1797. Three years later, when Thomas Jefferson was elected President of the United States over his cousin, John Adams, Samuel Adams congratulated the Virginia Patriot on the triumph of democratic republicanism.

Samuel Adams was a revolutionary, yet had self discipline and patience. He stated:
We cannot make events. Our business is wisely to improve them.
After his death, one colleague likened him to John Calvincool, abstemious, polished, refined. Samuel Adams was well respected, although not always liked. John Adams said of him:
…born and tempered a wedge of steel to split the knot of lignum vitae that bound America to Britain.

Bibliography

A New Englander as Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Pauline Maier; Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams by Pauline Maier, 1980; Power in Propaganda by John C. Miller, 1936.
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