Samuel Adams

Sam Adams was the most influential man in the colonies advocating independence from Great Britain; however, he does not receive the credit that is rightfully his. Sam Adams was born on September 27, 1722 in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent merchant family. Sam had eleven siblings; however, only two survived past the age of three. Samuel’s father, also named Samuel, was not only a prosperous merchant, but also an early advocate for the rights of the colonies. Samuel Adams Sr. definitely had a great influence on his son’s political views. Samuel Jr. attended Harvard University to study to become a minister; however, politics became more interesting to him and he gave up on becoming a minister. After he graduated in 1740, he continued to get his master’s degree in 1743. His thesis indicates that he shared his father’s views for the rights of the colonies, but Samuel went a step farther than his father in stating that, (it is) “lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved.” After completing his master’s degree, Samuel was unsure what to do with his life. He considered becoming a lawyer, but was influenced to become a merchant. Sam failed at being a merchant because he was too occupied with politics to care about business. Samuel’s father loaned him 1,000 pounds to start a business for himself; Samuel loaned half of the money to a friend in need, and used the rest to go into business. Sam was never repaid the 500 pounds and his business failed because, as historian Pauline Maier stated, Adams was “a man utterly uninterested in either making or possessing money”. Sam then was made a partner in his father’s malting business. Sam would continue in this business although he never enjoyed it or made much money off of it.

In 1748, Sam started to become active in politics. He and some friends started a political newspaper in which Adams wrote several essays championing the rights of the colonies. In 1749, Sam married Elizabeth Checkley. Together they had 6 children, but only two, Samuel and Hannah, lived to adulthood. Elizabeth died giving birth to a stillborn child in 1757. Sam would remarry in 1764 to Elizabeth Wells, but the couple had no children. In 1756, Sam was elected tax collector of  Boston, but, because of his kind heart, many taxes went unpaid because Adams would not force many people to pay them. Sam jumped to the forefront of Boston politics with the passing of the Sugar Act, a tax placed upon the colonies to help Britain pay for the Seven-Years War with France. The issue that Adams had with the tax was not the tax itself, but rather the fact that Parliament could tax the colonies seeing that the colonies had no representation in Parliament. Adams would also argue that Parliament had no authority over the colonies as the colonies’ charters had all been granted by the King. Adams gained no friends in England through his writings. Through his writings and position in the Massachusetts Assembly, Adams’ fame as a defender of colonial rights spread throughout Massachusetts. Adams would form an alliance with James Otis, a man who had much of the same beliefs as Adams. This alliance would be critical in the years leading up to 1776.

In 1765, Parliament passed a new set of taxes, the Stamp Act, which would forces the colonies to pay a tax on all printed materials. The colonies did not like the idea of such a tax and went into an uproar. In response to this, James Otis called for a meeting of the colonies to form a united protest against the tax. Nine of the thirteen colonies attended making it the first unification of the colonies against British tyranny. In Boston, the turmoil was great. Citizens burned the local tax collector in effigy and also ransacked the governor’s mansion. Many loyalists blamed Adams for instigating these attacks although Adams denounced them as “mobbish”. Adams was an outspoken of this tax and was very influential  in its repeal, gaining him further fame in the colonies and further dislike in England. The Stamp Act also prompted a young man by the name of John Hancock to get involved in Massachusetts’ politics. Adams immediately began to mentor Hancock and the two became friends.

Things did not improve in Massachusetts in the next couple of years as the loyalist governors and the patriot Assembly clashed over issues. The situation exploded again with the passing of the Townsend Acts in 1767 placing new taxes upon the colonies. Resistance to the taxes across the colonies was light at first, but it slowly began to grow until it exploded with John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania”. Massachusetts Assembly, led by Adams and Otis, soon began to petition the other colonies to resist the Act together and form a united front. This scared many loyalists governors and English officials causing them to threaten to absolve state legislatures if they were to unite. The Massachusetts Assembly refused to back down and even petitioned the king to remove the governor. The governor responded by absolving the legislature and requesting that British troops be stationed in Boston to maintain order. This would lead to more unrest and ultimately lead to the Boston Massacre. Adams promoted a boycott of English goods until the taxes would be repealed. Many cities followed the boycott until Parliament repealed all of the taxes except for the tax on tea. Adams wanted to continue to boycott until all taxes were rescinded, but economics forced merchants to end the boycott. Massachusetts went into a quiet period during which Adams withdrew from politics for a few years until the issue that the governor’s salary would be paid for by the British crown instead of being paid by the legislatures. This caused an uproar in the legislature because it took away the on power that they had over the governor. Soon after this happened, Parliament instituted a new tax on tea. This new tax brought  an uproar again in the colonies specifically Massachusetts where a group of patriots dressed up as Mohawk Indians and proceeded to dump 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Adams involvement in the tea party is not clearly known, but he did help publicize and defend it to the other colonies.

After the Boston Tea Party, the colonies were on the path to Independence. In the aftermath of the tea party, the loyalist governor of Massachusetts and Parliament began to limit freedoms. The Boston Port act closed Boston Harbor from commerce until the tea was to be repaid. This was the first part of the Coercive Acts which also rewrote the Massachusetts charter making many positions to be royally appointed instead of locally elected. The Acts also included a provision to transport those who disagreed with the Acts to be arrested and sent to England for trial. These acts essentially dissolved the Massachusetts legislature, but before this could happen, Massachusetts voted to send Sam Adams and four other delegates to the First Continental Congress.  Upon returning home, Adams served in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, an extralegal body independent of English rule. Adams was also elected to attend the Second Continental Congress in May of 1775. On April 14, General Gage of the British army received orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock on accusations of treason. Gage sent his troops to Concord to destroy the stockpiles of arms that the colonial minutemen had collected. It was during this time that Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and William Dawes rode through the countryside warning that the British were coming. On April 19, 1775 British forces were met by 77 militiamen at Lexington. Battle soon broke out, and the Rubicon had been crossed, the colonies now were ready for independence. Hancock and Adams escaped and returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress where the declaration of Independence was written and signed. Adams served tirelessly and dealt with many hardships throughout the war, but his dedication to Independence never faltered.  After the war, Adams returned to Massachusetts were he served in many elected positions including: Assemblymen, President of the Massachusetts Senate, US Congressman, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and finally, Governor of Massachusetts. Adams retired from politics in 1797 and died at the age of 81 in 1803.

Samuel Adam’s legacy and influence is easy to define but difficult to show. Adams was a very humble man. He left no memoirs and purposefully destroyed much of his correspondence because he did not want his full influence to be known. At his death, the Independent Chronicle called him “the Father of the American Revolution”. Thomas Jefferson also characterized him as “truly the man of the Revolution”. John Adams today is the more well know Adams, but while serving in France during the Revolution John constantly had to distinguish himself from his famous cousin. Samuel Adams is probably the most influential man of the fight for American Independence. His courage to stand against British tyranny and his commitment to freedom is unmatched. Adams sacrificed his health, his family, his fortune, and his life to the cause of American Independence. His legacy may not be remembered, but his accomplishments are seen through the 250 years of American freedom.

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