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Samuel Adams

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Important Terms, People, and Events

Samuel Adams is one of the Revolution's least famous leaders and he is probably best remembered now as the namesake of a line of New England beers. However, he deserves far greater glory than he has received because his efforts drove Massachusetts and the other colonies to the brink of war and beyond into the uncharted waters of revolution. He later became known as the "Father of America," a title he rightly deserves. His methods, though, require close scrutiny. The supposed tyrannies by Britain that he spent a lifetime railing against were largely the result of his own actions and provocations. His complex character and his overwhelming desire to see the colonies freed from British rule–despite an overly conciliatory policy towards the colonies by the Crown–make him worthy of deeper study.

Samuel Adams was born Sept. twenty-two, 1722 in Boston, Massachusetts–one of the largest ports in the American colonies and just barely a century old. Born to a life of modest privilege, he studied at the exclusive Boston Latin School before graduating to Harvard College, the training school of all upper- class boys, at the age of fourteen. After receiving his bachelors he remained on to study for a masters degree, choosing as his subject that of "Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved?" When he maintained the affirmative his life's path was already being drawn. His work left little ambiguity about his feelings about personal liberties and freedom from tyrants.

He bounced around–and failed at–several jobs: lawyer, financier, and even one stint at his father's brewery. His mother's intense piety and Puritan roots would play a big influence on his life. Eventually, he served as Boston's tax collector, a post he quit after his books came up eight thousand pounds short. Adams was never accused of cheating or embezzling the money, he was merely a terrible businessman. He found his calling though as an all-but full-time revolutionary in the 1750s, manifested as a journalist and the holder of small public offices. For the next two decades he would guide Bostonians through most of the major incidents leading up to the Revolutionary War.

As a member of the Caucus Club in 1764, he was part of the Boston patriotic movement that helped select the candidates for public office. And in 1764, when Britain announced a duty on sugar, he set about fighting it, and the leading Tory in the Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson, with all his might. Britain's next step, the Stamp Act of 1765, helped convince many colonists that Adams was right to protest the tyrannies of the Crown. He brought the roaming gangs of Boston together and formed a united trained "mob" that he unleashed upon uncooperative officials: The stamp masters fled and Hutchinson's was almost leveled. The Stamp Act, one of the most progressive measures of taxation Britain had yet devised, became synonymous with tyranny. Time and again, Adams sallied forth with his charge: "No taxation without representation." England could take nothing from the colonies without their consent. Perhaps most importantly, Adams began trying to spread his movement through the colonies, helping to organize Sons of Liberty clubs across New England and beyond.

Most odious of all, though, were the Townshend Acts of 1767. Adams demanded Boston adopt a nonimportation agreement and that other colonies followed. The move became a rallying cry for the Sons of Liberty and further united the colonies. When Britain capitulated and repealed all the Townshend Acts but the tea tax, Adams celebrated by scheming a way that his Sons of Liberty managed to dump three hundred odd boxes of tea into Boston harbor.

The Boston Massacre (probably carefully orchestrated by Adams) of 1770 and the Boston Tea Party marked Adams' crossing of the Rubicon. It became all or nothing for him, for if his efforts failed he had enraged the British government enough that he would be tried and hanged. An arrest warrant forced him into hiding outside Boston, from where he could hear the musket fire in 1775 at the Battle of Lexington and Concord–the opening shots of the American Revolution.

By now, though, Adams' influence had largely expended itself. When it came time to form a new country, a new government and a new Constitution, the Founders had little use for a firebrand like Adams. He opposed the Constitution and almost managed to upset its adoption and he railed against it to his dying day. He also served on a committee to write a Massachusetts Constitution, but allowed his cousin John Adams to do most of the writing. He later served as lieutenant governor and a brief stint as the unpopular governor of Massachusetts. He died October two, 1803.

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