Describing the context in which Samuel Adams lived is difficult, for few men have had such a profound impact on the era in which they lived as Adams. He helped shepherd the thirteen British colonies in America from a peaceful coexistence with their motherland through two decades of political upheaval that culminated in the extended Revolutionary War and the eventual creation of the United States of America. As his cousin, John Adams, once said, "Without him, in my opinion, American Independence could not have been declared in 1776."
The Boston that Samuel Adams was born into in 1722 was one of the key trading ports on the east coast, along with Philadelphia and New York. Founded barely a century before by Puritans, under the eye of John Winthrop, it still reflected many of its Puritan roots. However, it was also a growing city full of merchants, traders, and artisans. For much of his early life, Massachusetts faced almost constant attack from the French and Indians, finally resulting in the French and Indian War from 1754–1763. The colonies lacked the necessary manpower or training to field a strong army against the attackers, and British troops did the majority of the fighting. The growing cost of the war encouraged Britain to begin leveling taxes against the colonies.
The next decade marked a series of skirmishes–each more serious than the last–between England and the colonists, more specifically the patriotic "hotheads" in Boston led by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. What began with the writs of assistance–which allowed customs agents broad search powers–then spiraled into the Sugar Act, which raised taxes for the colonies. Then, in March 1765, Britain imposed the Stamp Act, the first "internal" tax on the colonies. As Adams mobilized Boston and other colonies to action through his Sons of Liberty and terrorized British officers in Boston, Britain reacted with shock at the colonial outbreak of violence. The government had seen the Stamp Act as progressive, not as tyrannical.
Tensions escalated further still with the Quartering Act in New York in 1766 and the Townshend Acts in 1767. Boston broke into almost outright rebellion, forcing the governor to request British troops for protection. Adams helped organize the resistance that resulted in the Boston Massacre, then used that to force the troops from Boston altogether. Throughout the colonies, anti-British sentiment ran high, and there grew a greater sense of colonial unity than ever before. With the Boston Tea Party, also orchestrated by Adams, the American patriots acknowledged their desire for freedom and the possibility of armed resistance to the British.
By most accounts, the Revolutionary War officially began in April of 1775, when British troops marched on Lexington and Concord only to meet armed colonial "Minutemen." Adams served on the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress, which presented a unified front to the British King and, in July 1776, declared America's independence from British rule. Despite the best efforts of thousands of British troops and hired German mercenaries, the Minutemen, under the command of George Washington, held their own. And, in 1780, with the help of French troops, the American army forced the surrender of the main British army at Yorktown, effectively ending the war.
The post-war period was a rough adjustment for the colonies, as they struggled with how to build a new country and prevent the tyrannies they had witnessed in the British rulers. The original Articles of Confederation proved too weak, and Adams was present at the signing of the Constitution, although he opposed it. Nonetheless, America finally stood alone–free and independent from any ruler.
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