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Front Page July 5, 2002  RSS feed

Sam Adams — Father of the American Revolution

By Marcel LeRoy, Southbury

He was a Son of Liberty, the political "boss" of the Boston town meeting, maltster, tax collector, essayist, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, leader of the Continental Congress, and a great influence over the public life of Massachusetts during the early years of the Republic.

Sam Adams was born in Boston, at home on Purchase Street, the son of prosperous parents Deacon Samuel Adams and Mary Fifield Adams. Sam led the life of a Puritan; he dressed simply, worked hard and remained strong in his faith.

His education began in a dame school where he learned to read, write and do arithmetic. When he was 7 years old, he was enrolled at Boston Latin and graduated from there in 1736; he delivered his graduation speech in Latin. He entered Harvard University at the age of 14, completing his studies in 1740, but remained to study for his M.A., which he completed in 1743. He studied Hebrew, Latin, Greek, philosophy, science, mathematics and writing—the last of which he put to good advantage. His study of philosophy included the works of John Locke, an English philosopher who promoted the ideas that all men were politically equal and that they held three basic rights: life, liberty, and property; that government had no right to tax the people without their consent; and that the people should resist bad government. Locke's work was not lost on young Sam Adams.

He shared his father's interest in politics and was influenced by the political talk he overheard at the Caucus Club, a working man's forum established by Deacon Sam. As a result of a parliamentary decision nearly causing his father's financial ruin, Sam carried a long festering hostility toward officers of the Crown.

In 1748 he inherited his father's brewery, which he managed to keep running for a time. On October 17, 1749 he married Elizabeth Checkley. They had six children; three died at birth, and the sixth was born dead. Two weeks later, Elizabeth died, leaving Sam to raise two small children by himself.

His political career began with his election to Clerk of the Market (1746), then Scavenger (1753) and ultimately Tax Collector (1756). He was not successful in his role as tax collector, for he did not have the heart to force people to pay. In 1764, his political enemies accused him of stealing the tax money; the people knew better and re-elected Sam for another term. On December 6, 1764, Sam married Elizabeth Wells, whom he nicknamed Betsy. Shortly after their marriage, Betsy was given a slave named Surry; Sam forbade her to live in his home as a slave. He freed Surry, then allowed her to move in.

The Sugar Act of 1764 began Adams' struggles with a succession of British royal governors. Later, he led the opposition against the Stamp Act, Declaratory Act, Townshend Acts, Navigation Act, etc., which he regarded as acts of British tyranny.

At the core of his political agitation was American independence. He is rightfully called the "Father of the American Revolution." He did everything in his power to keep the fires of rebellion burning. Sam knew well the rule of putting his adversary in the wrong and keeping him there. He wrote editorials under more than a hundred different names, using them to support his own opinion.

When the King placed British troops in Boston to quell the increasing number of public disturbances, Sam published stories accusing the soldiers of doing things they did not do, like beating up boys and terrorizing women. Sam used every move of the opposition to his own advantage. His letters to Parliament blaming the Royal Governor for the unrest in Boston eventually resulted in the governor being recalled to England.

After the King Street fight of March 5, 1770—more commonly known as the Boston Massacre—Sam willingly took credit for the withdrawal of British troops from Boston, and lamented when commerce with England was later resumed.

In 1772, he petitioned the Congress to set up a Committee of Correspondence for the purpose of writing down the rights of the people. The legislature granted the request with instructions 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." On November 20, the General court adopted "The State of the Rights of the Colonists." A year later, Parliament passed the Tea Act; Adams responded by organizing the Boston Tea Party. Within two years of this event, "the shot heard round the world" would be fired on the Lexington Green. On April 18, 1775, to the sound of gunfire and happy that the fight for independence had finally begun, he remarked: "Oh, what a glorious morning is this!"

Sam Adams made himself totally available to the cause of liberty. He participated as an elected delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. So that he would not look poor, the people pitched in to buy him a new set of clothes.

When the Second Continental Congress convened in May of 1775, he was there along with his cousin John. In June of 1776, he supported the motion to declare the colonies as independent states. In July of 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence, and later the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

Sam Adams always believed that America would win the war. At one low point, he appeared before the Congress to say: "If we wear long faces, long faces will become fashionable. The eyes of the people are upon us. The tone of their feelings is regulated by ours." He served in Congress until 1781, and then returned to Boston where he served as President of the Senate and later as Lieutenant Governor to John Hancock. In 1788, he attended the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention to discuss ratification of the Constitution. He was an anti-federalist, but he voted for the Constitution because his constituents wanted it. Upon Hancock's death in 1793, he became Governor. He served three more terms, retiring at age 74. He remains the oldest governor ever elected in Massachusetts.

Sam died on October 2, 1803; he was 81. Bells tolled and flags were flown at half-mast. In Washington, DC officials wore black arm bands in honor of America's Revolutionary War leader. His vision of American independence never left him. He vowed to take the British on by himself if necessary.

Sam Adams, American statesman and patriot, is buried in the Granary Burying Ground. As someone who sought liberty for the people but nothing for himself, he left an estate of $17,000.

Among his great remarks is: "The rights of the colonists as Christians … may best be understood by studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament." Sam Adams remarked during the Constitutional Convention: "Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."

May his memory of this truly great man live forever in the hearts of the people.