1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Adams, Samuel

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ADAMS, SAMUEL (1722–1803), American statesman, was born at Boston, Massachusetts, on the 27th of September 1722. He was a second cousin to the elder John Adams. His father, whose Christian name was also Samuel, was a wealthy and prominent citizen of Boston, who took an active part in the politics of the town, and was a member of the Caucus (or Caulker's) Club, with which the political term "caucus" is said to have originated; his mother was Mary Fifield. Young Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1740, and three years later, on attaining the degree of A.M., chose for his thesis, "Whether it be Lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved." Which side he took, and how the argument proceeded, is not known, but the subject was one which well forecasted his career. He began the study of law in response to his father's advice; he discontinued it in response to his mother's disapproval. He repeatedly failed in business, notably as manager of a malt-house, largely because of his incessant attention to politics; but in the Boston town-meeting he became a conspicuous example of the efficiency of that institution for training in statecraft. He has, indeed, been called the "Man of the Town Meeting." About 1748 he began to take an important part in the affairs of the town, and became a leader in the debates of a political club which he was largely instrumental in organizing, and to whose weekly publication, the Public Advertiser, he contributed numerous articles. From 1756 to 1764 he was one of the town's tax-collectors, but in this office he was unsuccessful, his easy business methods resulting in heavy arrears.

Samuel Adams first came into wider prominence at the beginning of the Stamp Act episode, in 1764, when as author of Boston's instructions to its representatives in the general court of Massachusetts he urged strenuous opposition to taxation by act of parliament. The next year he was for the first time elected to the lower house of the general court, in which he served until 1774, after 1766 as clerk. As James Otis's vigour and influence declined, Adams took a more and more prominent place in the revolutionary councils; and, contrary to the opinion of Otis and Benjamin Franklin, he declared that colonial representation in parliament was out of the question and advised against any form of compromise. Many of the Massachusetts revolutionary documents, including the famous "Massachusetts Resolves" and the circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies, are from his pen; but owing to the fact that he usually acted as clerk to the House of Representatives and to the several committees of which he was a member, documents were written by him which expressed the ideas of the committee as a whole. There can be no question, however, that Samuel Adams was one of the first, if not the first, of American political leaders to deny the legislative power of parliament and to desire and advocate separation from the mother country.

To promote the ends he had in view he suggested non-importation, instituted the Boston committees ofcorrespondence, urged that a Continental Congress be called, sought out and introduced into public service such allies as John Hancock, Joseph Warren and Josiah Quincy, and wrote a vast number of articles for the newspapers, especially the Boston Gazette, over a multitude of signatures. He was, in fact, one of the most voluminous and influential political writers of his time. His style is clear, vigorous and epigrammatic; his arguments are characterized by strength of logic, and, like those of other patriots, are, as the dispute advances, based less on precedent and documentary authorities and more on "natural right." Although he lacked oratorical fluency, his short speeches, like his writings, were forceful; his plain dress and unassuming ways helped to make him extremely popular with the common people, in whom he had much greater faith than his cousin John had; and, above all, he was an eminently successful manager of men. Shrewd, wily, adroit, unfailingly tactful, an adept in all the arts of the politician, he is considered to have done more than any other one man, in the years immediately preceding the War of Independence, to mould and direct public opinion in his community.

The intense excitement which followed the "Boston Massacre" Adams skilfully used to secure the removal of the soldiers from the town to a fort in the harbour. He it was, also, who managed the proceedings of the "Boston Tea Party," and later he was moderator of the convention of Massachusetts towns called to protest against the Boston Port Bill. One of the objects of the expedition sent by Governor Thomas Gage to Lexington (q.v.) and Concord on April 18-19, 1775, was the capture of Adams and John Hancock, temporarily staying in Lexington, and when Gage issued his proclamation of pardon on June 12 he excepted these two, whose offences, he said, were "of too flagitious a Nature to admit of any other Consideration than that of condign Punishment."

As a delegate to the Continental Congress, from 1774 to 1781, Samuel Adams continued vigorously to oppose any concession to the British government; strove for harmony among the several colonies in the common cause; served on numerous committees, among them that to prepare a plan of confederation; and signed the Declaration of Independence. But he was rather a destructive than a constructive statesman, and his most important service was in organizing the forces of revolution before 1775. In 1779 he was a member of the convention which framed the constitution of Massachusetts that was adopted in 1780, and is still, with some amendments, the organic law of the commonwealth and one of the oldest fundamental laws in existence. He was one of the three members of the sub-committee which actually drafted that instrument; and although John Adams is generally credited with having performed the principal part of that task, Samuel Adams was probably the author of most of the bill of rights. In 1788, Samuel Adams was a member of the Massachusetts convention to ratify the Constitution of the United States. When he first read that instrument he was very much opposed to the consolidated government which it provided, but was induced to befriend it by resolutions which were passed at a mass meeting of Boston mechanics or "tradesmen"—his own firmest supporters—and by the suggestion that its ratification should be accompanied by a recommendation of amendments designed chiefly to supply the omission of a bill of rights. Without his aid it is probable that the constitution would not have been ratified by Massachusetts. From 1789 to 1794 Adams was lieutenant-governor of his state, and from 1794 to 1797 was governor. After the formation of parties he became allied with the Democratic-Republicans rather than with the Federalists. He died on the 2nd of October 1803, at Boston.

Authorities[edit]

  • Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (3 vols., Boston, 1863), by W. V. Wells, Adams's great-grandson–a valuable biography, containing a mass of information, but noticeably biassed
  • J. K. Hosmer's Samuel Adams (Boston, 1885), an excellent short biography in the "American Statesmen Series"
  • M. C. Tyler's Literary History of the American Revolution (2 vols., New York, 1897)
  • H. A. Cushing (ed.), The Writings of Samuel Adams (4 vols., New York, 1904-1908). (E. CH.)