The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Adams, Samuel

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Adams, Samuel
Edition of 1920. See also Samuel Adams on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ADAMS, Samuel, American patriot: b. Boston, 27 Sept. 1722; d. 2 Oct. 1803. He was son of a rich merchant, ship-owner and magistrate, a leader in provincial contests with royal governors, and inventor of the caucus in fact and perhaps unintentionally in name. Educated at the Boston Latin School, he was graduated at Harvard in 1740. In 1743 he wrote for his master's degree a thesis upholding the lawfulness of resisting supreme magistrates. He became a lawyer; but the profession was under ban with the upper classes, and at his family's wish he entered a leading merchant's counting-house. Shortly afterward his father set him up in business, in which he lost-half his capital, losing the other half by a loan never repaid. Then he became partner with his father in a rather unsuccessful brewery. Soon the father lost nearly all his property in a land-bank scheme crushed by an act of Parliament, which extended an English banking enactment to the colonies. The hundreds of ruined shareholders denounced this act as an invasion of chartered colonial rights, and it turned the cream of the business leaders of Massachusetts, and their sons and daughters, into potential rebels at a blow. On his father's death in 1748 he carried on the brewery alone, and was nicknamed hy his opponents “Sammy the maltster,” changed to “Sammy the publican” when he was made tax-collector of Boston 1763-65. Meanwhile he had become a great power in town meetings, having strong and sincere democratic feeling and a marvelous genius for political management and “caucusing.” As collector he was a bad business manager and was sharply assailed; but his political headship is shown by his being selected in 1764 to draft the town's instructions to its representatives relative to the Stamp Act, — the first public American protest against the parliamentary right of taxation, — and the like instructions the next year. He was himself in the legislature 1765-74, being clerk of the House and on the leading committees, drawing up the most important state papers of that stormy time, and spokesman as well as prompter of the incessant wrangles with Governors Bernard and Hutchinson. When the Townshend Acts were passed in 1767, he drafted the legislature's petition to the King, the instructions to the Massachusetts agent in England, and the circular letter of February 1768 to the other colonies asking their aid. The latter led directly to the Revolution, George III ordering Bernard to command the legislature to rescind it or be instantly dissolved. The latter refusing by 92 to 17, the King thereon resolved to send troops to overawe the colony. The same year Adams wrote ‘The True Sentiments of America,’ and in 1769 a famous ‘Appeal to the World.’ The morning after the “Boston Massacre” he was made chairman of a committee to communicate to Governor Hutchinson and his council the town-meeting vote that the two regiments of British soldiers should be removed to the castle in the harbor. When the governor wished to compromise on one, Adams had the people insist on “both or none,” and both were removed, thereafter being known in Parliament as the “Sam Adams regiments.” In 1772 the order was issued that the judges should thereafter be paid by the Crown, not by the colony, and be removable at the King's pleasure; the Boston town-meeting requested Governor Hutchinson to convene the legislature on the question, and on his refusal Mr. Adams revived a proposal of Jonathan Mayhew's in 1765, to have the towns of Massachusetts appoint committees of correspondence to consult about the common weal. Eighty towns soon adopted the suggestion, forming an omnipotent revolutionary legislature beyond the reach of government veto or dissolution, yet quite within the law. The next spring intercolonial committees of the same sort were formed, — an unorganized government of the united colonies. Meanwhile Mr. Adams had kept the public spirit inflamed and alive to the nature of the crisis by articles under various pseudonyms in the Boston Gazette, arguing the colonists' legal rights and the practical impossibility of any compromise; thus not only preparing the public for the crisis and bringing over the waverers, but making the crisis itself more inevitable. The management of the tea-ship matter was in the bands of the committees of correspondence of Boston and five adjoining towns, of which Mr. Adams was the active head; and the throwing of the tea into the harbor, 17 Dec. 1773, was unquestionably supervised or arranged by him. When as a punishment the port of Boston was closed and the charter of Massachusetts annulled in April 1774, and the legislature met at Salem under parliamentary order to abase itself and undo its bad work, Mr. Adams locked the door, pocketed the key and carried through the measures for calling a congress at Philadelphia in September; the legislature adjourned sine die while the governor's clerk was hammering at the door with the writ of dissolution, and British authority was at an end. Mr. Adams' lifework — of assuring the breakdown of a system difficult to work at best, the government of a country by scornful aliens plus the aristocratic native families — was over. Though a useful and upright public servant, he was of secondary importance in presence of large problems of constructive statesmanship; his abilities were parochial, and he does not figure on a national scale. He could manage caucuses and organize jealousies, but hardly frame constitutions. At the Philadelphia Congress he was of course a delegate, and greatly smoothed over sectional distrusts by his shrewdness, tact and geniality. In 1775 he and Hancock were the only patriots excepted from amnesty; and it was Gage's attempt to seize them — under government orders, and with London forecasts that their heads would soon adorn Temple Bar — that brought on the battle of Lexington and opened the Revolutionary war. They escaped by Paul Revere's warning. He led in pushing forward the Declaration of Independence, of which he was one of the signers; and was active in Congressional work till the close of the Revolution. With much creditable service, his sympathies were always with division of authority; he believed in committees instead of executive heads, and national policy was often affected disastrously by the delays and irresponsibility involved. He was largely instrumental in framing the State Constitution of 1780. Nationally, he was of course an Anti-Federalist, opposing a strong national government in fear of tyranny; after long hesitancy over supporting the Constitution of 1787, he did so only on the understanding that amendments constituting a bill of rights should be submitted; but his voice in favor of ratification by Massachusetts secured it by 187 to 168, and saved it to the nation. He was long on the Executive Council of Massachusetts, lieutenant-governor 1789-94, and governor 1794-97 (three terms).