The New International Encyclopædia/Adams, Samuel

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ADAMS, Samuel (1722-1803). One of the leading men in the promotion of the American Revolution. He was born in Boston, Mass., September 27, 1722, of an aristocratic family, and, like John Adams, the second President of the United States, was descended from Henry Adams, a Puritan emigrant. He fitted for college at the Boston Latin School, and entered Harvard in 1736. On leaving college in 1740, he entered a law office; but the law proving distasteful, he next entered a counting-house, and soon became a merchant himself, but failed. Subsequently he became a partner with his father in a brewery, and failed after the father's death. As a business man, he seems throughout to have been a complete failure; and the burden thus thrown on the other members of the family was increased later by the complete absorption with which he devoted his time and energy exclusively to political affairs and public service. When a candidate for the degree of A.M. at Harvard College, he had maintained in his thesis the affirmative of the question: Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved.

He was early engaged in the activities of town politics in Boston; and the overthrow of the Land Bank, with the incidental destruction of his father's estate, brought him into contact with provincial affairs and decisively influenced his general attitude toward the home government. His formal entry into politics was in his election as a tax collector of Boston in 1763, an office which he held for two years. His careless, or at all events unsuccessful, performance of the duties of that office soon afforded his opponents the basis for a vigorous though ineffectual attack, but both his personal integrity and political uprightness remained above suspicion. By him were drafted the important instructions given by the town of Boston to its representatives in the assembly in 1764, and in these was put forth one of the earliest protests against the ministerial plan of colonial taxation.

Likewise in 1765 Adams drafted the Boston instructions to representatives, and in the same year he himself was sent to the Legislature. Being elected clerk of the House in 1766, and also serving on many committees, it was natural that he should he the author of many of the most important State documents of the pre-revolutionary period. Instructions to the political agent in London, addresses to the governor, appeals to the ministry, and proposals or exhortations addressed to fellow colonists, in great number issued from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and in many instances came from the pen of Adams. Thus the very influential circular letter of February, 1768, as well as the True Sentiments of America, issued in the same year, and the widely read Appeal to the World of 1769, have been traced to the authorship of Adams. Later, in 1772, he prepared for the town of Boston the very telling pamphlet on The Rights of the Colonists as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects. Very important as were all these contributions to the movement toward revolution, the most effective literary work of Adams was, undoubtedly, the great number of newspaper articles, under various pseudonyms, in the patriotic Boston Gazette. In these he made plain the cause of the colonists, exposed the impracticability of any reconciliation, converted the hesitating and inspired the Radicals, and exerted a very far-reaching influence in preparing the popular mind for revolution and in hastening the approach of the crisis. In practical politics as well, he was recognized as a leader not only in Massachusetts but in the other colonies. He bore the burden of the long series of controversies with the governors of Massachusetts over the presence of troops, the salaries of judges, and the place of meeting of the legislature; and at the time of the Boston Massacre of March, 1770, headed the committee which demanded from Hutchinson the immediate withdrawal of the troops. He was conspicuous in planning the local “committees of correspondence;” and when finally, in June, 1774, the Massachusetts legislature bade defiance to Gage and issued the call for the Continental Congress, it was Adams who directed the movement.

He was naturally sent to the Continental Congress, and when that body finally declared for independence, it may be said that the real life work of Adams had been completed. He had been the ideal representative of the town-meeting system, the extreme defender of the “natural” rights of man, and the irrepressible advocate of independence. His work during the Revolution was less noteworthy, and was at times open to criticism. Thus, he was one of the strongest supporters of the committee system of national administration, and one of those who delayed unnecessarily and unfortunately the organization of executive departments under single heads. In the politics of his native State he always took an active and effective interest. He was one of the committee which prepared the present constitution of the State, the only constitution of the revolutionary period still in force. He served on the executive council of the State, was for several years lieutenant-governor, and three times was elected governor. He was considered an opponent of the federal constitution in 1788, but on his finally giving his voice in favor of adoption, with the proposal of amendments, its ratification was assured. He died in Boston, October 2, 1803. For his biography consult: W. V. Wells (3 volumes, Boston, 1865); J. K. Hosmer (Boston, 1885).