The body of the people are now in council.
Their opposition grows into a system. They are united and resolute. And if
the British Administration and Government do not return to the principles
of moderation and equity, the evil, which they profess to aim at
preventing by their rigorous measures, will the sooner be brought to pass,
viz., the entire separation and independence of the Colonies.
—Letter to Arthur Lee
Samuel and John Adams were second cousins, having the same
great-grandfather. Between them in many ways there was a marked contrast,
but true to their New England instincts both were theologians.
John was a conservative in politics, and at first had little sympathy with
"those small-minded men who refused to pay a trivial tax on their tea; and
who would plunge the country into war, and ruin all for a matter of
stamps." John was born and lived at the village of Braintree. He did not
really center his mind on politics until the British had closed all
law-courts in Boston, thus making his profession obsolete. He was
scholarly, shrewd, diplomatic, cautious, good-natured, fat, and took his
religion with a wink. He was blessed with a wife who was worthy of being
the mother of kings (or presidents); he lived comfortably, acquired
property, and died aged ninety-two. He had been President and seen his son
President of the United States, and that is an experience that has never
come and probably never will come to another living man, for there seems
to be an unwritten law that no man under fifty shall occupy the office of
Chief Magistrate of these United States.
Samuel was stern, serious and deeply in earnest. He seldom smiled and
never laughed. He was uncompromisingly religious, conscientious and
morally unbending. In his life there was no soft sentiment. The fact that
he ran a brewery can be excused when we remember that the best spirit of
the times saw nothing inconsistent in the occupation; and further than
this we might explain in extenuation that he gave the business indifferent
attention, and the quality of his brew was said to be very bad.
In religion, he swerved not nor wavered. He was a Calvinist and clung to
the five points with a tenacity at times seemingly quite unnecessary.
When in that first Congress, Samuel Adams publicly consented to the
opening of the meeting with religious service conducted by the Reverend
Mr. Duche, an Episcopal clergyman, he gave a violent wrench to his
conscience and an awful shock to his friends. But Mr. Duche met the issue
in the true spirit, and leaving his detested "popery robe" and prayer-book
at home uttered an extemporaneous invocation, without a trace of intoning,
that pleased the Puritans and caused one of them to remark, "He is surely
coming over to the Lord's side!"
But in politics, Samuel Adams was a liberal of the liberals. In
statecraft, the heresy of change had no terrors for him, and with Hamlet,
he might have said, "Oh, reform it altogether!"
The limitations set in every character seem to prevent a man from being
generous in more than one direction; the bigot in religion is often a
liberal in politics, and vice versa. For instance, physicians are almost
invariably liberal in religious matters, but are prone to call a man
"Mister" who does not belong to their school; while orthodox clergymen, I
have noticed, usually employ a homeopathist.
In that most valuable and interesting work, "The Diary of John Adams," the
author refers repeatedly to Samuel Adams as "Adams"! This simple way of
using the word "Adams" shows a world of appreciation for the man who
blazed the path that others of this illustrious name might follow. And so
with the high precedent in mind, I, too, will drop prefix and call my
subject simply "Adams."
On the authority of King George, General Gage made an offer of pardon to
all save two who had figured in the Boston uprising.
The two men thus honored were John Hancock (whose signature the King could
read without spectacles), and the other was "one, S. Adams."
Adams, however, was the real offender, and the plea might have been made
for John Hancock that, if it had not been for accident and Adams, Hancock
would probably have remained loyal to the mother country.
Hancock was aristocratic, cultured and complacent. He was the richest man
in New England. His personal interests were on the side of peace and the
established order. But circumstances and the combined tact and zeal of
Adams threw him off his guard, and in a moment of dalliance the seeds of
sedition found lodgment in his brain. And the more he thought about it,
the nearer he came to the conclusion that Adams was right. But let the
fact further be stated, if truth demands, that both John Hancock and
Samuel Adams, the first men who clearly and boldly expressed the idea of
American Independence, were moved in the beginning by personal grievances.
A single motion made before the British Parliament by we know not whom,
and put to vote by the Speaker, bankrupted the father of Samuel Adams and
robbed the youth of his patrimony.
The boy was then seventeen; old enough to know that from plenty his father
was reduced to penury, and this because England, three thousand miles
away, had interfered with the business arrangements of the Colony, and
made unlawful a private banking scheme.
Then did the boy ask the question, What moral right has England to govern
From thinking it over he began to formulate reasons. He discussed the
subject at odd times and thought of it continually, and, in Seventeen
Hundred Forty-three, when he prepared his graduation thesis at Harvard
College he chose for his subject, "The Doctrine of the Lawfulness of
Resistance to the Supreme Magistrate if the Commonwealth Can Not Otherwise
When Massachusetts admitted that she was under subjection to the King, yet
argued for the right to nullify the Acts of the English Parliament, she
took exactly the same ground that South Carolina did a hundred years
later. The logic of Samuel Adams and of Robert Hayne was one and the same.
Yet we are glad that Adams carried his point; and we rejoice exceedingly
that Hayne failed, so curious are these things we call "reasons."
The royalists who heard of this youth with a logical mind denounced him
without stint. A few newspapers upheld him and spoke of the right of free
speech and all that, reprinting the thesis in full. And in the controversy
that followed, young Adams was always a prominent figure. He was not an
orator in the popular sense, but he held the pen of a ready writer, and
through the Boston papers kept up a constant fusillade.
The tricks of journalism are no new thing belonging to the fag-end of this
century. Young Adams wrote letters over the "nom de plume" of Pro Bono
Publico, and then replied to them over the signature of Rex Americus. He
did not adopt as his motto, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right
hand doeth," for he wrote with both hands and each hand was in the secret.
During the years that followed his graduation from college he was a
businessman and a poor one, for a man who looks after public affairs much
can not attend to his own. But he managed to make shift; and when too
closely pressed by creditors, a loan from Hancock, or John Adams,
Hancock's attorney, relieved the pressure. In fact, when he went to
Philadelphia "on that very important errand," he rode a horse borrowed
from John Adams, and his Sunday coat was the gift of a thoughtful friend.
In Seventeen Hundred Sixty-three, it became known that the British
Government had on foot a scheme to demand a tribute from the Colonies. On
invitation of a committee, possibly appointed by Adams, Adams was
requested to draw up instructions to the Representatives in the Colonial
Legislature. Adams did so and the document is now in the archives of the
old State House at Boston, in the plain and elegant penmanship that is so
easily recognized. This document calls itself, "The First Public Denial of
the Right of the British Parliament to tax the Colonies without their
Consent, and the first Public Suggestion of a Union on the part of the
Colonies to Protect themselves against British Aggression."
The style of the paper is lucid, firm and logical; it combines in itself
the suggestion of all there was to be said or could be said on the matter.
Adams saw all over and around his topic—no unpleasant surprise could be
sprung on him—twenty-five years had he studied this one theme. He had made
himself familiar with the political history of every nation so far as such
history could be gathered; he was past master of his subject.
However, when he was forty years of age his followers were few and mostly
men of small influence. The Calkers' Club was the home of the sedition,
and many of the members were day-laborers. But the idea of independence
gradually grew, and, in Seventeen Hundred Sixty-five, Adams was elected a
member of the Massachusetts Colonial Legislature. In honor of his writing
ability, he was chosen clerk of the Assembly, for in all public gatherings
orators are chosen as presidents and newspapermen for secretaries. Thus
are honors distributed, and thus, too, does the public show which talent
it values most.
On November Second, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-two, on motion of Adams, a
committee of several hundred citizens was appointed "to state the Rights
of the Colonies and to communicate and publish them to the World as the
sense of the Town, with the infringements and violations thereof that have
been or may be made from time to time; also requesting from each Town a
free communication of their sentiments on this Subject."
This was the Committee of Correspondence from which grew the union of the
Colonies and the Congress of the United States. It is a pretty well
attested fact that the first suggestion of the Philadelphia Congress came
from Samuel Adams, and the chief work of bringing it about was also his.
It was well known to the British Government who the chief agitator was,
and when General Gage arrived in Boston in May, Seventeen Hundred
Seventy-four, his first work was an attempt to buy off Samuel Adams. With
Adams out of the way, England might have adopted a policy of conciliation
and kept America for her very own—yes, to the point of moving the home
government here and saving the snug little island as a colony, for both in
wealth and in population America has now far surpassed England.
But Adams was not for sale. His reply to Gage sounds like a scrap from
Cromwell: "I trust I have long since made my peace with the King of Kings.
No personal consideration shall induce me to abandon the Righteous Cause
of my Country."
Gage having refused to recognize the thirteen Counselors appointed by the
people, the General Court of Massachusetts, in secret session, appointed
five delegates to attend the Congress of Colonies at Philadelphia. Of
course Samuel Adams was one of these delegates; and to John Adams, another
delegate, are we indebted for a minute description of that most momentous
A room in the State House had been offered the delegates, but with
commendable modesty they accepted the offer of the Carpenters' Company to
use their hall.
And so there they convened on the fifth day of September, Seventeen
Hundred Seventy-four, having met by appointment, and walked over from the
City Tavern in a body. Forty-four men were present—not a large gathering,
but they had come hundreds of miles, and several of them had been months
on the journey.
They were a sturdy lot; and madam! I think it would have been worth while
to have looked in upon them. There were several coonskin caps in evidence;
also lace and frills and velvet brought from England—but plainness to
severity was the rule. Few of these men had ever been away from their own
Colonies before, few had ever met any members of the Congress save their
own colleagues. They represented civilizations of very different degrees.
Each stood a bit in awe of all the rest. Several of the Colonies had been
in conflict with the others.
Meeting new men in those days, when even the stagecoach was a passing show
worth going miles to see, was an event. There was awkwardness and
nervousness on the swarthy faces; firm mouths twitched, and big, bony
hands sought for places of concealment.
The meeting had been called for September First, but was postponed for
five days awaiting the arrival of belated delegates who had been detained
by floods. Even then, delegates from North Carolina had not arrived, and
Georgia not having thought it worth while to send any, eleven Colonies
only were represented. Each delegation naturally kept together, as men
will who have a fighting history and a pioneer ancestry.
It was a serious, solemn business, and these men were not given to levity
in any event. When they were seated, there was a moment of silence so
tense it could be heard. Every chance movement of a foot on the uncarpeted
floor sent an echo through the room.
The stillness was first broken by Mr. Lynch, of South Carolina, who arose
and in a low, clear voice said: "There is a gentleman present who has
presided with great dignity over a very respectable body and greatly to
the advantage of America. Gentlemen, I move that the Honorable Peyton
Randolph, one of the delegates from Virginia, be appointed to preside over
this meeting. I doubt not it will be unanimous."
It was so; and a large man in powdered wig and scarlet coat arose, and,
carrying his gold-headed cane before him like a mace, walked to the
platform without apology.
The New Englanders in homespun looked at one another with trepidation on
their features. The red coat was not assuring, but they kept their peace
and breathed hard, praying that the enemy had not captured the convention
through strategy. Mr. Randolph's first suggestion was not revolutionary;
it was that a secretary be appointed.
Again Mr. Lynch arose and named Charles Thomson, "a gentleman of family,
fortune and character." This testimonial of family and fortune was not
assuring to the plain Massachusetts men, but they said nothing and awaited
All were cautious as woodsmen, and the motion that the Council be held
behind closed doors was adopted. Every member then held up his right hand
and made a solemn promise to divulge no part of the transactions; and
Galloway, of Pennsylvania, promised with the rest, and straightway each
night informed the enemy of every move.
Little was done that first day but get acquainted by talking very
cautiously and very politely. The next day a notable member had arrived,
and in a front seat sat Richard Henry Lee, a man you would turn and look
at in any company. Slender and dark, with a brilliant eye and a
profile—and only one man in ten thousand has a profile—Lee was a gracious
presence. His voice was gentle and flexible and luring, and there was a
dignity and poise in his manner that made him easily the foremost orator
of his time.
Near him sat William Livingston, of New Jersey, and John Jay, his
son-in-law, the youngest man in the Congress, with a nose that denoted
character, and all his fame in the future.
The Pennsylvanians were all together, grouped on one side. Duane, of New
York, sat near them, "shy and squint-eyed, very sensible and very artful,"
wrote John Adams that night in his diary.
Then over there sat Christopher Gadsden, of South Carolina, who had
preached independence for full ten years before this, and who, when he
heard that the British soldiers had taken Boston, proposed to raise a
troop at once and fight redcoats wherever found.
"But the British will burn our seaport towns if we antagonize them," some
timid soul explained.
"Our towns are built of brick and wood; if they are burned we can rebuild
them; but liberty once gone is gone forever," he retorted. And the saying
sounds well, even if it will not stand analysis.
Back near the wall was a man who, when the assembly stood at morning
prayers, showed a half-head above his neighbors. His face was broad, and
he, too, had a profile. His mouth was tightly closed, and during the first
fourteen days of that Congress he never opened it to utter a word, and
after his long quiet he broke the silence by saying, "Mr. President, I
second the motion." Once, in a passionate speech, Lynch turned to him and
pointing his finger said: "There is a man who has not spoken here, but in
the Virginia Assembly he made the most eloquent speech I ever heard. He
said, 'I will raise a thousand men, and arm and subsist them at my expense
and march them to the relief of Boston.'" And then did the tall man, whose
name was George Washington, blush like a schoolgirl.
But in all that company the men most noticed were the five members from
Massachusetts. They were Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Gushing and
Robert Treat Paine. Massachusetts had thus far taken the lead in the
struggle with England. A British army was encamped upon her soil, her
chief city besieged—the port closed. Her sufferings had called this
Congress into being, and to her delegates the members had come to listen.
All recognized Samuel Adams as the chief man of the Convention. His hand
wrote the invitations and earnest requests to come. Galloway, writing to
his friends, the enemy, said: "Samuel Adams eats little, drinks little,
sleeps little and thinks much. He is most decisive and indefatigable in
the pursuit of his object. He is the man who, by his superior application,
manages at once the faction in Philadelphia and the factions of New
Yet Samuel Adams talked little at the Convention. He allowed John Adams to
state the case, but sat next to him supplying memoranda, occasionally
arising to make remarks or explanations in a purely conversational tone.
But so earnest and impressive was his manner, so ably did he answer every
argument and reply to every objection, that he thoroughly convinced a
tall, angular, homely man by the name of Patrick Henry of the
righteousness of his cause. Patrick Henry was pretty thoroughly convinced
before, but the recital of Boston's case fired the Virginian, and he made
the first and only real speech of the Congress. In burning words he
pictured all the Colonies had suffered and endured, and by his matchless
eloquence told in prophetic words of the glories yet to be. In his speech
he paid just tribute to the genius of Samuel Adams, declaring that the
good that was to come from this "first of an unending succession of
Congresses" was owing to the work of Adams. And in after-years Adams
repaid the compliment by saying that if it had not been for the cementing
power of Patrick Henry's eloquence, that first Congress probably would
have ended in a futile wrangle.
The South regarded, in great degree, the fight in Boston as Massachusetts'
own. To make the entire thirteen Colonies adopt the quarrel and back the
Colonial army in the vicinity of Boston was the only way to make the issue
a success, and to unite the factions by choosing for a leader a Virginian
aristocrat was a crowning stroke of diplomacy.
John Hancock had succeeded Randolph as president of the second Congress,
and Virginia was inclined to be lukewarm, when John Adams in an
impassioned speech nominated Colonel George Washington as
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The nomination was seconded
very quietly by Samuel Adams. It was a vote, and the South was committed
to the cause of backing up Washington, and, incidentally, New England. The
entire plan was probably the work of Samuel Adams, yet he gave the credit
to John, while the credit of stoutly opposing it goes to John Hancock,
who, being presiding officer, worked at a disadvantage.
But Adams had a way of reducing opposition to the minimum. He kept out of
sight and furthered his ends by pushing this man or that to the front at
the right time to make the plea. He was a master in that fine art of
managing men and never letting them know they are managed. By keeping
behind the arras, he accomplished purposes that a leader never can who
allows his personality to be in continual evidence, for personality repels
as well as attracts, and the man too much before the public is sure to be
undone eventually. Adams knew that the power of Pericles lay largely in
the fact that he was never seen upon but a single street of Athens, and
that but once a year.
The complete writings of Adams have recently been collected and published.
One marvels that such valuable material has not before been printed and
given to the public, for the literary style and perspicuity shown are most
inspiring, and the value of the data can not be gainsaid.
No one ever accused Adams of being a muddy thinker; you grant his premises
and you are bound to accept his conclusions. He leaves no loopholes for
The following words, used by Chatham, refer to documents in which Adams
took a prominent part in preparing: "When your Lordships look at the
papers transmitted us from America, when you consider their decency,
firmness and wisdom, you can not but respect their cause and wish to make
it your own. For myself, I must avow that, in all my reading—and I have
read Thucydides and have studied and admired the master statesmen of the
world—for solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion
under a complication of difficult circumstances, no body of men can stand
in preference to the general Congress of Philadelphia. The histories of
Greece and Rome give us nothing like it, and all attempts to impress
servitude on such a mighty continental people must be in vain."
In the life of Adams there was no soft sentiment nor romantic vagaries.
"He is a Puritan in all the word implies, and the unbending fanatic of
independence," wrote Gage, and the description fits.
He was twice married. Our knowledge of his first wife is very slight, but
his second wife, Elizabeth Wells, daughter of an English merchant, was a
capable woman of brave good sense. She adopted her husband's political
views and with true womanly devotion let her old kinsmen slide; and during
the dark hours of the war bore deprivation without repining.
Adams' home life was simple to the verge of hardship. All through life he
was on the ragged edge financially, and in his latter years he was for the
first time relieved from pressing obligations by an afflicting event—the
death of his only son, who was a surgeon in Washington's army. The money
paid to the son by the Government for his services gave the father the
only financial competency he ever knew. Two daughters survived him, but
with him died the name.
John Adams survived Samuel for twenty-three years. He lived to see "the
great American experiment," as Mr. Ruskin has been pleased to call our
country, on a firm basis, constantly growing stronger and stronger. He
lived to realize that the sanguine prophecies made by Samuel were working
themselves out in very truth.
The grave of Samuel Adams is viewed by more people than that of any other
American patriot. In the old Granary Burying-Ground, in the very center of
Boston, on Tremont Street—there where travel congests, and two living
streams meet all day long—-you look through the iron fence, so slender
that it scarce impedes the view, and not twenty feet from the curb is a
simple metal disk set on an iron rod driven into the ground and on it this
inscription: "This marks the grave of Samuel Adams."
For many years the grave was unmarked, and the disk that now denotes it
was only recently placed in position by the Sons of the American
Revolution. But the place of Samuel Adams on the pages of history is
secure. Upon the times in which he lived he exercised a profound
influence. And he who influences the times in which he lives has
influenced all the times that come after; he has left his impress on