Friday, November 18, 2016

Samuel Adams: The Face of a Revolution

John Singleton Copley's
portrait of Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a Boston revolutionary and the current face of Bostonian beer. He is inextricably linked with the Boston rebels who helped ignite the revolution in the years leading up to 1775 and the famous documents that severed the many ties between the colonies and England. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he was not a soldier, an inventor, a successful merchant, a tradesman or a plantation owner. His only interest and success was in politics, but it was not for lack of trying other things.

Samuel Adams was born in Boston on September 27, 1722. He was raised in Boston and schooled at Boston Latin, like most of his peers. Also like his fellow Boston patriots, he went to Harvard College, graduating with his masters in 1743. After graduation, he became a merchant, but he was terribly bad at it. He seemed uninterested in money, instead being interested in public service. His father was a politician, but also a successful businessman. Samuel would not follow his father's example in that regard.

In 1749, Samuel Adams married Elizabeth Checkley, who bore him two surviving children before dying in childbirth. In 1764, he married Elizabeth Wells, who cared for his children, but had none of her own. Elizabeth Wells is remembered in a way as the woman who put up with Samuel Adams. He made very little money in public service. He had some land and a house, but Elizabeth did some work from home to keep them with money while he gave speeches and attended to the masses. In 1756, he became a tax collector and actually lost money due to his ineffective tax collecting strategies.

When Samuel Adams' father died, Samuel also had to fight off the British over a banking scheme his father had. It was popular among the people, but deemed illegal by the British. Samuel Adams was on the brink of having to hand over his estate, but he prevailed and the British were eventually run out of town anyway. Samuel also received the run of his father's maltsing business after his death. That was another failure for Adams.

As history shows us, Samuel Adams was not some poor unfortunate who was just no good at anything. The brewing discontent in the colonies gave him the perfect opportunity to showcase his talents. When Christopher Sieder was shot, Samuel Adams was quick to publicize the incident. Some say his speeches were such that he was something of an agent provocateur, though on the same side as those provoked. Indeed, the Boston Massacre occurred little more than a week after the event. Samuel Adams was also giving speeches before the Boston Tea Party. Suspicious? Historians think so. One thing is certain, instigator or not, he was one of the best orators in Boston before the American Revolution.

In 1765–five years before the Boston Massacre–Samuel Adams became a member of the Massachusetts Assembly. As revolution became inevitable, he served on the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and later the Continental Congress. He was positioned politically to be one of the men instrumental in creating the new nation. He signed the Declaration of Independence and helped draft the Articles of the Confederation.

In 1781, Samuel Adams retired from Congress and helped develop the Massachusetts Constitution. Eight years later, he became Lieutenant Governor. Five years after that, he became the Governor of Massachusetts. He remained governor until his health dictated that he rest in 1797. He died in Boston on October 2, 1803.