Heroes of Progress in America - Charles Morris

Samuel Adams,
the Father of American Liberty

From 1760 to 1775 Boston was the hotbed of resistance to British oppression. George III., furious at the rebellious spirit of his unruly subjects beyond the seas, laid his hand on that unquiet city with crushing weight, while a stalwart group of patriots resisted and defied the efforts of their oppressors. At the head of these was a daring son of the soil named Samuel Adams, the man who had more to do in inspiring the minds of the people with the spirit of independence than any other man in the colonies. It has been truly said that if the title of Father of America belongs to any one man Samuel Adams was the man.

It was he that led in all the movements against "taxation," and he was ever earnest in efforts to keep the spirit of resistance alive. Poor though he was, he could not be bought. Efforts to bribe him to desert the cause of liberty were made, but they only served to make him more determined still.

Mather Byles, a Tory clergyman of Boston, one day said to him with insidious pleasantry: "Come, friend Samuel, let us relinquish republican phantoms and attend to our fields:"

"Very well," said stalwart Sam, to give him his familiar title, "you attend to the planting of liberty and I will grub up the taxes. Thus we shall both have pleasant places."

Adams was an educated man. Born in 1722, he graduated from Harvard College in 1740. Afterwards, when he took the degree of master of arts, his thesis showed the prevailing trend of his thoughts. He chose the question, "Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate if the commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved?" We need not say which side of the question he argued for.

Adams engaged in business, but did not succeed. He was afterwards collector of taxes in Boston. He was elected to the Assembly of Massachusetts in 1765 and remained there nine years, winning great influence by his courage, talents, and energy. Before this he had gained a reputation as a political writer. He was not a great orator, but he was a bold and daring one, and early became a leader of the people. At the very first whisper of opposition to the designs of the king Adams was in the field, ready and eager to act whenever occasion served, a fervid, active, independent spirit, knowing what to do and how to do it, and ready to give his services and his life in the cause of his country.

Such a man was Sam Adams, Boston's popular leader. John Adams, his cousin, referring to the patriots, wrote of him as early as 1765: "Adams, I believe, has the most thorough understanding of liberty and her resources in the temper and character of the people, though not in the law and constitution, as well as the most habitual radical love of it, of any of them."

It was this radical love of liberty that made him a thorn in the side of George III. and his myrmidons. No sooner was a party formed opposed to the British yoke than Adams came to the front as its leader. In 1764, ten years before the Revolution, we hear his voice protesting in the name of Boston and all America against the plan for taxing the colonies. In the words of John Adams, he was "always for softness, prudence, and delicacy where they will do, but stanch and stiff and strict and rigid and inflexible in the cause."

It was Adams who in 1765 suggested the idea of a Colonial Congress, and who afterwards became a strong advocate of the Continental Congress. As events became more critical, he became more resolute and outspoken. At the time of the "Boston Massacre "he was spokesman of the committee that demanded that the troops should be removed from Boston, and it was his boldness that forced them out.

The most dramatic event in his life occurred on that memorable night of December 16, 1773, when the ships lay in Boston harbor laden with the tea which the king and his advisers were seeking to force on the Americans. That night a great town-meeting was held at Faneuil Hall, with Adams as one of its principal speakers. The hour advanced, the efforts to induce the authorities to remove the tea-ships peacefully had failed, it was known that the tea would be forcibly landed in the morning. Compromise, persuasion, had failed. Action was demanded. Adams rose to his feet and said, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country."

Were these words a prearranged signal? It seemed so. Scarcely were they spoken when a shrill war-whoop was heard in the street, and a party of men disguised as Indians and armed with hatchets rushed impetuously past, seeking the wharves. Here they boarded the ships, carried the tea-chests from the hold, broke them open with their hatchets, and poured the tea into the harbor. It was the famous "Boston tea-party," which did more than any one thing besides to speedily bring on the Revolution.

This was only one of his acts. "Step by step, inch by inch, he fought the enemies of liberty during the dark hours before the Revolution." On that dark night in April, 1775, when the British in Boston were plotting to send out a force of soldiers to seize the stores at Concord, they had another purpose in view. Samuel Adams and John Hancock were then in the village of Lexington, whither they had fled from arrest, and General Gage was as eager to lay hands on these patriot leaders as upon the Concord stores. But before the soldiers reached Lexington the birds had flown. Paul Revere had ridden through that fateful night, roused them from sleep, and warned them of the coming troops.

To this day the house in which they slept that night is preserved as a memorial of American liberty, and on the village green near by stands a statue which marks the spot where the first British shots were fired and the first patriots fell. The beginning of the struggle for liberty dates from that night and the day that followed.

Adams was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774, and was one of the two popular leaders excepted from the general pardon offered by the British government in June, 1775. He was one of the two who had sinned beyond forgiveness. Yet at first, in the Continental Congress, he spoke in favor of a peaceful settlement of the difficulty with England. This mood of softness did not last. Later, when some members of the Congress grew hopeless of success, Adams ardently exclaimed: "I should advise persisting in our struggle for liberty though it were revealed from Heaven that ninety-nine would perish and only one of a hundred were to survive and retain his liberty. One such freeman must possess more virtue and enjoy more happiness than a hundred slaves, and his children may have what he has so nobly preserved."

When the Declaration was prepared he was one of the most ready to sign it, and his signing was the occasion for the delivery of the only example of his eloquence which we possess. He closed with the words: "For my own part, I ask no greater blessing than to share the common danger and the common glory. If I have a wish dearer to my soul than that my ashes may be mingled with those of a Warren and a Montgomery, it is that these American States may never cease to be free and independent."

Adams continued in Congress until after the surrender of Yorktown, working so diligently and with such judgment and order that some have called him "the helmsman of the Revolution." He withdrew after liberty had been gained, and afterwards helped to form the constitution of Massachusetts, was a senator of that State, its Lieutenant-Governor from 1789 to 1794, and Governor from 1795 to 1797. Always poor, he died so in 1803. John Adams has said of him as a speaker and writer, that in his works may be found "specimens of a nervous simplicity of reasoning and eloquence that have never been rivaled in America."