Samuel Adams and the Boston Tea Party

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As one of his assignments for his homeschooling program, Classical Conversations, my son Joseph wrote a biographical essay about Samuel Adams. I learned many new facts from it, and on Tax Day, on Tea Party Day, I thought it deserved a wider audience. So, without further ado, meet "the most dangerous man in Massachusetts," the original rabble-rousing, naysaying tax protester.

As we begin, it's April 18, 1775, and a battalion of around 700 British soldiers are marching to Lexington to capture Sam Adams and John Hancock:

"I have a bad feeling about this, Crumshaw. Sending a whole battalion to capture two rebel leaders in Lexington--what was the Colonel thinking? The rebels are bound to notice something's up."

"Ah, James, you worry too much. Besides how are they going to alert those two rebels we're coming when they would have to pass by us, and we haven't seen a single horseman all night, not even not even so much as a coach. I still don't understand what all this 'most dangerous man in Massachusetts' rubbish is all about. How dangerous can a single politician be?" As the two men were talking a shout came from the front of the line, "Ah! What was that?!" It was Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith. He had heard a noise in the brush on the side of the road. Suddenly a large group of men jumped out of their hiding places on either side of the road.

"We're under attack, sir. A bunch of rebel farmers, we should be able to take them!" Then there was a gunshot. "I didn't ask for your opinion! Just the facts, now FIRE!"

Not many people have heard of Samuel Adams, let alone the fact that he was the one that instigated the Boston Tea Party. He was also called by many important revolutionary figures the father of the American Revolution. He preferred not to be recognized by people for his works, in fact preferred to let others take credit for his actions.

Samuel Adams was one of the most influential yet forgotten figures of the revolutionary war. He was born at noon on Sunday, September 27, 1722, to Samuel "Deacon" Adams and Mary Fifield Adams as their tenth child. His father, who was deeply involved in politics, started the Caucus Club when Sam was a young boy of three or four, and Sam would sit and listen to the men talk about politics. His father, as his nickname implies, was an accomplished clergyman. Sam also found church engaging. His favorite part of the three to four hour service was the singing. He had a fair voice, and he found the simple hymns engaging. At the age of four or five he was sent off to a "dame school" where he was taught the basics of reading writing and arithmetic. At the age of seven he attended the Boston Latin School and completed his primary education.

At the age of fourteen he left to study theology at Harvard University. Their days began at 5 am. Breakfast at 6 was bread and ale. Lunch was the same, and the only thing that was any different about dinner was that the boys were allowed meat. Saturdays were spent studying theology and Sundays were spent attending church services. Some of the subjects Sam studied were Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, natural philosophy, writing and speaking.

During this time Samuel was greatly influenced by the writings of John Locke. According to Locke's writing, all men were born with natural rights like "life, health, liberty, or possessions." The government was there to protect these rights for the people. So enthralled by the political theory of Locke and others, Adams wrote his master's thesis on "whether it be lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved." Sam graduated with a Master of Arts degree.

Sam Adams was not what you would call a tenacious employee. Oh, he was a tenacious person, but he preferred to spend his work hours discussing local and national politics with his fellow workers. Rather than employing his own son as was custom, Deacon Adams had Samuel hired at Thomas Cushing's counting house. The one thing Sam liked about working there was the one hour lunch break. He would spend it in the local pub or tavern trying to talk political sense into some stubborn farmer who cared about nothing but his crop. The downside to this was that even though Sam was able to do what he liked best, discuss politics, he always managed to get back to work at least half an hour late. The owner was soon forced to fire Sam. Sam was not angry nor did he beg for second chances. In fact he was almost happy that he was out of a job. After this, Sam's father gave him $2000 to start a new business. he ended up lending half of it to a friend who never paid it back and he spent the other half on this and that and once again he was broke. In a way, Sam's financial downfall led to him meeting one of his closest and richest friends. John Hancock was of the same mind as Sam and even helped fund the Boston Tea Party.

Sam was a politician so naturally he objected to the Townsend Acts, and he opposed every other tax no matter how small. He did not oppose the taxes because they made things expensive -- the tea tax was so inexpensive that it made British tea half as expensive as the smuggled Dutch tea -- he opposed them because they were a symbol of Parliament's ability to tax them without the colonies having any say in it. He knew it was only a matter of time before they used their power over the colonies to tax them as much as they wanted -- not just one or two taxes but if this continued everything would be taxed and outrageously so. Slowly but surely, he gathered followers who agreed with him, and formed an organization called the Sons of Liberty. They gathered under an old elm called the Liberty Tree and held meetings and protests. At some of the protests they burned effigies of important British statesmen and sometimes they even raided stamp officials homes. Sam even organized the Sons of Liberty to throw the tea from three British ships into the bay.

Another way he protested the British taxes was to write pseudonymous letters to dominant American newspapers, calling for independence. He was such an influential figure of the revolution that he was called by Parliament "the most dangerous man in Massachusetts" and by the colonists, "the Grand Incendiary." Not many people are aware of this, but Samuel Adams was one of the triggers of the battle of Lexington. The British troops marched on Lexington in an attempt to capture Sam Adams and John Hancock. Luckily Paul revere rode to warn them and they escaped. John Hancock wanted to stay but Sam managed persuade him that they were not warriors but writers and politicians.

In 1776 Sam was elected to the 2nd Continental Congress. As soon as his friends found out they cornered him and forced him to be measured for a new suit replace his extremely shabby raiment. He was one of the first men to sign the Declaration, and he was also one of the drafters of the Articles of Confederation which governed the US until the Constitution was written. He went on to become governor of Massachusetts after John Hancock and also drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. He died in 1803 at the ripe old age of 81. After his death he slowly faded into the shadows, the forgotten father of the revolution.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 15, 2009 6:35 AM.

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