Samuel Adams Essays

For the beer brand, see Samuel Adams (beer). For other uses, see Samuel Adams (disambiguation).

Samuel Adams

In this c. 1772 portrait by John Singleton Copley, Adams points at the Massachusetts Charter, which he viewed as a constitution that protected the peoples' rights.[1][2]

4th Governor of Massachusetts
In office
October 8, 1794 – June 2, 1797
LieutenantMoses Gill
Preceded byJohn Hancock
Succeeded byIncrease Sumner
3rd Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
In office
1789 – 1794
Acting Governor
October 8, 1793 – 1794
GovernorJohn Hancock
Preceded byBenjamin Lincoln
Succeeded byMoses Gill
President of the Massachusetts Senate
In office
1782–1785
1787–1788
Delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress
In office
1774–1781
Clerk of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
1766–1774
Personal details
BornSeptember 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722
Boston, Massachusetts Bay
DiedOctober 2, 1803(1803-10-02) (aged 81)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting placeGranary Burying Ground, Boston
Political partyDemocratic-Republican (1790s)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Checkley (m. 1749; d. 1757)
Elizabeth Wells (m. 1764)
Alma materHarvard College
Signature

Samuel Adams (September 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722 – October 2, 1803) was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a politician in colonial Massachusetts, a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and one of the architects of the principles of American republicanism that shaped the political culture of the United States. He was a second cousin to fellow Founding Father, President John Adams.

Adams was born in Boston, brought up in a religious and politically active family. A graduate of Harvard College, he was an unsuccessful businessman and tax collector before concentrating on politics. He was an influential official of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Boston Town Meeting in the 1760s, and he became a part of a movement opposed to the British Parliament's efforts to tax the British American colonies without their consent. His 1768 Massachusetts Circular Letter calling for colonial non-cooperation prompted the occupation of Boston by British soldiers, eventually resulting in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Adams and his colleagues devised a committee of correspondence system in 1772 to help coordinate resistance to what he saw as the British government's attempts to violate the British Constitution at the expense of the colonies, which linked like-minded Patriots throughout the Thirteen Colonies. Continued resistance to British policy resulted in the 1773 Boston Tea Party and the coming of the American Revolution.

Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, at which time Adams attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia which was convened to coordinate a colonial response. He helped guide Congress towards issuing the Continental Association in 1774 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and he helped draft the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. Adams returned to Massachusetts after the American Revolution, where he served in the state senate and was eventually elected governor.

Samuel Adams later became a controversial figure in American history. Accounts written in the 19th century praised him as someone who had been steering his fellow colonists towards independence long before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. This view gave way to negative assessments of Adams in the first half of the 20th century, in which he was portrayed as a master of propaganda who provoked mob violence to achieve his goals. Both of these interpretations have been challenged by some modern scholars, who argue that these traditional depictions of Adams are myths contradicted by the historical record.

Early life

Samuel Adams was born in Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts on September 16, 1722, an Old Style date that is sometimes converted to the New Style date of September 27. Adams was one of twelve children born to Samuel Adams, Sr., and Mary (Fifield) Adams in an age of high infant mortality; only three of these children lived past their third birthday.[7] Adams's parents were devout Puritans and members of the Old South Congregational Church. The family lived on Purchase Street in Boston.[7] Adams was proud of his Puritan heritage, and emphasized Puritan values in his political career, especially virtue.

Samuel Adams, Sr. (1689–1748) was a prosperous merchant and church deacon.[7] Deacon Adams became a leading figure in Boston politics through an organization that became known as the Boston Caucus, which promoted candidates who supported popular causes.[13] The Boston Caucus helped shape the agenda of the Boston Town Meeting. A New England town meeting is a form of local government with elected officials, and not just a gathering of citizens; according to historian William Fowler, it was "the most democratic institution in the British empire".[13] Deacon Adams rose through the political ranks, becoming a justice of the peace, a selectman, and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He worked closely with Elisha Cooke, Jr. (1678–1737), the leader of the "popular party", a faction that resisted any encroachment by royal officials on the colonial rights embodied in the Massachusetts Charter of 1691. In the coming years, members of the "popular party" became known as Whigs or Patriots.[22][23]

The younger Samuel Adams attended Boston Latin School and then entered Harvard College in 1736. His parents hoped that his schooling would prepare him for the ministry, but Adams gradually shifted his interest to politics.[7] After graduating in 1740, Adams continued his studies, earning a master's degree in 1743. In his thesis, he argued that it was "lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved", which indicated that his political views, like his father's, were oriented towards colonial rights.[28]

Adams's life was greatly affected by his father's involvement in a banking controversy. In 1739, Massachusetts was facing a serious currency shortage, and Deacon Adams and the Boston Caucus created a "land bank" which issued paper money to borrowers who mortgaged their land as security.[30][31] The land bank was generally supported by the citizenry and the popular party, which dominated the House of Representatives, the lower branch of the General Court. Opposition to the land bank came from the more aristocratic "court party", who were supporters of the royal governor and controlled the Governor's Council, the upper chamber of the General Court.[31] The court party used its influence to have the British Parliament dissolve the land bank in 1741.[33] Directors of the land bank, including Deacon Adams, became personally liable for the currency still in circulation, payable in silver and gold. Lawsuits over the bank persisted for years, even after Deacon Adams's death, and the younger Samuel Adams often had to defend the family estate from seizure by the government.[28][33][35][36][37][38][39] For Adams, these lawsuits "served as a constant personal reminder that Britain's power over the colonies could be exercised in arbitrary and destructive ways".[39]

Early career

After leaving Harvard in 1743, Adams was unsure about his future. He considered becoming a lawyer, but instead decided to go into business. He worked at Thomas Cushing's counting house, but the job only lasted a few months because Cushing felt that Adams was too preoccupied with politics to become a good merchant.[41] Adams's father then lent him £1,000 to go into business for himself, a substantial amount for that time.[41][30] Adams's lack of business instincts were confirmed; he lent half of this money to a friend who never repaid, and frittered away the other half. Adams always remained, in the words of historian Pauline Maier, "a man utterly uninterested in either making or possessing money".[42]

After Adams had lost his money, his father made him a partner in the family's malthouse, which was next to the family home on Purchase Street. Several generations of Adamses were maltsters, who produced the malt necessary for brewing beer. Years later, a poet poked fun at Adams by calling him "Sam the maltster".[28] Adams has often been described as a brewer, but the extant evidence suggests that he worked as a maltster and not a brewer.[47]

In January 1748, Adams and some friends were inflamed by British impressment and launched The Independent Advertiser, a weekly newspaper that printed many political essays written by Adams.[28] His essays drew heavily upon English political theorist John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, and they emphasized many of the themes that characterized his subsequent career.[35] He argued that the people must resist any encroachment on their constitutional rights.[35] He cited the decline of the Roman Empire as an example of what could happen to New England if it were to abandon its Puritan values.

When Deacon Adams died in 1748, Adams was given the responsibility of managing the family's affairs. In October 1749, he married Elizabeth Checkley, his pastor's daughter.[36] Elizabeth gave birth to six children over the next seven years, but only two lived to adulthood: Samuel (born 1751) and Hannah (born 1756).[36] In July 1757, Elizabeth died soon after giving birth to a stillborn son.[36] Adams remarried in 1764 to Elizabeth Wells, but had no other children.[42]

Like his father, Adams embarked on a political career with the support of the Boston Caucus. He was elected to his first political office in 1747, serving as one of the clerks of the Boston market. In 1756, the Boston Town Meeting elected him to the post of tax collector, which provided a small income.[28][35][36][56] He often failed to collect taxes from his fellow citizens, which increased his popularity among those who did not pay, but left him liable for the shortage.[57] By 1765, his account was more than £8,000 in arrears. The town meeting was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Adams was compelled to file suit against delinquent taxpayers, but many taxes went uncollected.[58] In 1768, his political opponents used the situation to their advantage, obtaining a court judgment of £1,463 against him. Adams's friends paid off some of the deficit, and the town meeting wrote off the remainder. By then, he had emerged as a leader of the popular party, and the embarrassing situation did not lessen his influence.[59][60]

Struggle with Great Britain

Samuel Adams emerged as an important public figure in Boston soon after the British Empire's victory in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). The British Parliament found itself deep in debt and looking for new sources of revenue, and they sought to directly tax the colonies of British America for the first time.[62] This tax dispute was part of a larger divergence between British and American interpretations of the British Constitution and the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies.[63]

Sugar Act

The first step in the new program was the Sugar Act of 1764, which Adams saw as an infringement of longstanding colonial rights. Colonists were not represented in Parliament, he argued, and therefore they could not be taxed by that body; the colonists were represented by the colonial assemblies, and only they could levy taxes upon them. Adams expressed these views in May 1764, when the Boston Town Meeting elected its representatives to the Massachusetts House. As was customary, the town meeting provided the representatives with a set of written instructions, which Adams was selected to write. Adams highlighted what he perceived to be the dangers of taxation without representation:

For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain. If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?[66]

"When the Boston Town Meeting approved the Adams instructions on May 24, 1764," writes historian John K. Alexander, "it became the first political body in America to go on record stating Parliament could not constitutionally tax the colonists. The directives also contained the first official recommendation that the colonies present a unified defense of their rights."[67] Adams's instructions were published in newspapers and pamphlets, and he soon became closely associated with James Otis, Jr., a member of the Massachusetts House famous for his defense of colonial rights.[67] Otis boldly challenged the constitutionality of certain acts of Parliament, but he would not go as far as Adams, who was moving towards the conclusion that Parliament did not have sovereignty over the colonies.[68][22]

Stamp Act

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which required colonists to pay a new tax on most printed materials.[62][70] News of the passage of the Stamp Act produced an uproar in the colonies. The colonial response echoed Adams's 1764 instructions. In June 1765, Otis called for a Stamp Act Congress to coordinate colonial resistance.[74] The Virginia House of Burgesses passed a widely reprinted set of resolves against the Stamp Act that resembled Adams's arguments against the Sugar Act.[74] Adams argued that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional; he also believed that it would hurt the economy of the British Empire. He supported calls for a boycott of British goods to put pressure on Parliament to repeal the tax.[74][75]

In Boston, a group called the Loyal Nine, a precursor to the Sons of Liberty, organized protests of the Stamp Act. Adams was friendly with the Loyal Nine but was not a member.[75] On August 14, stamp distributor Andrew Oliver was hanged in effigy from Boston's Liberty Tree; that night, his home was ransacked and his office demolished. On August 26, lieutenant governor Thomas Hutchinson's home was destroyed by an angry crowd.

Officials such as Governor Francis Bernard believed that common people acted only under the direction of agitators and blamed the violence on Adams.[79] This interpretation was revived by scholars in the early 20th century, who viewed Adams as a master of propaganda who manipulated mobs into doing his bidding.[58] For example, historian John C. Miller wrote in 1936 in what became the standard biography of Adams that Adams "controlled" Boston with his "trained mob". Some modern scholars have argued that this interpretation is a myth, and that there is no evidence that Adams had anything to do with the Stamp Act riots.[79][58] After the fact, Adams did approve of the August 14 action because he saw no other legal options to resist what he viewed as an unconstitutional act by Parliament, but he condemned attacks on officials' homes as "mobbish".[86][87] According to the modern scholarly interpretation of Adams, he supported legal methods of resisting parliamentary taxation, such as petitions, boycotts, and nonviolent demonstrations, but he opposed mob violence which he saw as illegal, dangerous, and counter-productive.[87]

In September 1765, Adams was once again appointed by the Boston Town Meeting to write the instructions for Boston's delegation to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. As it turned out, he wrote his own instructions; on September 27, the town meeting selected him to replace the recently deceased Oxenbridge Thacher as one of Boston's four representatives in the assembly.[90] James Otis was attending the Stamp Act Congress in New York City, so Adams was the primary author of a series of House resolutions against the Stamp Act, which were more radical than those passed by the Stamp Act Congress.[91][92] Adams was one of the first colonial leaders to argue that mankind possessed certain natural rights that governments could not violate.[92]

The Stamp Act was scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765, but it was not enforced because protestors throughout the colonies had compelled stamp distributors to resign.[92] Eventually, British merchants were able to convince Parliament to repeal the tax.[93] By May 16, 1766, news of the repeal had reached Boston. There was celebration throughout the city, and Adams made a public statement of thanks to British merchants for helping their cause.

The Massachusetts popular party gained ground in the May 1766 elections. Adams was re-elected to the House and selected as its clerk, in which position he was responsible for official House papers. In the coming years, Adams used his position as clerk to great effect in promoting his political message.[96][97][98][99] Joining Adams in the House was John Hancock, a new representative from Boston. Hancock was a wealthy merchant—perhaps the richest man in Massachusetts—but a relative newcomer to politics. He was initially a protégé of Adams, and he used his wealth to promote the Whig cause.[101][102]

Townshend Acts

After the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament took a different approach to raising revenue, passing the Townshend Acts in 1767 which established new duties on various goods imported into the colonies. These duties were relatively low because the British ministry wanted to establish the precedent that Parliament had the right to impose tariffs on the colonies before raising them.[103] Revenues from these duties were to be used to pay for governors and judges who would be independent of colonial control. To enforce compliance with the new laws, the Townshend Acts created a customs agency known as the American Board of Custom Commissioners, which was headquartered in Boston.[104][103]

Resistance to the Townshend Acts grew slowly. The General Court was not in session when news of the acts reached Boston in October 1767. Adams therefore used the Boston Town Meeting to organize an economic boycott, and called for other towns to do the same.[103] By February 1768, towns in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had joined the boycott.[103] Opposition to the Townshend Acts was also encouraged by Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, a series of popular essays by John Dickinson which started appearing in December 1767. Dickinson's argument that the new taxes were unconstitutional had been made before by Adams, but never to such a wide audience.[105]

In January 1768, the Massachusetts House sent a petition to King George asking for his help.[105][106] Adams and Otis requested that the House send the petition to the other colonies, along with what became known as the Massachusetts Circular Letter, which became "a significant milestone on the road to revolution".[105] The letter written by Adams called on the colonies to join with Massachusetts in resisting the Townshend Acts.[108] The House initially voted against sending the letter and petition to the other colonies but, after some politicking by Adams and Otis, it was approved on February 11.[108]

British colonial secretaryLord Hillsborough, hoping to prevent a repeat of the Stamp Act Congress, instructed the colonial governors in America to dissolve the assemblies if they responded to the Massachusetts Circular Letter. He also directed Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard to have the Massachusetts House rescind the letter.[60] On June 30, the House refused to rescind the letter by a vote of 92 to 17, with Adams citing their right to petition as justification.[113] Far from complying with the governor's order, Adams instead presented a new petition to the king asking that Governor Bernard be removed from office. Bernard responded by dissolving the legislature.[113]

The commissioners of the Customs Board found that they were unable to enforce trade regulations in Boston, so they requested military assistance.[114] Help came in the form of the HMS Romney, a fifty-gun warship which arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768.[114] Tensions escalated after the captain of the Romney began to impress local sailors. The situation exploded on June 10, when customs officials seized the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock—a leading critic of the Customs Board—for alleged customs violations. Sailors and marines came ashore from the Romney to tow away the Liberty, and a riot broke out. Things calmed down in the following days, but fearful customs officials packed up their families and fled for protection to the Romney and eventually to Castle William, an island fort in the harbor.[114][43][115][116]

Governor Bernard wrote to London in response to the Liberty incident and the struggle over the Circular Letter, informing his superiors that troops were needed in Boston to restore order.[115][116] Lord Hillsborough ordered four regiments of the British Army to Boston.

Boston under occupation

Learning that British troops were on the way, the Boston Town Meeting met on September 12, 1768 and requested that Governor Bernard convene the General Court.[118][119] Bernard refused, so the town meeting called on the other Massachusetts towns to send representatives to meet at Faneuil Hall beginning on September 22.[119][120] About 100 towns sent delegates to the convention, which was effectively an unofficial session of the Massachusetts House. The convention issued a letter which insisted that Boston was not a lawless town, using language more moderate than what Adams desired, and that the impending military occupation violated Bostonians' natural, constitutional, and charter rights.[120] By the time that the convention adjourned, British troop transports had arrived in Boston Harbor. Two regiments disembarked in October 1768, followed by two more in November.[122]

According to some accounts, the occupation of Boston was a turning point for Adams, after which he gave up hope of reconciliation and secretly began to work towards American independence.[126][122] However, historian Carl Becker wrote in 1928 that "there is no clear evidence in his contemporary writings that such was the case."[127] Nevertheless, the traditional, standard view of Adams is that he desired independence before most of his contemporaries and steadily worked towards this goal for years. Historian Pauline Maier challenged that idea in 1980, arguing instead that Adams, like most of his peers, did not embrace independence until after the American Revolutionary War had begun in 1775.[132] According to Maier, Adams at this time was a reformer rather than a revolutionary; he sought to have the British ministry change its policies, and warned Britain that independence would be the inevitable result of a failure to do so.

Adams wrote numerous letters and essays in opposition to the occupation, which he considered a violation of the 1689 Bill of Rights.[137] The occupation was publicized throughout the colonies in the Journal of Occurrences, an unsigned series of newspaper articles that may have been written by Adams in collaboration with others. The Journal presented what it claimed to be a factual daily account of events in Boston during the military occupation, an innovative approach in an era without professional newspaper reporters. It depicted a Boston besieged by unruly British soldiers who assaulted men and raped women with regularity and impunity, drawing upon the traditional Anglo-American distrust of standing armies garrisoned among civilians.[141][142] The Journal ceased publication on August 1, 1769, which was a day of celebration in Boston: Governor Bernard had left Massachusetts, never to return.[23]

Adams continued to work on getting the troops withdrawn and keeping the boycott going until the Townshend duties were repealed. Two regiments were removed from Boston in 1769, but the other two remained.[23] Tensions between soldiers and civilians eventually resulted in the killing of five civilians in the Boston Massacre of March 1770. According to the "propagandist interpretation" of Adams popularized by historian John Miller, Adams deliberately provoked the incident to promote his secret agenda of American independence. According to Pauline Maier, however, "There is no evidence that he prompted the Boston Massacre riot".

After the Boston Massacre, Adams and other town leaders met with Bernard's successor Governor Thomas Hutchinson and with Colonel William Dalrymple, the army commander, to demand the withdrawal of the troops.[148] The situation remained explosive, and so Dalrymple agreed to remove both regiments to Castle William.[148][150][151] Adams wanted the soldiers to have a fair trial, because this would show that Boston was not controlled by a lawless mob, but was instead the victim of an unjust occupation. He convinced his cousins John Adams and Josiah Quincy to defend the soldiers, knowing that those Whigs would not slander Boston to gain an acquittal.[151][153] However, Adams wrote essays condemning the outcome of the trials; he thought that the soldiers should have been convicted of murder.[156][157]

"Quiet period"

After the Boston Massacre, politics in Massachusetts entered what is sometimes known as the "quiet period".[158] In April 1770, Parliament repealed the Townshend duties, except for the tax on tea. Adams urged colonists to keep up the boycott of British goods, arguing that paying even one small tax allowed Parliament to establish the precedent of taxing the colonies, but the boycott faltered.[159] As economic conditions improved, support waned for Adams's causes.[161] In 1770, first New York City then Philadelphia abandoned the non-importation boycott of British goods. Faced with the risk of being economically ruined, Boston merchants agreed to generally end the non-importation and effectively defeated Samuel Adams' cause in Massachusetts.[159] John Adams withdrew from politics, while John Hancock and James Otis appeared to become more moderate.[162][163][164] Samuel Adams was re-elected to the Massachusetts House in April 1772, but he received far fewer votes than ever before.[165]

A struggle over the power of the purse brought Adams back into the political limelight. Traditionally, the Massachusetts House of Representatives paid the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, and superior court judges. From the Whig perspective, this arrangement was an important check on executive power, keeping royally appointed officials accountable to democratically elected representatives. In 1772, Massachusetts learned that those officials would henceforth be paid by the British government rather than by the province.[168] To protest this development, Adams and his colleagues devised a system of committees of correspondence in November 1772; the towns of Massachusetts would consult with each other concerning political matters via messages sent through a network of committees that recorded British activities and protested imperial policies. Committees of correspondence soon formed in other colonies, as well.

Governor Hutchinson became concerned that the committees of correspondence were growing into an independence movement, so he convened the General Court in January 1773.[170][171] Addressing the legislature, Hutchinson argued that denying the supremacy of Parliament, as some committees had done, came dangerously close to rebellion. "I know of no line that can be drawn", he said, "between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies."[171] Adams and the House responded that the Massachusetts Charter did not establish Parliament's supremacy over the province, and so Parliament could not claim that authority now.[171][173] Hutchinson soon realized that he had made a major blunder by initiating a public debate about independence and the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies.[174] The Boston Committee of Correspondence published its statement of colonial rights, along with Hutchinson's exchange with the Massachusetts House, in the widely distributed "Boston Pamphlet".

The quiet period in Massachusetts was over. Adams was easily re-elected to the Massachusetts House in May 1773, and was also elected as moderator of the Boston Town Meeting.[175] In June 1773, Adams introduced a set of private letters to the Massachusetts House, written by Hutchinson several years earlier. In one letter, Hutchinson recommended to London that there should be "an abridgement of what are called English liberties" in Massachusetts. Hutchinson denied that this is what he meant, but his career in Massachusetts was effectively over. The House sent a petition to the king asking for his recall.[176][177][179]

Tea Party

Adams took a leading role in the events that led up to the famous Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, although the precise nature of his involvement has been disputed.

In May 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, a tax law to help the struggling East India Company, one of Great Britain's most important commercial institutions. Britons could buy smuggled Dutch tea more cheaply than the East India Company's tea because of the heavy taxes imposed on tea imported into Great Britain, and so the company amassed a huge surplus of tea that it could not sell.[180] The British government's solution to the problem was to sell the surplus in the colonies. The Tea Act permitted the East India Company to export tea directly to the colonies for the first time, bypassing most of the merchants who had previously acted as middlemen. This measure was a threat to the American colonial economy because it granted the Tea Company a significant cost advantage over local tea merchants and even local tea smugglers, driving them out of business. The act also reduced the taxes on tea paid by the company in Britain, but kept the controversial Townshend duty on tea imported in the colonies. A few merchants in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charlestown were selected to receive the company's tea for resale. In late 1773, seven ships were sent to the colonies carrying East India Company tea, including four bound for Boston.

News of the Tea Act set off a firestorm of protest in the colonies.[188] This was not a dispute about high taxes; the price of legally imported tea was actually reduced by the Tea Act. Protesters were instead concerned with a variety of other issues. The familiar "no taxation without representation" argument remained prominent, along with the question of the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies.[190] Some colonists worried that, by buying the cheaper tea, they would be conceding that Parliament had the right to tax them.[188] The "power of the purse" conflict was still at issue. The tea tax revenues were to be used to pay the salaries of certain royal officials, making them independent of the people. Colonial smugglers played a significant role in the protests, since the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper, which threatened to put smugglers of Dutch tea out of business.[193] Legitimate tea importers who had not been named as consignees by the East India Company were also threatened with financial ruin by the Tea Act,[194] and other merchants worried about the precedent of a government-created monopoly.[188]

Adams and the correspondence committees promoted opposition to the Tea Act.[188][196] In every colony except Massachusetts, protesters were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England. In Boston, however, Governor Hutchinson was determined to hold his ground. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down. The Boston Caucus and then the Town Meeting attempted to compel the consignees to resign, but they refused.[196][204] With the tea ships about to arrive, Adams and the Boston Committee of Correspondence contacted nearby committees to rally support.[204][209]

The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, and Adams wrote a circular letter calling for a mass meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall on November 29. Thousands of people arrived, so many that the meeting was moved to the larger Old South Meeting House.[210][209] British law required the Dartmouth to unload and pay the duties within twenty days or customs officials could confiscate the cargo.[211] The mass meeting passed a resolution introduced by Adams urging the captain of the Dartmouth to send the ship back without paying the import duty.[209] Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent the tea from being unloaded.[209]

Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty. Two more tea ships arrived in Boston Harbor, the Eleanor and the Beaver. The fourth ship, the William, was stranded near Cape Cod and never arrived to Boston. December 16 was the last day of the Dartmouth's deadline, and about 7,000 people gathered around the Old South Meeting House.[213] Adams received a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, and he announced, "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." According to a popular story, Adams's statement was a prearranged signal for the "tea party" to begin. However, this claim did not appear in print until nearly a century after the event, in a biography of Adams written by his great-grandson, who apparently misinterpreted the evidence. According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams's alleged "signal", and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.[222]

Paul Revere's 1768 engraving of British troops arriving in Boston was reprinted throughout the colonies.
Samuel Adams as he looked in 1795 when he was Governor of Massachusetts. The original portrait was destroyed by fire; this is a mezzotint copy.
This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become standard.[195]

Study Questions

What prompted the British government to begin aggressive taxation of the colonies?

Britain realized that supporting the colonies was getting expensive. British troops protected the colonies against attack, and the cost of the French and Indian War only mounted. The Crown decided that the colonies should begin to carry some of the burden of their defense.

Why did the British not understand the colonists' vehement objections to the Stamp Act?

The British government saw the Stamp Act as an exceedingly progressive form of taxation as it taxed colonies in proportion to their wealth. However, the government missed the larger issue, which was that the colonies did not want Britain to be able to take anything with their consent.

What did Adams mean when he said "No taxation without representation"?

Adams argued not that America should remain tax-free, but that the colonies should have a voice in the shaping of monetary policies that affected them. That way, they could at least be ensured that their arguments had been heard, even if the eventual outcome did not change.

Suggested Essay Topics

As Sam Adams asked in his master's degree studies: Is it "lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved?"

What came first: Britain's tyranny or Sam Adams' rebellious writings?

How much blame does Adams' bear for the Boston Massacre? Did he cross the line by provoking the crowd to such a point that the rally ended in bloodshed?

How did Adams more-or-less force the Boston Tea Party?

Does Adams deserve the title of "Father of America"?

Why did Adams reject the Constitution?

How did Adams' Puritan roots affect his political life? How is this reflected in Article III of the Massachusetts Constitution?

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