Monday, June 22, 2015
Before Sam Adams was a beer
Due to the marketing campaign of a certain brewery in Massachusetts, Americans are under the mistaken impression that Samuel Adams was a young hothead in the Revolutionary War. At 53, Adams was the 10th oldest of the 56 signers of of the Declaration of Independence. He also was an educated man, not only completing college but earning a master's degree. He also was a terrible businessman who failed in several enterprises. Finally, he was technically a maltster, not a brewer.
But modern Americans get correct the most important fact about Samuel Adams: few stood as tall for truth, justice and the American Way.
Born on September 27, 1722, (September 16, 1722 under the old calendar) in Boston, he was one of the 12 children of Samuel and Mary Fifield Adams. Only three survived infancy. His father was a successful maltster who could afford to send Samuel Adams Jr. to Boston Latin School, Harvard and indulge the son's pursuit of a master's degree. The son's thesis was, “Whether It Be Lawful To Resist The Supreme Magistrate, If The Commonwealth Cannot Be Otherwise Preserved.” He was 21. For the next three decades, politics not business consumed Samuel Adams Jr.
Upon graduation, he studied for the Bar, abandoning it in favor of beginning a string of failed businesses. This grew out of disinterest rather than incompetence. He was quite a talented man, working as an expert in the tax code (there is always a tax code) in a counting house, as well as a master maltster at his father's shop. Adams was an affable man whom his fellows elected as tax collector. Comically, he never paid his taxes and to be fair he was slack in collecting them from others.
Long a radical who believed in the separation of individual and state, Adams began agitating for independence with the passage of the Stamp Act of 1765. The British Crown decided that the Americans should finance the recently successful French and Indian War, as it expanded America's frontier to the Mississippi, while the Americans believed that as England and the Hudson Bay Company got Canada in the deal, they should pay for it.
If freedom is America's religion, as Lincoln put it, then Adams was our John the Baptist, calling for a Continental Congress when a Continental Congress wasn't cool. He served in the state legislature from 1765 to 1774, then began storing guns for the revolution, which he thought was inevitable. Cousin John Adams was the remarkable speaker, but for all his failings in business, Samuel Adams worked behind the scenes making a successful revolution possible. His work was extraordinary. In 1775, Massachusetts was well-prepared for the war and while the British did occupy Boston, colonists soon forced them to retreat to the Mid-Atlantic states which had not prepared to fight.
After the war. Adams remained involved in politics, serving as lieutenant governor for a few years, becoming governor upon John Hancock's death in 1794, a post he held until 1797. He was too ill to write by then and died on October 2, 1803, shortly after his 83rd birthday. The state legislature and both houses of Congress officially mourned his death for the rest of the year.