Samuel Adams

SAMUEL ADAMS was one of the most remarkable men connected with the American revolution. He was descended from a family that had been among the early planters of New England, was born in Boston, September 27, 1722, was educated at Harvard college, and received its honors in 1740. When he took the degree of master, in 1743, he proposed the following question: Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved?' He maintained the affirmative, and this collegiate exercise furnished a very significant index to his subsequent political career. On leaving the university, he engaged in the study of divinity, with the intention of becoming a clergyman, but did not pursue his design. From his earliest youth, his attention was drawn to political affairs, and he occupied himself, both in conversation and writing, with the political concerns of the day. He was opposed to governor Shirley, because he thought too much power was conferred upon him, and was the friend of his successor, Pownal, as the latter assumed the popular side. He became so entirely a public man, and discovered such a jealous, watchful and unyielding regard for popular rights, that he excited the general attention of the patriotic party, and they took the opportunity, in the year 1766, to place him in the legislature. From that period till the close of the revolutionary war, he was one of the most unwearied, efficient, and disinterested assertors of American freedom and independence. He grew conspicuous very soon after his admission into the house, of which he was chosen clerk, it being then the practice to take that officer from among the members. He obtained the same kind of influence, and exercised the same indefatigable activity in the affairs of the legislature, that he did in those of his town. He was upon every committee, had a hand in writing or revising every report, a share in the management of every political meeting, private or public, and a voice in all the measures that were proposed, to counteract the tyrannical plans of the administration. The people soon found him to be one of the steadiest of their supporters, and the government was convinced that he was one of the most inveterate of its opponents. When his character was known in England, and it was also understood that he was poor, the partisans of the ministry, who felt annoyed by the disturbances in America,' resorted to the usual practice, when the clamorous grow too troublesome, and proposed that he should be quieted by a participation in some of the good things they were enjoying. Governor Hutchinson, in answering the inquiry of a friend, why he was not silenced in this manner, wrote, with an expression of impatient vexation - ' Such is the obstinacy and inflexible disposition of the man, that he never can be conciliated by any office or gift whatever.'

He continued in the legislature till 1774, when he was sent to the first congress of the old confederation. He was subsequently chosen secretary of Massachusetts in 1775, which office was performed by deputy during his absence. He was one of the signers of the declaration of 1776, which he labored most indefatigably and unhesitatingly to bring forward. He was an active member of the convention that formed the constitution of Massachusetts; and, after it went into effect, he was placed in the senate of the state, and for several years presided over that body. In 1789, he was elected lieutenant-governor, and held that office till 1794, when, after the death of Hancock, he was chosen governor, and was annually reelected till 1797. He then retired from public life, and died at his house in Winter street, Boston, October 2d, 1803, in the 82d year of his age. He was one of that class who saw very early, that, after all, we must fight and, having come to that conclusion, there was no citizen more prepared for the extremity, or who would have been more reluctant to enter into any kind of compromise. After he had received warning at Lexington, in the night of the 18th of April, of the intended British expedition, as he proceeded to make his escape through the fields with some friends, soon after the dawn of day, he exclaimed, This is a fine day! ' Very pleasant, indeed,' answered one of his companions, supposing he alluded to the beauty of the sky and atmosphere. I mean,' he replied, this day is a glorious day for America! ' His situation at that moment was full of peril and uncertainty, but, throughout the contest, no damage to himself or to his country ever discouraged or depressed him. The very faults of his character tended, in some degree, to render his services more useful, by concentrating his exertions, and preventing their being weakened by indulgence or liberality towards different opinions. There was some tinge of bigotry and narrowness both in his religion and politics. He was a strict Calvinist; and, probably, no individual of his day had so much of the feelings of the ancient Puritans as he possessed. In politics, he was so jealous of delegated power, that he would not have given our constitutions inherent force enough for their own preservation. He attached an exclusive value to the habits and principles in which he had been educated, and wished to adjust wide concerns too closely after a particular model. One of his colleagues, who knew him well, and estimated him highly, described him, with goodnatured exaggeration, in the following manner: Samuel Adams would have the state of Massachusetts govern the Union, the town of Boston govern Massachusetts, and that he should govern the town of Boston, and then the whole would not be intentionally ill-governed.' It was a sad error of judgment that caused him to undervalue, for a period at least, the services of Washington during the revolutionary war, and to think that his popularity, when president, might be dangerous. Still, these unfounded prejudices were honestly entertained, and sprang naturally from his disposition and doctrines. During the war, he was impatient for some more decisive action than it was in the power of the commander-in-chief, for a long time, to bring about; and when the new constitution went into operation, its leaning towards aristocracy, which was the absurd imputation of its enemies, and which his anti-federal bias led him more readily to believe, derived all its plausibility from the just, generous and universal confidence that was reposed in the chief magistrate. These things influenced his conduct in old age, when he was governor of Massachusetts, and while the extreme heat of political feelings would have made it impossible for a much less positive character to administer any public concerns, without one of the parties of that day being dissatisfied. But all these circumstances are to be disregarded, in making an estimate of his services. He, in fact, was born for the revolutionary epoch; he was trained and nurtured in it, and all his principles and views were deeply imbued with the dislikes and partialities which were created during that long struggle. He belonged to the revolution; all the power and peculiarity of his character were developed in that career; and his share in public life, under a subsequent state of things, must be considered as subordinate and unimportant. His private habits were simple, frugal and unostentatious. Notwithstanding the austerity of his character, his aspect was mild, dignified and gentlemanly. He was entirely superior to pecuniary considerations, and, after having been so many years in the public service, must have been buried at the public expense, if the afflicting death of an only son had not remedied this honorable poverty.