Samuel Adams – Dissident Founding Father

10 Dissidents Who Changed the World: #10

10If you had to pick one founding father who was the most dissident, rabble-rousing patriot, it would have to be Samuel Adams. And, without him, U.S. citizens would probably still be paying taxes to pay down England’s war debts.

In 1722, Samuel Adams became the tenth child born to his devout Puritan parents in Boston. But, he was only the second of his brothers and sisters to live past the age of three. His dad was a church deacon, and when Adams was only 14, he entered Harvard College to begin studying theology.

At Harvard, Adams became interested in politics and the writings of John Locke, an English philosopher. According to Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, “no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.�

Adams was so enthralled, that, over 30 years before Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, he wrote his master’s thesis on “whether it be lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved.”

Hard-boiled Times in the Colonies

Samuel AdamsAfter college, Adams had to get a job. So, he returned to Boston where his father got him employed in the accounting office of a mercantile business. But, it wasn’t too long until the young patriot was fired for displaying a flagrant lack of interest in business matters.

Next, his father gave Adams �1,000 to start his own business. Adams loaned half to a friend (who never paid it back…) and blew the rest, so then his father put him to work in the family’s malt business.

Finally, Samuel sensed his calling and ran for public office. In 1746, he got elected as clerk for two future members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

A couple of years later, Adams and some friends launched The Public Advertiser, a weekly publication filled with political editorials and commentary.

In his personal writings for the publication, Adams began to reject England’s restriction of the rights of American colonists. He said that citizens shouldn’t get too caught up in their respect and praise for political leaders. He also said that people should believe the constitution, not the leaders who dictate it.

Tragedy Strikes

Just when things seemed to be looking up, in March 1748, Samuel’s father died. Samuel inherited the family brewery and a third of his father’s estate (it was divided between his sister and younger brother). But, money not being Adams’ strong point, by 1760, he was broke. By 1761, he was �8,000 in debt.

To make ends meet, he worked as a tax collector. But more importantly, over the next decade, he became an increasingly outspoken and dominant leader in town meetings.

Adams tirelessly penned protests against the British Stamp Act, which taxed the colonists to pay off debt incurred by England’s military machine. He championed the “inherent and unalienable rights” of the people, and wrote even more protests against English taxes added to imports. Then, when British troops were stationed in Boston, Adams became more dissident than ever.

The Boston Tea Party

Because tea smugglers—such as Samuel Adams’ very rich friend John Hancock—snuck tea into America without paying the British tax, tea sales plummeted for tax-paying tea importers. By 1773, the British East India Company was running a large debt and was stuck with huge warehouses filled with tea they couldn’t sell. So England passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to avoid the colonial tax altogether. It also undercut the smugglers’ tea prices, which took a bite out of the earnings of many colonists.

Boston Tea PartySamuel Adams organized a protest group called the Sons of Liberty. He organized increasingly larger protest gatherings until, on the night of December 16, 1773, over 8,000 people gathered at Boston’s Old South Church.

On a signal given by Adams, about 200 men left the meeting and headed for Griffin’s Wharf to attend what became known as the Boston Tea Party.

Disguised as Mohawk Indians, the dissidents boarded three East India Company ships that carried �10,000 worth of tea. It was more work than party considering the protestors hauled 45 tons of cargo from hold to deck, and dumped every last pound overboard by morning. The tea washed up on Boston’s shores for weeks.

Some condemned the Tea Party, including Ben Franklin, and it only made Britain tighten its controlling grip on the American colonies.

The Declaration of Independence

Although the Boston Tea Party was condemned by some colonists, it inspired plenty of others.

Soon, Adams’ dream of independence began to rub off on his second cousin, John Adams, and his wealthy friend, John Hancock. At the suggestion of Adams, representatives from all 13 colonies met to unify efforts against England. And, on July 4, 1776, Samuel Adams, his cousin—and future President—John Adams, and John Hancock, all three signed the Declaration of Independence.

Samuel Adam’s Later Years

Samuel Adams StatueAdams attended the Continental Congress until 1781. Then he served in the Massachusetts State Senate, as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and from 1794-97 as the state’s governor.

In 1803, at the age of eighty-one, Samuel Adams died in Boston.

While other founding fathers often get the glory, it was Samuel Adams who first laid the groundwork for independence. It was Samuel Adams whose dissident pen inspired tax slaves to wake up and be free. It was Samuel Adams whose pioneering use of the media and strategic persuasion inspired thirteen colonies to unite against empire.

And for that, he’s one of my favorite 10 Dissidents Who Changed the World.

* * *

“Without the character of Samuel Adams, the true history of the American Revolution can never be written. For fifty years his pen, his tongue, his activity, were constantly exerted for his country without fee or reward.” ~John Adams.

“If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” ~Samuel Adams.

* * *

Go to the next article in this series:
Andrei Sakharov – Dissident Father of the Hydrogen Bomb.

Go to the previous article in this series:
10 Dissidents Who Changed the World (Intro)

Go to the series index:
10 Dissidents Who Changed the World.

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12 Responses to Samuel Adams – Dissident Founding Father

  1. Xman says:

    Great Idea, Joe.
    Story makes him look like an ordinary man. Full of flaws and passions. Just trying to figure it out…and get some things done. I would think his story would appeal to a lot of people…at least I identified with the story.

  2. La Sirena says:

    I didn’t know much about Sam Adams — thanks. I’m looking forward to this series, cuz boy, do I love dissidents!

  3. JoeC says:

    I’m pretty fond of dissidents, too…I think they’re due for a public image makeover. There’s some really good folks who’ve been described as dissidents over the years…hard to narrow it down to just ten. This list is going to be fun, though…a few expected, a few non-expected…hope you enjoy, because I’m enjoying learning about these dissidents, too…

  4. Ben franklin was a pussy. Sucked-up to King George. Didn’t want to get behind the Revolution. Wrote a bitchen almanac and flew a mean kite and wooed French girls -for these, I forgive him.

  5. JoeC says:

    Franklin seems more the diplomatic and witty get-the-enemy-drunk-and-then-make-a-deal type. Still, Ben gets my vote for the Founding Father I’d Most Like To Spend An Evening Having A Beer On The Town With award.

  6. La Sirena says:

    And then there’s the rumor of the 64 out-of-wedlock children.
    (Insert joke here.)

  7. Indigobusiness says:

    Actually, Ben has been a personal fave since I was a kid. When I worked at an education agency, delivering films all over west Texas, one of my favorite films to take home was Ben and Me – a cartoon about a mouse (who was the brains behind Ben).

    Later, as I learned a little about history, I was a little shaken by Ben’s loyalty to the King. Now that I think more about it it, I’ve never been one to besmirch loyalty. Hush my mouth.

  8. Brent says:

    Another Top 10 series that I am looking forward to reading.

  9. Xman says:

    If you’ve never read Franklin’s letter:
    “Letter to a young man on advantages of taking an older mistress”
    (not exact quote)
    you are in for a treat.

  10. JoeC says:

    Thanks for the pointer, Xman…it delivers.

    For all of us who haven’t read it, here’s Ben Franklin in all his wit and glory, including the part about putting a basket over an older lover’s face…

    June 25, 1745
    I know of no Medicine fit to diminish the violent natural inclination you mention; and if I did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper Remedy. It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you will find solid Happiness. Your Reason against entering into it at present appears to be not well founded. The Circumstantial Advantages you have in View by Postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with the Thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the Man and Woman united that makes the complete Being. Separate she wants his force of Body and Strength of Reason; he her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are most likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissors.

    If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.

    But if you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking that Commerce with the Sex is inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice that in your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. This you call a Paradox, and demand my reasons. They are these:

    1. Because they have more Knowledge of the world, and their Minds are better stored with Observations; their conversation is more improving, and more lastingly agreeable.

    2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Man, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a thousand Services, small and great, and are the most tender and useful of Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an Old Woman who is not a good Woman.

    3. Because there is no hazard of children, which irregularly produced may be attended with much inconvenience.

    4. Because through more Experience they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your reputation; and regard to theirs, if the Affair should happen to be known, considerate People might be inclined to excuse an old Woman, who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his manners by her good Councils, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.

    5. Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part. The Face first grows lank and Wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever; so that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old one from a young one. And as in the Dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of Corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal and frequently superior; every Knack being by Practice capable by improvement.

    6. Because the sin is less. The Debauching of a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her Life unhappy.

    7. Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections; none of which can attend making an old Woman happy.

    8. 8th & lastly. They are so grateful!!!

    Thus much for my Paradox. But still I advise you to marry immediately; being sincerely

    Your Affectionate Friend,
    Benj. Franklin

  11. *more lastingly agreeable (conversation)

    *irregularly produced (children)

    *continuing to the last as plump as ever (lower parts)

    –He could sell anything, but this almost sells itself…almost.

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