Samuel Adams—September 27, 1722

Democratic Thinker, Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams.
September 27, 1722—October 2, 1803.

His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for his power to thunder.—

—Shakespeare, Coriolanus, III, i.


SAMUEL ADAMS was the counterpart of his distinguished associate in proscription. Hancock served the cause with his liberal opulence, Adams with his incorruptible poverty. His family, at times, suffered almost for the comforts of life, when he might have sold his influence over the councils of America for uncounted gold,—when he might have emptied the royal treasury, if he would have betrayed his country. Samuel Adams was the last of the Puritans,—a class of men to whom the cause of civil and religious liberty, on both sides of the Atlantic, is mainly indebted for the great progress which it has made for the last two hundred years; and when the Declaration of Independence was signed, that dispensation might be considered as brought to a close.

At a time when the new order of things was inducing laxity of manners and a departure from the ancient strictness, Samuel Adams clung with greater tenacity to the wholesome discipline of the fathers. His only relaxation from the business and cares of life was in the indulgence of a taste for sacred music, for which he was qualified, by the possession of a melodious voice and of a soul solemnly impressed with religious sentiment. Resistance of oppression was his vocation. On taking his second degree, he maintained the noble thesis, that it is “lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved.” Thus, at the age of twenty-one,—twenty years before the stamp act was thought of,—Samuel Adams, from the cloisters of Harvard College, announced in two lines the philosophy of the American revolution. His after life showed that his practice was not below his theory.

On leaving college, he devoted himself for some years to the profession of divinity; but he gave himself afterwards wholly to the political service of the country. He was among the earliest and ablest writers on the patriotic side. He caught the plain, downright style of the commonwealth in Great Britain. More than most of his associates, he understood the efficacy of personal intercourse with the people. It was Samuel Adams, more than any other individual, who brought the question home to their bosoms and firesides; not by profound disquisitions and elaborate reports,—though these in their place were not spared,—but in the caucus, the club-room, at the Green Dragon, in the ship-yards, in actual conference, man to man and heart to heart.

He was forty-six years of age when he first came to the House of Representatives. There he was; of course, a leader; a member of every important committee; the author of many of the ablest and boldest state papers of the time. But the throne of his ascendency was in Faneuil Hall. As each new measure of arbitrary power was announced from across the Atlantic, or each new act of menace and violence, on the part of the officers of the government or of the army, occurred in Boston, its citizens, oftentimes in astonishment and perplexity, rallied to the sound of his voice in Faneuil Hall. There, as from the crowded gallery or the moderator’s chair, he animated, enlightened, fortified, and roused the admiring throng, he seemed to gather them together beneath the aegis of his indomitable spirit, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.

With his namesake, John Adams, Warren, and Hancock, he perceived the inevitable necessity of striking for independence a considerable time before it was generally admitted. In some branches of knowledge he was excelled by other men; but one thing he knew thoroughly, and that was liberty. He began with it early, studied it long, and possessed the whole science of it. He knew it, class and order, genus and species, root and branch. Instead of quailing, his spirit mounted and mantled with the approach of the crisis. Chafed and fretted with the minor irritations of the early stages of the contest, he rose to a religious tranquility, as the decisive hour drew nigh.

In all the excitement and turmoil of the anxious days that preceded the explosion, he was of the few who never lost their balance. He was thoughtful, serious almost to the point of sternness, resolute as fate; but cheerful himself, and a living spring of animation to others. He looked forward to the impending struggle as the consummation of a great design, of which not man, but God, had laid the foundation stone on the rock of Plymouth; and when, on the morning of the day you now commemorate, the volleys of fire-arms from this spot announced to him and his companion in the neighboring field that the great battle of liberty had begun, he threw up his arms, and exclaimed, in a burst of patriotic rapture, “O, what a glorious morning is this!”

Yes, fellow-citizens, such was the exclamation of Samuel Adams, when a thousand British troops were in possession of your village, and seven of your citizens were struggling in the agonies of death. He saw that the morning sun, whose first slanting beams were dancing on the tops of the hostile bayonets, would not more surely ascend the heavens, than the sun of independence would arise on the clouded fortunes of his country. The glory he foresaw has come to pass. Two generations attest the truth of his high-souled prophecy.

—Edward Everett, from oration delivered at Lexington, 19th (20th) April, 1835, by request of the citizens of that place.

Contributed by Democratic Thinker.