Tab menu  
Library > Founding FathersSamuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Section header
Principal Organizer of the Boston Tea Party
Founder of the Sons of Liberty
Signer of Declaration of Independence
Governor of Massachusetts
Quotes on the Second Amendment
Click on image to view a larger version.
Quotes on the Second Amendment:

"The Constitution shall never be prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms." (Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87)

"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, 1780)

[Back to top]

SAMUEL ADAMS was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 27, 1722, one of the twelve children of Samuel and Mary Fifield Adams. The elder Samuel Adams was a man of wealth and influence. He owned a large estate on Purchase Street, with a noble mansion fronting the harbor, and it was here the younger Samuel Adams was born. The father was always a leader, and it is from him that the younger Samuel inherited the political tastes and aptitudes that were to make him the most illustrious citizen that Massachusetts has ever produced.

Young Adams was educated first at the Boston Latin School, then at Harvard College, where he was graduated in 1740. Very little is known of his college life, except that he was noted as a diligent student, fond of quoting Greek and Latin. In 1743, as a candidate for the master's degree, he chose as the subject for his thesis the question, "Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate if the commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved". He answered this question in the affirmative. History has not told us how this bold doctrine affected Governor Shirley and the other officers of the crown who sat there on commencement day listening to Adams thesis.

It was his father's wish that Samuel would become a clergyman, but the son had no taste for theology and preferred law. However, in those days, law was not considered a respectable profession, and his mother made that fact know to Samuel many times over. After a short time, Samuel yielded to his mother's objections to the law and he entered the counting house of Thomas Cushing, who was a prominent merchant. At twenty-one, Samuel won his first post as clerk of the market, a solid training ground for a neophyte politician. Shortly thereafter, Samuel's father gave him ₤1,000 to set up a business for himself. Samuel lent half of his money to a friend, who never returned it and lost the other half in bad deals. Samuel then became a partner with his father in a brewery, but that business did not prosper.

Around this time, his father lost most of his fortune in a wildcat banking enterprise that helped shape young Samuel's future. In 1690, Massachusetts had issued paper money with the inevitable results. Coin was driven from circulation and there was a great inflation of prices with frequent fluctuations. This led to complaints from British merchants who were trading with Massachusetts, and the King ordered the Governor to veto any further issue of paper money. A disagreement ensued between the governor and the legislature and as the veto of the governor was inevitable, two joint-stock banking companies were created to meet the emergency. One was known as the "silver scheme", which was patronized chiefly by merchants. It issued notes to be redeemed in silver at the end of ten years. The second, which was known as the "manufactory scheme", issued notes redeemable in products or goods after twenty years. It was with the latter scheme that Adams father invested. There were 800 or so stockholders in the banking companies and they not only controlled the Massachusetts legislature, but they also succeeded in achieving Governor Belcher's removal in 1741. However, Britain won out in the end. There was an Act of Parliament that extended to the colonies, an earlier Act of George I, that forbade the incorporation of joint-stock companies with more than six partners. The two Massachusetts banking companies were then obliged to suspend operations and redeem their script. All of the partners of the companies were held individually liable, and each was quickly ruined. The wealth of the elder Adams melted away in a moment. Friends of the banking companies denounced this Act of Parliament as a violation of the chartered rights of the colony and they questioned the extent of the authority of Parliament in America. So in a certain sense, Samuel Adams may be said to have inherited his quarrel with the British government.

After the death of his father in 1748, Samuel carried on the brewery by himself and soon was made tax collector for the town of Boston. As tax collector, he became personally acquainted with everybody in Boston, and his qualities soon won for him great respect and influence. He was an adroit political manager and he had courage and indomitable perseverance. He had a genuine sympathy for men with leather aprons and hands browned by toil he knew how to win their confidence and he never abused it for he was in no sense a demagogue. He was nothing like John Hancock, Adams cared nothing for personal glory, to him the cause was paramount and his most important activities were behind the scenes. In the town meeting, he was a power, however, it was not until his forty-second year that his great public career began.

In May 1764, he drafted the instructions given by the town of Boston to its newly chosen representatives in regard to Grenville's proposed Stamp Act. These instructions were the first public protest in America against the right of Parliament to tax the colonies. The next year, he was elected to the legislature, where he remained until 1774, officiating as clerk of the house, and drafting most of the remarkable state papers of that period of fierce agitation. As clerk of the house, Adams had his eye on everything, and his hand entered into numerous resolutions. On the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767, Adams wrote the petition of the Massachusetts legislature to the King, the letter of instructions to their agent in England, and the circular letter addressed to the other colonies, inviting their aid in the defense of the common rights of Americans. This circular letter especially enraged the King and he directed the governor to have the legislature rescind the circular letter or face immediate dissolution. After several days' discussion the legislature by a vote of 92 to 17 refused to rescind. This obstinacy had much to do with the decision of the British government to send troops to Boston in the hope of over-awing the people.

On the morning after the famous Boston Massacre, Adams was appointed chairman of a committee to communicate the votes of the town meeting to the governor and council. More than 5,000 people were present at the town meeting, which was held in the Old South Meetinghouse. All the neighboring streets were crowded. Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson, with the council and Colonel Dalrymple, the commander of the two British regiments, sat in the Old State House at the head of King Street. When Adams presented the demand of the town meeting--that the soldiers should be removed to the castle in the harbor-- Hutchinson at first disclaimed any authority in the matter. Adams reminded him that as acting governor of Massachusetts he was commander in chief of all troops within the province. Hutchinson consulted awhile with Dalrymple, and at length replied that the colonel was willing to remove one of the regiments in order to appease the indignation of the people. The committee, led by Adams, returned to the Meetinghouse with this message, and as they proceeded through the crowded streets, Adams, bowing to the right an left, passed along the watchword, "Both regiments or none!" When the question was put to the vote 5,000 voices shouted "Both regiments or none!" Armed with this ultimatum, Adams returned to the State House and warned Hutchinson that if he failed to remove both regiments before nightfall, he did so at his peril. Hutchinson was as brave and as obstinate as Adams, but two regiments were powerless in the presence of the angry crowd that filled Boston and before sunset they were removed to the castle. These troops were ever afterward known in Parliament as the "Sam Adams regiments."

In 1772, the British government went a step further than anything it had yet done toward driving Massachusetts into rebellion. It was ordered that the judges, holding their offices at the Kings pleasure, should be paid by the British crown and not by the colony. This act, which was aimed directly at the independence of the judiciary, aroused intense indignation. The judges were threatened with impeachment if they should dare to accept a penny from the crown. The people of Boston, in a town meeting, asked Hutchinson to convene the legislature to decide what should be done about the judges' salaries. When Hutchinson refused, Adams proposed that all the towns of Massachusetts should appoint "committees of correspondence" to consult with each other about their common welfare. Such a step was legal, but it virtually created a revolutionary legislative body, about which the governor could do nothing. Within a few months eighty towns had chosen their committees of correspondence, and the system was in full operation. Hutchinson at first scoffed at it, for he did not see where it was leading. The next spring, Dabney Carr of Virginia moved that inter-colonial committees of correspondence should be formed, and this was soon done. Only one more step was needed. It was necessary that the inter-colonial committees assemble in one place. They would be a continental congress speaking in the name of the united colonies and if need be, supersede the royal government. By such stages the revolutionary government that declared the independence of the United States was formed. It administered the affairs of the new nation until 1789. It was Samuel Adams who took the first step toward its construction, although the idea had been first suggested in 1765 by the great preacher Jonathan Mayhew.

Samuel Adams was the first American statesman to come to the conclusion that independence was the only remedy for the troubles of the colonies. Since 1768 he acted upon this conviction without publicly avowing it. When the British closed Boston harbor and annulled the charter of Massachusetts in response to the Boston Tea Party, all the colonies became alarmed. Through the inter-colonial committees of correspondence, Massachusetts was invited to take the lead in assembling the first meeting of the continental congress. Samuel Adams managed this work with his accustomed shrewdness and daring. When the legislature met at Salem on June 17, 1774, in conformity with the new Acts of Parliament, he locked the door, put the key into his pocket and carried through the measures for assembling a congress at Philadelphia in September. A Tory member, feigning sudden illness, was allowed to go out and ran straight to the governor with the news. The governor lost no time in drawing up a writ dissolving the legislature, but when his clerk reached the hall he found the door locked and could not serve the writ. When the business was accomplished the legislature adjourned. It was the last Massachusetts legislature assembled in obedience to the sovereign authority of Great Britain.

Adams and his cousin John Adams were delegates to the first continental congress. For the next nine years, Samuel Adams took an active and important part in the work of the congress. Probably no other man did so much as he did to bring about the declaration of independence. He "stirred men's souls", he dared when others teetered, he inspired when others weakened. He continued to serve in Congress until the war was nearing its end. He held local offices in Massachusetts and succeeded John Hancock as governor.

Samuel Adams died in Boston in 1803 at the age of eighty-one. He was twice married: first to Elizabeth Checkley, by whom he had a son and daughter and some years after the death of his first wife, he wed Elizabeth Wells.

[Back to top]
Privacy Policy
Image Information:
John Singleton Copley, Oil on Canvas
[Boston Museum of Fine Arts]
[Back to top]
Privacy Policy

Contact us

Library sidebar
James Madison
Founding Fathers
Bill of Rights