Friday, April 12, 2013

The quintessential American

Samuel Adams: A LifeSamuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book cites the claim by others that perhaps Samuel Adams is more the father of our country than George Washington. The book seems to endorse this claim.

Adams is pictured as an unselfish patriot who sacrificed greatly for the independence of the colonies and for the good of his beloved Massachusetts. More than just working for the cause of independence, he was one of the fiery initiators of the revolutionary movement. And at times when others, like fellow Bostonian John Hancock, seem to flag in their enthusiasm for the cause, Adams continued with pen to agitate for something better than the status quo in the colonies’ relationship with Britain.

Much of Samuel Adams’s work was done through articles submitted to the Boston Gazette. In the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of the Constitution can be found the phrasing of ideas that were earlier written by the pen of Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette and his letters.

Central concerns for Samuel Adams included godliness and property rights, which included the notion that taxation without representation is morally wrong. Adams pointed out that taxing the colonies without adequate representation in Parliament amounted to denying the full rights of the British Constitution to the colonists, thus making them second-class citizens, little better than slaves.

The book highlights Adams’s Puritan Congregational faith. Many times throughout his life Adams likened the American struggle for independence to the Exodus. Pictures drawn from all over the Bible were employed by Adams to frame the Revolutionary movement. Further, even when at times all seemed bleak, Adams was confident that God would providentially order the success of the Revolution simply because the Americans were more virtuous than the British. And he continually urged upon his town (Boston) and his commonwealth (Mass.) the importance of devoting themselves to virtuous living.

I was surprised to the extent Stoll went throughout the book to portray Adams’s faith. Almost excessive. Maybe I felt that way because I’m not used to it in a biography of that nature. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t excessive. Stoll mentions that a few of Adams’s contemporaries got tired of his religious fervor, so maybe Stoll’s emphasis on it is not unbalanced. It was nonetheless refreshing to me.

Samuel Adams served 7 years in the Continental Congress, and his work was among the elite. There was no question that he contributed much to the work that body did, as he served on more committees than anyone else did and was considered a leader among leaders. Prior to that he served in the Boston Town Meeting. He served on the Constitutional Convention for the development of the Mass. constitution. He also served as state representative, lieutenant governor, and then, when Gov. John Hancock died, governor for 4 consecutive years (that office being a 1-year term).

Adams and Hancock worked together at times, and at times they were cool toward each other. The author believes some of their coolness had to do with their economic positions—Hancock quite wealthy, Adams quite the opposite. They did, however, reconcile and worked together as the top two executives of Mass. Adams also got along well with his cousin John. They spent much time together during the years of the Continental Congress, and they were very much in agreement on most things. In later years, political differences would surface, as John was a Federalist, and Samuel was not.

A great book about a great American, perhaps the quintessential American.

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