The Adams Boys: Revolutionary Rascals
By Tom Morrow
Sam and John Adams were a “one-two” punch in the winning of independence from Great Britain. The two were cousins, but couldn’t be more different in personality and methodology – only their goal was identical.
Samuel Adams was born Sept. 27, 1722, in Boston. He was a brewer among other trades, none very successful. Sam spent more time fighting and rebelling against the crushing taxes levied by the British, making him one of the key figures of the American Revolution.
Sam’s cousin, John Adams, was an attorney who became one of the most important American statesman, diplomat, and a leading advocate of independence from Great Britain. Sam and John joined John Hancock as Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress and were the driving force in getting American independence declared.
Well-educated, John Adams was a political theorist who promoted republicanism as well as a strong central government. John wrote prolifically about his ideas — both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail Adams.
But John wasn’t as quick to embrace the Revolution as was his cousin. In the early days of the rebellion, John was uneasy about the radical views and actions of Sam and questioned whether the colonists could win.
Sam was brought up in a religious and politically-active family. A graduate of Harvard College, he was unsuccessful in business and tax collector before concentrating on politics. As an influential official of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Boston Town Meeting in the 1760s, Adams was a part of a movement opposed to the British Parliament’s efforts to tax the colonists without their consent.
His 1768 pamphlet calling for non-cooperation prompted the occupation of Boston by British soldiers. This caused the Boston Massacre of 1770. Ironically, it was Cousin John who defended the six British soldiers accused of gunning down Bostonians on a town street. John provided a principled, controversial, and successful legal defense of the accused British soldiers, because he believed in the right to counsel and the “protection of innocence.”
Although angered by John’s defense of the British soldiers, Sam rightly pointed out everyone is entitled to a fair trial, regardless of who they are.
Sam was the ring leader of the so-called “Tea Party” raid on a British ship. While Sam was in on the planning, it remains unclear as to his participation in tossing tea into Boston Harbor.
John was a political theorist who promoted republicanism and a strong central government. He wrote prolifically both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail Adams.
In 1776, John assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence. A political theorist and historian, John largely wrote the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780; he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, and helped write the U.S. Constitution. John became George Washington’s vice president and later the second U.S. President.
Historians have praised Sam Adams for steering his fellow colonists towards independence long before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. This view gave way to negative assessments of Sam. He was portrayed as a master of propaganda who provoked mob violence to achieve his goals. Some modern scholars argue these traditional depictions are myths contradicted by the historical record.
John Adams was better fighting the good fight than when there was no fight left – he wasn’t a very good administrator. He hated the role of vice president, saying it was the most meaningless job ever created. His years as President were made miserable by the behind-the-scenes antics of Alexander Hamilton, who was responsible for vicious untrue rumors printed in newspapers about Adams. Because of Hamilton antics, Jefferson became President, defeating John for re-election.
Ironically, Hamilton’s scurrilous rumors got him killed in a duel with Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr. Jefferson and John Adams finally made peace with one another by writing letters up until their deaths – on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
History has shown that there’s little doubt the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution wouldn’t have successfully occurred at the times they did without the Adams boys persuasive efforts.
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