CHAPTER IV

SAMUEL ADAMS

The Mind of the American Democrat

In the history of the rise of political democracy in America Samuel Adams occupies a distinguished place. He was by no means the first American to espouse the democratic cause, but he was the first to conceive the party machinery to establish it in practice. The single purpose of his life was the organization of the rank and file to take over control of the political state. He was the instrument of a changing world that was to transfer sovereignty from the aristocratic minority to the democratic majority. Political sovereignty inheres potentially in the mass will of the people; but if that will is restrained from exercising its strength by an undemocratic psychology, it remains powerless in presence of an organized minority. The America in which Samuel Adams labored was ripe to throw off the inhibitions of the popular will; and it was his perception of that fact, and the tenacity and skill with which he cajoled the mass to “make a push for perfect political liberty,” that made him an outstanding figure in our history. In his hands the majority will became in reality the sovereign will. But before he could wield it he must create it; and before he could create it he must understand the mass mind. He must turn popular prejudice to his own purpose; he must guide the popular resentment at grievances into the way of revolution; he must urge the slow moving mass forward until it stood on the threshold of independence, beyond which lay the ultimate goal of his ambitions, the democratic state. And so, in pursuit of his life purpose, Samuel Adams became a master political strategist, the first of our great popular leaders.

The modern term, professional agitator, most adequately characterizes him. He was an intriguing rebel against every ambition of the regnant order. He hated every sort of aristocratic privilege, whether in the form of overseas prerogative or in the later guise of native Federalism; it must be swept away and a new, democratic order take its place. In the pursuit of this great end he daily counseled treason and made rebellion his business. Loyalty to the government de facto was no virtue in his political ethics; he was not frightened into conformity by the stigma attaching to the term rebel. America was founded in rebellion, he well knew, and it should continue in rebellion till every false loyalty was cast off and concern for the common well-being accepted as the single loyalty worthy of respect. “What has commonly been called rebellion in the people,” he commented wisely, “has often been nothing else but a manly and glorious struggle in opposition to the lawless power of rebellious Kings and Princes.” He was the outstanding example in his day of the militant idealist to whom the dissemination of unrest was a matter of principle. No cause goes forward without its leaders, and democratic America owes Samuel Adams a debt which it has too grudgingly acknowledged.

He was born and grew up in an atmosphere of politics. His father was a prosperous, well-read gentleman who found politics a pleasant avocation; he established the Caucus Club for political discussion, and became one of the leaders of the popular party that opposed the Tory group, gathered about the royal officials. Its personnel can only be guessed at, but it was probably composed of small merchants, with a following of mechanics and other unimportant folk. It seems to have been greatly interested in currency reform, and the elder Adams was one of the principal organizers and stockholders of the Land Bank, a project for increasing the money of the commonwealth. The institution was roughly liquidated by government decree at the instigation of commercial rivals interested in “tight money”; the father lost heavily and the son was pretty much ruined by later attempts at arbitrary collection on his stock. It seems to have been a petty and altogether sordid move on the part of government, in which Hutchinson played an important part. With the loss of his money Samuel Adams, Jr., settled down to a meager, somewhat precarious existence, preferring politics to profits, and began that long, arduous career which resulted so momentously for America.

He had taken his two degrees at Harvard in the expectation of becoming a minister; but while an undergraduate he was more interested in the political classics than in theology, and he rejected the ministry for the law. But a brief experience with Coke sufficed, and he turned to more congenial fields. With a group of like-minded young men he founded in 1748 The Public Advertiser, a weekly magazine of politics. In the essays which as a young man of twenty-six he wrote for that paper, he expounded a political creed frankly liberal. He began as he ended, anti-Tory and pro-democratic. From then till the beginning of the tax troubles he was a tireless contributor to the newspapers, and except during the administration of the liberal Pownall, always in the opposition. Hutchinson stated the exact truth when he said, “He was for near twenty years a writer against government in the public newspapers.” The need was urgent, for during those years the government of Massachusetts was being subtly changed. With increasing prosperity, ways of thinking, like styles of dress, were becoming more like those of St. James's. Ambitious young men were drawn into the circle of the ruling group and caught with the bait of preferment. An aristocracy was emerging that wanted only titles to make ready to set up a House of Lords. Quite plainly it was time for the liberals to arouse the rank and file of the people to the danger, and this became the daily business of Samuel Adams.

The evidence available is insufficient to explain the motives which impelled him to take up and carry forward so difficult and thankless a work. The cost in personal ease and the good opinion of respectable people was great, the peril certain, and the reward dubious. Not lightly will a serious man compromise with treason; to talk republicanism was not profitable in Tory New England; and Samuel Adams, no more than another, was anxious to come to close acquaintance with the hangman. What secret motives inspired the heart of this ascetic Puritan—“he eats little, drinks little, sleeps little, thinks much,” said the Loyalist Galloway, half sneeringly, half out of respect—we can only guess at. Very likely there was an old grudge at a government that had ruined him; very likely love of power stimulated his hatred of the ruling clique; very likely his close association with tradesmen colored his resentment at overseas regulation, for better than most, he knew that the American goose was reserved for English plucking. Nevertheless the more intimately one comes to know Samuel Adams the more inadequate seem all cynical and sordid interpretations of his strange career. He was no self-seeking politician, but a man of vision. He believed ardently in the principle of local home rule. Love of the New England town-meeting democracy was bred in his bones. More clearly than others he saw the danger of erecting a governing class irresponsive to the popular will. He was, in short, the embodiment of the rising spirit of the eighteenth century that found expression in individualism, that exalted liberty and hated tyranny—a spirit that had for its ultimate purpose the reduction of the powers of the political state.

His critical study of the methods of Tory politicians early stripped from government the last vestige of glamor so appealing to the ignorant. Adams understood too perfectly the secret springs and backstairs intrigues that determined governmental policies, to be taken in by appeal to his loyalty. English politics was a sordid business, conducted by professional traders, to whom loyalty and patriotism were no more than gestures to gull the simple. Quite as well as Franklin, Adams understood its ways. He had watched the steady unfolding of the ministerial program: how it was proposed to free the royal governor and judges from popular restraint by the payment of salaries from the royal chest; to change the charter in the interest of prerogative by vesting the nomination of the councilors in the governor; to disarm the democracy by destroying the town meeting as a political instrument; in short to substitute government by ministerial instructions for government by the people. As he watched the calculated encroachments upon the historical rights of the commonwealth—rights that were sanctioned by a hundred and forty years of exercise, and were now in danger from carelessness—he would have been faithless to his duty if he had not sought to arouse the people of Massachusetts to the danger. There was no idle rhetoric in the words, “No time can better be employed than in the preservation of the rights derived from the British constitution. . . . No treasure can be better expended, than in securing that true old English liberty, which gives a relish to every other enjoyment.” [2]

In the fulfillment of this purpose to defend the democratic rights of Massachusetts, Adams became no mean master of political theory. In the works of no other writer is the total body of Revolutionary thought so adequately revealed. He was deeply read in the political classics, and all the great names—Hooker and Grotius, Pufendorf and Vattel, Coke and Blackstone, Locke and Milton and Sidney and Hume and Montesquieu—are spread largely through his pages to buttress his argument. In spite of the elusive “meanders and windings” of his thought, veering and tacking as the winds blew, three broad lines of defense are clearly discernible. He rested his case on an appeal to the natural rights of man, to the particular rights and privileges of the British subject under the constitution, and to the express terms of the compact between the crown and its emigrant subjects laid down in the several colonial charters. Inasmuch as the American cause was to be argued before an old-world court, it was common prudence to seek to justify the seeming innovations of American institutional development, by old-world precedent and authority. If he could base the American grievance on the Whig doctrine of representation, he might rally the English Whigs to the American cause. This was sound constitutionalism, and Adams was too shrewd not to profess the highest respect for the glorious British constitution. “You know there is a charm in the word ‘constitutional,’” he slyly suggested to a fellow colonial; and such respect, not to say veneration, he trumpeted to the world, until it may well have seemed that he did protest too much.

In his first line of defense Adams was on familiar ground, and he was supported by the authority of Locke, whose opinions were sacred in the eyes of English Whigs. What use he made of him is evident; “the immortal Locke,” he calls him at one time, and at another, “one of the greatest men that ever wrote.” He had been a disciple of Locke since his first interest in political theory, and he thought and spoke habitually in terms of the natural-rights school. It is sometimes asserted that the appeal to natural rights was made only after the breakdown of the colonial argument drawn from constitutional practice. [3] But as early as 1765 Adams based his argument on Locke in assuming the economic origin of government, and the inevitable connection between property and parliamentary representation. [4] How heavily he leaned on the natural-rights school appears again and again; particularly in a brilliant series of articles, signed “Candidus,” written in 1771, where he paraphrases the Second Treatise on Government:

Mr. Locke has often been quoted in the present dispute . . . and very much to our purpose. His reasoning is so forcible, that no one has ever attempted to confute it. He holds that “the preservation of property is the end of government, and that for which men enter into society. It therefore necessarily supposes and requires that the people should have property, without which they must be suppos'd to lose that by entering into society, which was the end for which they enter'd into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Men therefore in society having property, they have such right to the goods, which by the law of the community are theirs, that no body hath the right to take any part of their subsistence from them without their consent: Without this, they could have no property at all. For I truly can have no property in that which another can by right take from me when he pleases, against my consent. Hence, says he, it is a mistake to think that the supreme power of any commonwealth can dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure. The prince or senate can never have a power to take to themselves the whole or any part of the subjects' property without their own consent; for this would be in effect to have no property at all.”—This is the reasoning of that great and good man. And is not our own case exactly described by him? [5]

This was excellent doctrine in the eyes of the English Whigs, and it explains in part the support which Pitt and Camden lent to the colonial cause. But in his second line of defense, namely, that the English constitution was a fundamental charter of the natural rights of the subject, and that a statute which disregarded those natural rights was null and void, Adams was on less tenable ground. Every attempt to establish such a principle, whether that fundamental law be conceived of as the “law of God and nature,” special compacts like the Magna Charta, or the Common Law, has met with failure in English constitutional practice. Nevertheless Adams made use of the argument, derived, very likely, from Coke.

Magna Charta itself is in substance but a constrained Declaration or proclamation, and promulgation in the name of King, Lords, and Commons, of the sense the latter had of their original, inherent, indefeazible natural Rights, as also those of free Citizens equally perdurable with the other. That great author, that great jurist, and even that Court writer Mr. Justice Blackstone holds that this recognition was justly obtained of King John sword in hand: and peradventure it must be one day sword in hand again rescued and preserved from total destruction. [6]
[Magna Charta] is affirm'd by Lord Coke to be declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws and liberties of England. “It is called Charta Libertatum Regni, the Charter of the Liberties of the kingdom, upon great reason . . . because liberos facit, it makes and preserves the people free.” . . . If then according to Lord Coke, Magna Charta is declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws and liberties of the people, and Vatel is right in his opinion, that the supreme legislature cannot change the constitution, I think it follows, whether Lord Coke has expressly asserted it or not, that an act of parliament made against Magna Charta in violation of its essential parts, is void. [7]

Adams was probably fully aware of the weakness of the argument. The well known attempt of Coke to establish a body of super-parliamentary law that sanctioned the annulling of a statute had been a total failure. Parliament had refused to yield sovereignty to the lawyers. The Tories were on stronger ground in asserting Hume's doctrine that “the only rule of government is the established practice of the age, upon maxims universally assented to”; and the established practice was sufficient reply to the argument that “it is the glory of the British constitution that it hath its foundations in the law of God and nature.” Moreover the doctrine of virtual representation was at hand to cover any discrepancy between natural rights and existing practice; the argument from Locke was met by a legal refinement which held that as the charter of Massachusetts was as of the manor of East Greenwich, the freemen of Boston were personally represented by the parliamentary member from that borough.

When Adams fell back upon his third line of defense, the appeal to the colonial charter, he broke with the English Whigs completely. The royal charters, by authority of which the colonies had been founded and governed hitherto, were exalted by him into a secondary fundamental law, subordinate to the English constitution, but with authority beyond an act of parliament. This organic law of the charter was “the only medium of their political connection with the Mother State,” he argued, and as sacred to Americans “as Magna Charta is to the People of Britain, as it contains a Declaration of all their Rights founded in natural Justice.” [8]

Thus we see that Whatever Governmt in general may be founded in, Ours was manifestly founded in Compact. . . . By this Charter, we have an exclusive Right to make Laws for our own internal Government & Taxation: And indeed if the Inhabitants here are British Subjects . . . it seems necessary that they should exercise this Power themselves; for they are not represented in the British Parliamt & their great Distance renders it impracticable: It is very probable that all the subordinate legislative Powers in America, were constituted upon the Apprehension of this Impracticability. [9]

After all, the futility of argument as a colonial defense against Grenville or Townshend was evident to so shrewd a student of political realism as Samuel Adams. If the colonies were to preserve their traditional liberties, more effective means must be found than appeal to justice or colonial use and wont. Force must be used, and that force-short of armed rebellion-could be only an aroused public opinion. It was like to prove a difficult business, this arousing of an effective public opinion, and not wanting in danger; but neither difficulty nor danger would deter a calculating enthusiast like Adams from undertaking it. He was ready to devote his life to the work of creating and guiding a popular interest in political measures.

The means which he made use of were as novel as they were repugnant to the Tory statecraft. He was the first American to understand the power of publicity, and not the least of his services to democracy was his attack upon the principle of secret government. Affairs of state had always been guarded jealously from public knowledge, on the theory long before stated by Sir Robert Filmer that the subject must “have nothing to do to meddle with mysteries of state, such arcana imperii, or cabinet councils, the vulgar may not pry into.” Adams now proposed to lay them open to common inspection. He insisted that questions of governmental policy be taken out of the exclusive jurisdiction of secret councils, and transferred to Faneuil Hall where the freemen of Boston might examine them, and where the “Cause of Liberty” might “be warmly espoused and ably vindicated.” Here was a revolutionary proposal indeed, with its demand for public discussion and a popular referendum; and naturally it gave offense to the crown officials. It meant the vulgarization of government. It was a disturbing thought to such men that government might come to be regarded as the common concern of the tax-paying public; that the town meeting might fall under the control of the plebeian mass and crowd in with its demands upon the aristocratic Council. How could gentlemen deliberate freely and determine wisely, with demagogues sitting in judgment on every word and vote? So disturbing to gentlemen was any criticism that one of Hutchinson's followers went so far as to charge Adams with “Indecency in ‘undertaking to answer a Governor's Message,’” to which he replied:

I know very well that it has been handed as a political Creed of late, that the Reasoning of the People without Doors is not to be regarded—But every “transient Person” has a Right publickly to animadvert upon whatever is publickly advanc'd by any Man, and I am resolv'd to exercise that Right, when I please, without asking any Man's Leave. [10]

Effective organization of the rank and file of the people was the business at hand. It was a new problem and there was need of new methods. The Caucus Club, founded by his father, served as a training school for the leaders; there the policies were determined upon for the town meeting and the assembly, and there the plans for a continental union were laid in Non-Importation Agreements, organization of Committees of Correspondence, and the like. The program there agreed upon Adams made it his business to put through the town meeting, as the first step. When he faced his fellow Bostonians in Faneuil Hall he relied upon the influence which long years of familiar intercourse with all sorts and conditions of men had won for him, and many a Boston freeman went to the meeting ready to vote for “whatever the old man wanted.” Behind the imposing figure of John Hancock, or the eloquence of John Adams, was certain to be the directing mind of the “master of the puppets,” as Hutchinson sneeringly called Samuel Adams.

His hours of triumph in Boston town meeting or in the assembly were preceded by an incredible amount of labor with the pen as well as with the tongue, for this master politician was the journalist as well as the organizer of the New England revolution. The public opinion on which he depended was daily being made in chimney corners and tavern talk, and he proposed to mold it through the agency of a party press. No other pen in Boston was so busy as his. “There is Sam Adams writing against the Tories,” his fellow townsmen are said to have remarked when they saw his familiar candle burning long into the night. When he was away in attendance on the Continental Congress he reproached his friends at home for neglecting the work of publicity. “Your presses have been too long silent. What were your Committees of Correspondence about? I hear nothing of circular Letters-of joynt Committees &c. Such Methods have in times past raised the Spirits of the people—drawn off their Attention from picking up Pins, & directed their Views to great objects.” [11]

With such neglect Samuel Adams could not be charged. As clerk of the inevitable Committee of Grievances appointed by the Boston town meeting in accordance with his prearranged plan, he wrote those plain-spoken papers that stirred the wrath of Tory gentlemen; as clerk of the assembly he was the chief author of successive state papers, which under guise of replying to the prerogative principles of Bernard and Hutchinson, set forth in masterly fashion the whole theory of colonial rights; and as Chairman of the Committee of Correspondence he appealed to his fellow Americans of every colony. Yet his official writings constitute only a minor part of his total work. His letters were innumerable and his newspaper articles crowded the desk of every friendly editor. The labors undergone and the energy consumed were enormous. It was no holiday task to create and guide a public opinion that was so constantly falling into apathy.

Running through the third volume of Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts Bay is a note of indignant protest at “the machinations of selfish and designing men” who at the precise time when the feeling between the two countries was friendliest, and an amicable settlement of differences seemed likeliest, were assiduous to breed fresh discord and frustrate the hopes of peace. That he had Adams chiefly in mind there can be little doubt. During the “calm interval” of the summer of '71, when, according to Hutchinson, “the province was more free from real evils” than for years, and when “to keep up a spirit of discontent, recourse was had, either to evils merely imaginary, or to such as were at a distance and feared rather than felt.” [12] Adams wrote the ablest of his many able newspaper articles. [13] In no other phase of his work is the craft of the man so evident as in these anonymous newspaper discussions. There was cunning as well as caution in his method. Changing his style with every fresh quill and every new pen name, putting forth an idea for the sake of denying it, then examining its merits cautiously, and finally advocating it boldly, he created like Falstaff a host of patriots out of a single Bostonian in brown homespun, making it appear that many were troubled over evils that were visible only to him. On occasion his style possesses the light touch, the leisurely detail, the easy pleasantry of a Spectator essay; [14] again, there is a note of biting irony and studied insult; [15] and again, there is dignified discussion in which Adams argues dispassionately with his countrymen, or pleads with them to stand together in defense of the common welfare. But in whatever vein or under whatever disguise he wrote, the conclusion of every argument was the implied suggestion, how much better it would be if the American people were to take into their own hands the management of their affairs.

But before the colonial could be induced to strike for governmental control, the old psychology of subserviency to the ruling class must be uprooted; and an effective means to that end was to lay bare the selfish motives of the aristocracy. To stimulate what we call today class consciousness was a necessary preliminary to a democratic psychology; and to this task Adams devoted every energy. The ways of the iconoclast are rarely lovely, and the breaking of idols is certain to wound sensitive souls. There was abundant justification for the charge of Hutchinson that “robbing men of their characters” was the “patriotic business” of Samuel Adams; but he missed the point in attributing to him the motive, Gubernatorum vituperatio populo placet. The respect that attached to Bernard and Hutchinson by virtue of their official positions was a powerful ally of ministerial authority; their words carried weight beyond the sanction of their logic; for the good of America their power must be destroyed. Doubtless Adams was ungenerous in attack; certainly he was vindictive in his hates; but the cold record as we read it today justifies one in the belief that the men whom he attacked were tools of the ministry, and must be struck down if the rights of Massachusetts were to be preserved. And it was due to the bitter denunciations of Adams that Thomas Hutchinson was driven from his native land and forced to take refuge in England, the best hated man in all the colonies.

But it was not enough to pull down the courtly Hutchinson, for behind the governor was a group of lawyers and judges, equally subservient to prerogative, adepts in the art of interpreting away rights by due process of law. It became part of the day's work, therefore, to lay open the sacred precincts of the courts to common inspection; to create a public opinion to review judicial decisions when those decisions were political rather than legal. It was a startling innovation for a private citizen to assert in the public press that “state-lawyers, attorneys and sollicitors general, & persons advanced to the highest stations in the courts of law, prostitute the honor of the profession, become tools of ministers, and employ their talents for explaining away, if possible, the Rights of a kingdom.” Never before had the integrity of the colonial courts been openly attacked and the motives of the judiciary impugned. But it was far more startling for Adams to lay down the thesis, that in matters which concern the general welfare, the letter of the law is not to be considered final, and “the opinions . . . and determinations of the greatest Sages and judges of the law in the Exchequer Chamber, ought not to be considered as decisive or binding . . . any further, than they are consonant to natural reason.” [16] If Franklin was concerned to create a new economics in harmony with democratic needs, Samuel Adams was concerned to democratize the New England law. He was dissatisfied with a system created by a Tory past, and that had lately received a fresh Tory impress at the hands of Blackstone. Such a body of law could not answer the needs of a free people; it must be reshaped to conform to new needs. And the conclusion towards which his thinking pointed was the principle of a referendum of judicial decisions, for how otherwise could it be determined whether a given decision were “consonant to natural reason”?

Samuel Adams was little given to striking at the air, and he set himself to the work of cutting the claws of the more obnoxious judges with the same cool skill that marked his baiting of the governor. Certain of them who held plural offices he maneuvered out of the Council, on the ground that they ought not to exercise both legislative and judicial functions; and when Bernard protested that they had been members of the Council for years and by reason of “their knowledge of the public business, were almost to the body,” he replied that they were to be released “from the cares and perplexities of politics . . . to make further advances in the knowledge of the law”—which thrust, in view of the notorious fact that few of them had been trained in the law, but had risen to the bench through political influence, must be reckoned a palpable hit.“ [17] Others beyond his immediate reach found their characters assailed and their motives aspersed, until popular respect for them was destroyed; and the unlucky judges who accepted payment from the royal chest found such a hue and cry raised against them that they were driven to make choice between the royal guineas or answering to the mob—a rude but effective way of stimulating their loyalty to the commonwealth. In short, this “master of the puppets,” measuring the power of the judges and fearing their prerogative bias, did not scruple over ways and means of rendering them more responsive to the popular will, which in the eyes of the best people of Boston was no less than incendiary.

The work of Samuel Adams was largely done before the word democrat was given vogue by the French Revolution, and he cautiously refrained from using it; nevertheless he was probably the most thoroughgoing democrat of his generation of Americans. He was wholly persuaded that the sovereign people have a right to change their fundamental law, together with the interpretation and administration of it, whenever they desire; and that pending such change it was well to nullify an act of prerogative subversive of their interests. “We contend, that the People & their Representatives have a Right to withstand the abusive Exercise of a legal & constitutional Prerogative of the Crown,” he argued in reply to Hutchinson; “whenever instructions cannot be complyed with, without injuring the people, they cease to be binding.” [18] From the necessary corollary, that the people are competent to judge of their own good and manage their own affairs, Adams did not shrink. Stated thus in general terms, the theory possessed no novelty. The sovereignty of the people had long been a staple of Whiggish theory; but Adams gave to the doctrine democratic significance. The people, in his philosophy, were something more than the wealthy and cultured minority to whom the Whigs appealed; they were the mass of men—the yeoman, the tradesman, the mechanic—all that multitude of homespun folk who had hitherto been mere pawns in the political game. Such a passage as this, written four years before Lexington, reads like Tom Paine and his doctrine of the res publica:

The multitude I am speaking of, is the body of the people—no contemptible multitude—for whose sake government is instituted; or rather, who have themselves erected it, solely for their own good—to whom even kings and all in subordination to them, are strictly speaking, servants and not masters. . . . Philanthrop [Jonathan Sewall] I think, speaks somewhat unintelligently, when he tells us that the well being and happiness of the whole depends upon subordination; as if mankind submitted to government for the sake of being subordinate. . . . Mankind have entered into political societies, rather for the sake of restoring equality. . . . I am not of levelling principles: But I am apt to think, that constitution of civil government which admits equality in the most extensive degree, consistent with the true design of government, is the best. [19]

Accepting the sovereignty of the people, Adams was led to a pure democracy, based on the town meeting. He rejected every form of “mixt government,” whether in the form of king, lords and commons, or in the form of constitutional checks and balances. That sober men should profess to prefer the dominion of the few to the rule of all, he could not understand. “I find everywhere some Men, who are afraid of a free Government,” he said in 1776, “lest it be perverted, and made Use of as a Cloke for Licenciousness. The fear of the Peoples abusing their Liberty is made an Argument against their having the Enjoyment of it; as if anything were so much to be dreaded by Mankind as Slavery.” [20] Democracy he believed was inevitable, for “in these times of Light and Liberty, every man chooses to see and judge for himself.” [21] He was quite untroubled by any fear of the tyranny of the mass; he was a good enough historian to know that it is always the minority and not the mass that creates tyranny. Though Toryism might infect the government circles, and aristocracy appeal to the wealthy and ambitious, the great body of Massachusetts people were democratic, and he looked forward hopefully to a new political order, created by the popular mind. It came more quickly than he had expected, once the old inhibitions were removed. “New Govts are now erecting in the several American states under the Authority of the People,” he wrote soon after Independence. “Monarchy seems to be generally exploded. And it is not a little surprising to me that the Aristocratick Spirit, which appeard to have taken deep Root in some of them, now gives place to that of Democracy.” [22]

During the difficult after-years of reconstruction Adams remained true to his democratic principles. As he had earlier resisted the encroachments of monarchical centralization, he later fought against Federalistic consolidation. He distrusted the Constitution as an undemocratic instrument, fearing a centralized authority removed from immediate control; and he joined heartily in the work of securing a Bill of Rights. He welcomed the French Revolution and followed closely the developing democratic philosophy which that great upheaval did so much to clarify and disseminate. He remained an unrepentant Jacobin during those acrimonious years when the Federalists were filling the air with their anti-Jacobin fustian. He had heard gentlemen rant before and was probably amused when, as Governor, he attended Harvard commencement and listened to young Robert Treat Paine fulminate against the red atheism of France and its American spawn. Although a kinsman of John Adams and warm friend, he welcomed the election of Jefferson as a return to democratic principles after an unhappy period of “prejudice and passion,” although he warned him, “you must depend upon being hated . . . because they hate your principles.” The last letter in the collected edition of his works, addressed to his old friend Tom Paine, November 30, 1802, is an appeal for democratic unity; and the words with which it concludes—felix qui cautus—embody the principle of his amazing political strategy. In playing for great stakes it is well to be wary.

His anti-Federalism, aggravated by his frank advocacy of Jacobin principles, cost him heavily in after days, and like Philip Freneau his just fame was long obscured by partisan spleen. Although he retained his hold on the affections of the Massachusetts electorate, and was annually chosen Governor until the infirmities of age determined his withdrawal from public affairs, he was silently dropped from the roll of American patriots whose deeds were celebrated in current panegyrics. His manuscripts were scattered after his death, and he was in the way of being forgotten till Bancroft, in the next century, gave fresh currency to his earlier reputation. Since then the figure of Samuel Adams has grown steadily larger, although he still awaits a biographer who will set him in his due place in the history of American liberalism.


[1] Works, Vol. II, p. 269.
[2] Works, Vol. I, p. 348.
[3] Hutchinson seems to justify, such a view from a passage written in 1770: “The leaders here seem to acknowledge that their cause is not to be defended on constitutional principles, and Adams now gives out that there is no need of it; they are upon better ground; all men have a natural right to change a bad constitution for a better, whenever they have it in their power.” (Hosmer, Life of Samuel Adams, p. 259.)
[4] Works, Vol. I, p. 135.
[5] Works, Vol. II, p. 299.
[6] “The Rights of the Colonists,” in Works, Vol. II, pp. 355–356.
[7] “Candidus,” in Works, Vol. II, pp. 325–326.
[8] Works, Vol. I, p. 28.
[9] Ibid., Vol. I, p. 29.
[10] “A Chatterer,” in Works, Vol. II, pp. 45–46. [11] Works, Vol. III, p. 289.
[12] History of Massachusetts Bay, Vol. III, p. 349.
[13] See in particular the “Candidus” articles in Works, Vol. II, in which he elaborated his views on government by ministerial instructions.
[14] See “Puritan” articles, in Works, Vol. I, p. 201 et seq.
[15] See “Candidus,” in Vol. II, p. 246; “Chatterer,” in Vol. II, pp. 35, 39, 43; “Layman,” in Vol. I, p. 322.
[16] Works, Vol. II, p. 436.
[17] Works, Vol. I, p. 80.
[18] Works, Vol. II, pp. 22, 26.
[19] Works, Vol. II, p. 150.
[20] Works, Vol. III, p. 244.
[21] Ibid., Vol. II, p. 39.
[22] Ibid., Vol. III, p. 305.

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