Most Americans know Sam Adams as a beer. A very good beer. Oh, sure, folks do remember that the beer’s namesake is one of those founding father-types, but that hardly gives Mr. Adams his due.
Now it is true that Adams partnered with his father in a malthouse, but Sam was always more interested in politics than in business, or beer.
At the crucible of revolution in Boston, the first patriot to see that a break with Great Britain was inevitable if America was to become free was Samuel Adams.
When the British marched their Redcoats to Lexington and Concord to confiscate the colonists’ weapons stocks, it was Adams (along with political financier John Hancock) whom the British sought to arrest. The British knew who the biggest troublemakers were.
And when they fired, or were fired at, that was the shot “heard ’round the world.”
John Adams wrote of his cousin, “For fifty years his pen, his tongue, his activity, were constantly exerted for his country . . . Without the character of Sam Adams, the true history of America can never be written.”
Sam pioneered the use of economic boycotts against the Stamp Act and other British incursions on colonial rights. His publicity skills were critical in whipping up passions after British soldiers fired on a Boston crowd in what became known throughout the colonies as the Boston Massacre. And with his Sons of Liberty, Adams even utilized civil disobedience (or not-so-civil disobedience) to thwart the British — the zenith of which was the Boston Tea Party.
It is truly amazing how much can be accomplished if one doesn’t care who gets the credit. This Sam Adams well understood. It’s one big reason why he’s so often overlooked by historians. Adams preferred to work behind the scenes. He certainly didn’t need to play the part of recognized leader, and he had the political vision to see that at times it would be better that he not be “out front.” Fortunately, he had a knack for finding other people’s talents and putting them to good use.
Another reason public memory on Adams is sketchy is that he destroyed much of his correspondence. Why? To protect those with whom he was communicating. Smart in winning a revolution. Not so smart if you are intent on primping for historians.
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