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Page 6

Samuel Adams

1722-1803

From the foregoing sketches of Mr. Adams, it will not be difficult for the reader to form a tolerably correct opinion of his character and disposition. In his person, he is said to have been only of the middle size, but his countenance indicated a noble genius within, and a more than ordinary inflexibility of character and purpose. Great sincerity and simplicity marked his manners and deportment. In his conversation, he was at once interesting and instructive; and those who shared his friendship had seldom any reason to doubt his affection and constancy. His writings were voluminous, but unfortunately, as they generally related to the temporary politics of the day, most of them are lost. Those which remain furnish abundant proof of his superiority as a writer, of the soundness of his political creed, and of the piety and sincerity of his character. As an orator, he was eminently fitted for the stormy times in which he lived. His elocution was concise and impressive, partaking more of the logical than the figurative, and rather calculated to enlighten the understanding, than to excite the feelings. Yet no man could address himself more powerfully to the passions, than he did, on certain occasions. As a statesman, his views were broad and enlightened; what his judgment had once matured, he pursued with inflexible firmness, and patriotic ardour. While others desponded, he was full of hope; where others hesitated, he was resolute; where others were supine, he was eager for action. His circumstances of indigence led him to habits of simplicity and frugality; but beyond this, he was natural1y averse to parade and ostentation.

"Mr. Adams was a Christian. His mind was early imbued with piety, as well as cultivated by science. He early approached the table of the Lord Jesus, and the purity of his life witnessed the sincerity of his profession. On the Christian Sabbath, he constantly went to the temple, and the morning and evening devotions in his family proved, that his seasons of retirement from the world. The last production of his pen was in favour of Christian truth. He died in the faith of the gospel."

In his opposition to British tyranny, no man was more conscientious; he detested royalty, and despised the ostentation and contemptible servility of the royal agents; his patriotism was of a pure and lofty character. For his country he laboured both by night and by day, with a zeal which was scarcely interrupted, and with an energy that knew no fatigue. Although enthusiastic, he was still prudent. He would persuade, petition, and remonstrate, where these would accomplish his object; but when these failed, he was ready to resist even unto blood, and would sooner have sacrificed his life than yielded with dishonour. "Had he lived in any country or epoch," says his biographer, "when abuses of power were to be resisted, he would have been one of the reformers. He would hare suffered excommunication, rather than have bowed to papal infallibility, or paid tribute to St. Peter; he would have gone to the stake, rather than submit to the prelatic ordinances of Laud; he would have mounted the scoffold, sooner than pay a shilling of illegal shipmoney; he would have fled to a desert, rather than endure the profligate tyranny of a Stuart; he was proscribed, and could sooner have been condemned as a traitor, than assent to an illegal tax, if it had been only a sixpenny stamp or an insignificant duty on tea; and there appeared to be no species of corruption by which this inflexibility could have been destroyed."

In the delegation of political power, he may be said to have been too cautious, since our constitutions, as he would have modeled them, would not have had sufficient inherent force for their own preservation. One of his colleagues thus honourably described him: "Samuel Adams would have the state of Massachusetts govern the union; the town of Boston govern Massachusetts; and that he should govern the town of Boston, and then the whole would not be intentionally ill governed."

With some apparent austerity there was nothing of the spirit of gloom or arrogance about hind In his demeanour, he combined mildness with firmness, and dignity with condescension. If sometimes an advocate for measures which might be thought too strong, it was, perhaps, because his comprehension extended beyond ordinary minds, and he had more energy to effect his purposes, than attaches to common men. In addition to these qualities, he manifested an uncommon indifference to pecuniary considerations; he was poor while he lived, and had not the death of an only son relieved his latter day poverty, Samuel Adams, notwithstanding his virtues, his patriotism, his unwearied zeal, and his acknowledged usefulness, while he lived, would have had to claim a burial at the hand of charity, or at the public expense.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 81-92. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

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See also:

  • The biography of Elizabeth Checkley Adams, Samuel Adams' first wife

  • The biography of Elizabeth Wells Adams, Samuel Adams' second wife

     
     

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    Last modified January 2, 2004