Samuel Adams: A Life

Samuel Adams: A Life

Ira Stoll does not appear to be a fawning admirer of Sam Adams, nor does he have a political axe to grind.

Rather, Stoll seems academically curious about Adams: as he writes in the introduction, "This will be a book about who Samuel Adams was, why he is forgotten, why he should be remembered." If we remember Samuel Adams at all we think not so much of him as of the beer named after him. And if we think of Adams the founding father, we are more likely thinking of his cousin John Adams.

Stoll relies on the writings of Samuel Adams himself and what others wrote about him to tell most of the story of Adams' life. It is mostly a public life: Samuel Adams wrote seemingly non-stop and represented the people of Boston and, later, Massachusetts, as councilman, representative to the Continental Congress and eventually Governor. There are some details about his family and his family life but not really very much. There is also some description of the flow of events but the focus is on Adams himself: who he was and what he wrote. Stoll executes the "who he was" part of his mission well.

The second part of Stol's self-appointed task is to answer the question of why he seems to be forgotten. That is really a hard question to answer because in a sense he has never been forgotten; On the other hand, we have forgotten most of the details of who he was. We may remember that the object of the British at Lexington and Concord was the seizure of the military stores‚ but the bigger object was the capture of John Hancock and Sam Adams. Why was Adams thought so dangerous? That's what we need to remember.

Here is how Stoll sums up Adams' relevance today:

We can see Samuel Adams today when we see Americans for whom religion is central to their lives. We can see him when we encounter Americans who have higher values than material possessions. We can see him when we see what leaders and individuals around the world endure.

In exposing the historical Sam Adams, Stoll also exposes the lies about the Founding Fathers that have been told by liberals for decades. One is that the Founders uniformly tolerated and even supported slavery. Writes Stoll,

"In response to those who lamented that the importation of slaves would continue for twenty years, Adams took a more hopeful view. According to the records of the debates, he 'rejoiced that a door was now to be opened, for the annihilation of this odious, abhorrent practice, in a certain time.'"

In other words, there was a lively debate on the subject at the time and Adams was against slavery, pushing the issue as far as it was possible to do so at the time. James Madison repeats this same sentiment in Federalist 43.

Another lie is that the Founders weren't Christians at all but rather Deists. In fact, writes Stoll, Samuel Adams was "the archetype of the religiously passionate American founder." Adams believed in two things: God and liberty, and he believed that the two things were closely connected to each other.

God, Virtue and Natural rights

Indeed, Adams believed, along with Jefferson, that the Constitution would only work for a moral people. The government need not restrain people who exercise self-restraint. As governor of Massachusetts, Samuel Adams attended an inaugural sermon on each election. Peres Fobes, who gave the election sermon on May 27, 1795, said this:

"Virtue and religion above all are the strongest pillars of government," he said. "May heaven save us from the vortex of deism‚ that old harlot, lately re-baptized by the name of reason."

The next year, Jonathan French said this:

"No form of government yet constructed ever was so congenial to Christianity, as a well regulated Republic," he said. "No religion, ever known, is so conformable to the genius of a free government, as Christianity."

These were sentiments with which Samuel Adams readily agreed. There was no question but that Samuel Adams did not merely support Christian religious belief but also Christian religious practice. Religious virtue was also a civic virtue. Sam Adams, writing in the Boston Gazette as "Valerius Popicola" on Oct 5, 1772, said:

"For wherever Tyranny is establish'd, Immorality of every Kind comes in like a Torrent. It is in the interest of Tyrants to reduce the people to Ignorance and Vice. For they cannot live in any Country where Virtue and Knowledge prevail."

Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
Free Press, New York, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-9456-7