Samuel Adams: From the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol
Among those who signed the Declaration of Independence, and were conspicuous in the revolution, there existed, of course, a great diversity of intellectual endowments; nor did all render to their country, in those perilous days, the same important services.
Like the luminaries of heavens each contributed his portion of influence; but, like them, they differed, as star differeth from star in glory. But in the constellation of great men, which adorned that era, few shone with more brilliancy, or exercised a more powerful influence than Samuel Adams.
This gentleman was born at Quincy, in Massachusetts, September 22d, 1722, in the neighbourhood afterwards rendered memorable as the birth place of Hancock, and as the residence of the distinguished family which has given two presidents to the United States. His descent was from a respectable family, which emigrated to America with the first settlers of the land.
In the year 1736, he became a member of Harvard University, where he was distinguished for an uncommon attention to all his collegiate exercises, and for his classical and scientific attainments. On taking the degree of master, in 1743, he proposed the following question, “Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved?” He maintained the affirmative; and in this collegiate exercise furnished no dubious evidence of his attachment to the liberties of the people.
On leaving the university, he began the study of law, for which profession his father designed him; but at the solicitation of his mother, this pursuit was relinquished, and he became a clerk in the counting house of Thomas Cushing, at that time a distinguished merchant. But his genius was not adapted to mercantile pursuits; and in a short time after commencing business for himself, partly owing to the failure in business of a friend, and partly to injudicious management, he lost the entire capital which had been given him by his father.
The genius of Adams was naturally bent on politics. It was with him an all engrossing subject. From his earliest youth, he had felt its inspiration. It occupied his thoughts, enlivened his conversation, and employed his pen.
In respect to his private business, this was an unfortunate trait of character; but most fortunate for his country, since he thus acquired an extensive knowledge of those principles of national liberty, which he afterwards asserted with so much energy, in opposition to the arbitrary conduct of the British government.
In 1763 it was announced, that the British ministry had it in view to ” tax the colonies, for the purpose of raising a revenue, which was to be placed at the disposal of the crown.’ This news filled the colonies with alarm. In Massachusetts, a committee was appointed by the people of Boston to express the public sentiment in relation to this contemplated measure, for the guidance of the representatives to the general court.
The instructions of this committee were drawn by Mr. Adams. They formed, in truth, a powerful remonstrance against the injustice of the contemplated system of taxation; and they merit the more particular notice, as they were the first recorded public document, which denied the right of taxation to the British parliament. They also contained the first suggestion of the propriety of that mutual understanding and correspondence among the colonies, which laid the foundation of their future confederacy.
Ill these instructions, after alluding to the evils which had resulted from the acts of the British parliament, relating to trade, Mr. Adams observes: — “If our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess, or use? This we conceive annihilates our charter rights to govern and tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited, we hold in common with our fellow subjects, who are natives of Britain. If tastes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation, where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects, to the state of tributary slaves.
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