City Journal: Sam Adams

A new biography finally gives Boston’s often overlooked son of liberty his due.

He opposed British taxes when Franklin was ready to quit, and called for independence when Jefferson wanted to patch things up with England. But Boston’s tough-talking Sam Adams didn’t bother with his legacy (he’s said to have shredded his letters). The lack of a paper trail kept Adams on the fringes while historians focused on other Revolutionary stars (including his whiny cousin John), but a new biography by Mark Puls (Samuel Adams: Father of the American Revolution, St. Martin’s Press) may change all that. Here’s a peek at what makes the brewer-patriot CJ’s favorite founder.

>>Eye for Talent Adams owned the Continental Congress, and like any good Boston politico he brokered backroom deals—including the one that made George Washington America’s top general.

>>Rebel with a Cause Adams was into civil disobedience long before Thoreau and Gandhi made it cool. He organized boycotts and rallies (not to mention a tea party), prompting some to label him America’s “chief incendiary.” Puls says his tactics directly influenced latter-day civil rights fighters.

>>Can’t Buy Me Liberty The Harvard grad could’ve made a bundle in business, but the “patriarch of liberty,” as Jefferson called him, never aspired to wealth and scoffed at a British bribery attempt.

>>All Politics Is Local For all his political maneuvering during the war, Adams shunned the national arena and came home to serve as Massachusetts governor from 1793 to 1797.