Samuel Adams: A Life

Stoll, Ira. Samuel Adams: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2008. (See link below)
Reviewed by James Booker

Most people equate Samuel Adams with beer. But he really had very little to do with making beer. Ira Stoll does a great job in bringing to bare one of America’s forgotten Founders. All who are historically savvy know of George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Stoll documents Adam’s whole life – from his school days (from Boston’s Latin grammar school to Harvard) – Adams obtained not only a Bachelor of Arts degree, but also earned a Master’s degree, which was very rare in colonial America. Overall, however, Adams was an advocate for liberty long before the American Revolution started. In fact, John Adams, Samuel Adams cousin, said, “I pity Mr. Sam. Adams for he was born a Rebel,” (13).
Samuel Adams had an illustrious career. He worked as a trash collector and a tax collector for the city of Boston. He served as a state representative and as a senator in Massachusetts state government. He was instrumental in shaping the new Massachusetts state Constitution. He served on numerous comments. Moreover, he spent years in the Continental Congress when the war broke out. Eventually Adams become governor of Massachusetts.

He wrote for the Boston Gazette for years calling for liberty. Yet Adams liberty was connected with religion – specifically his Puritan heritage. Adams believe without religion there would be no liberty. Liberty, religion, and virtue went hand and hand. He drew upon John Locke’s theories of Natural Rights and his theory of civil government and at the same time evoked his Puritan forefathers – whom he believed established the framework for New England’s stance against all forms of tyranny, whether they be from government or otherwise. On October 5, 1772, Adams expressed in the Gazette his concern on how dictators function, “It is in the interest of Tyrants to reduce the people to ignorance and vice . . . . The religion and public Liberty of a people are intimately connected . . . . How greatly then does it concern us, at all Events, to put a Stop to the Progress of Tyranny,” (96). Notice he used the word progress. These words are timeless.

Stoll used a large body of historical material. The historiography utilized brought a deeper understanding of Adams and how other historians and writers have viewed him over the years. He used recent scholars, older scholars, and many other people that was alive when Adams was alive to create a more balanced view. Furthermore, the book is full of quotes from other Patriots: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Warren, and many others – that gives us insight into their beliefs and thoughts.

There are some technical issues with the book, not many, however. One issue is some of the sentences are structured awkwardly. For example, Stoll used the passive voice rather than active voice on occasion. For example, on page 109 he started a paragraph, “Make use of them Adams and his allies did . . . .” It should read, “Adams and his allies made use of them.” But this is just minor issues. Stoll accomplished a great feat bring back to life a great Patriot and a great life. I recommended this book (see link below) for anyone who wants to know about a man who truly believed and stood by his principles.
February 17, 2015
© 2015 by James Timothy Booker


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