William V. (William Vincent) Wells.

The life and public services of Samuel Adams, being a narrative of his acts and opinions, and of his agency in producing and forwarding the American Revolution. With extracts from his correspondence, state papers, and political essays online

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Online LibraryWilliam V. (William Vincent) WellsThe life and public services of Samuel Adams, being a narrative of his acts and opinions, and of his agency in producing and forwarding the American Revolution. With extracts from his correspondence, state papers, and political essays → online text (page 10 of 46)
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ence among the Colonies was established ; but to reduce it
to practice there must be a meeting of delegates from each,
where resistance would be united and systematic. Had the
Americans followed the advice of Cushing and others of the
like policy, the Revolution must have proved a failxire, for
succesg could only be attained by determination in a fixed
purpose, to be accomplished not by one Colony, but by a,
confederacy of the whole thirteen. Adams saw in each new
act of aggression additional light and encouragement for the
grand object of his life ; and as he speculated upon the won-
derful future of America, he still urged a Congress as the
first step towards its realization,

"The very important dispute," said he, "between Britain and
America has, for a long time, employed the pens of statesmen in
both countries, but no plan of union is yet agreed on between them ;
the dispute still continues, and everything floats in uncertainty. Aa
I have long contemplated the subject with fixed attention, I beg
leave to offer a proposal to my countrymen, viz. that a Congress
OF American States be assembled as soon as possible ; draw up a
Bill of Bights, and publish it to the world ; choose an ambassador
to reside at the British Court to act for the united Colonies ; appoint
where the Congress shall annually meet, and how it may be sum-
moned upon any extraordinary occasion, what further steps are to
be taken, &c.

" The expense of an annual Congress would be very trifling, and
the advantages would undoubtedly be great ; in this way the wiSf
dom of the continent might, upon all important occasions, be col-
lected and operate for the interest of the whole people. Nor may
any one imagine this plan, if carried into execution, will injure
Great Britain ; for it will be the most likely way to bring the two
countries to a right understanding, and to settle matters in dispute
advantageously for both. So sensible are the people of America
that they are in possession of a fine country and other superior ad-
vantages, — their rapid increase and growing importance, — it cannot
be thought they will ever give up their claim to e^ual liberty with any


Other people on earth; but rather, as they find their power per-
petually increasing, look for greater perfection in just liberty and
government than other nations or even Britain ever enjoyed. As
the Colonies are blessed with the richest treasures of nature, art
will never be idle for want of stores to work upon ; and they, being
instructed by the experience, the wisdom, and even errors of all ages
and countries, will undoubtedly rise superior to them all in the scale
of human dignity, and give the world new and bright examples of
everything which can add lustre to humanity. No people that ever
trod the stage of the world have had so glorious a prospect as now
rises before the Americans. There is nothing good or great but
their wisdom may acquire, and to what heights they will arrive in
the progress of time no one can conceive. That Great Britain
should continue to insvit and alienate the growing milUons who in-
habit this country, on whom she greatly depends, and on whose alli-
ance in future time her existence as a nation may be suspended, is
perhaps as glaring an instance of human folly as ever disgraced pol-
iticians or put common sense to the blush." '

Fearing that the dangerous counsels recommending in-
action until the Ministry should feel disposed to redress
their grievances might find Mends in the interior towns, the
Boston Committee of Correspondence addressed them, by the
hand of Samuel Adams, a Circular Letter, setting forth the
advantage of a " Confederacy of the whole continent of
America," and refused to -waive the claim of right, which
could only divide the Americans in sentiment and confuse
their counsels. They urged the town committees not to
commit their rights to the tender mercies of the Ministry ;
reminded them that watchfulness, unity, and harmony were
necessary to the salvation of themselves and posterity from
bondage, and expressed " an animating confidence in the
Supreme Disposer of events, that he would never suffer a
sensible, brave, and virtuous people to be enslaved."^ The
most influential man in the interior was Joseph Hawley, one

' " Observation," in the Boston Gazette, Sept. 27, 1 773.
' Circular of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, Sept. 21, 1773,
quoted in Bancroft, YI. 467.


Of the ablest lawyers in the Province, vho for years had
worked shoulder to shoulder with the " Chief Incendiary "
in his legislative measures. Adams addressed him two long
letters, in October, on the subject engrossing his thoughts.

" I cannot omit," he says, " this opportunity of submitting to your
judgment the ideas I have of the present disposition of the British
Administration towards this country ; and I the rather do it at this
time, because, as matters seem to me to be drawing to a crisis, it is
of the greatest importance that we should have a right understand-
ing of tlieir sentiments and designs. The ' wild and extravagant
notions,' as they have lately been called, of the supreme authority of
Parliament, flowing from the pen of our House of Eepresentatives,
has greatly chagrined them, as they apprehend it has been the
means of awakening that spirit of opposition to their measures which,
from the information their tools on this side the water had given
them, and the confidence they had placed in the art and address of
Mr. Hutchinson, they had flattered themselves had subsided, and

would soon be extinguished Some of our politicians would

have the people believe the administration are disposed or deter-
mined to have all the grievances which we complain of redressed,
if we will only be quiet ; but this, I apprehend, would be a fatal
delusion ; for I have the best assurances that, if the King himself
should make any concessions, or take any steps contrary to the right
of Parliament to tax us, he would be in danger of embroiling him-
self with the Ministry ; and that, under the present prejudices of all
about him, even the recalling an instruction to the Governor is not
yet likely to be advised."

Again, to the same person, after a review of political af-
fairs, and hazarding some speculations upon the probable
issue of events in both continents, he says : —

" But nothing, I think, will be so dangerous as for the Americans
to withdraw their dependence upon themselves, and place it upon
those whose constant endeavor, for ten years past, has been to
enslave us ; and who, if they can obtain a new election of old mem-
bers, it is to be feared, unless we keep a perpetual watchfulness,
wUl in another seven years effect their designs. The safety of the
Americans, in my humble opinion, depends upon their pursuing


their wise plan of union in principle and conduct. If we persevere
in asserting our rights, the time must come, probably a time of war,
when our just claims wiU be attended to and our complaints re-
garded ; but if we discover the least disposition to submit ourselves
to their decision, it fs my opinion that our injuries will be increased

If Havley replied, the answers have not been preserved.
But there can scarcely be a doubt that he perfectly coin-
cided with his friend, and used the same argumentg in
Western Massachusetts to support union and a determined
action, if the weak policy of submission found any advocates
there. Adams followed up the subject again in the Ga-

" No one can doubt," he says, " but there are some good men in
the two Houses of Parliament, but, at the same time, it must be
extremely irrational in us to place any dependence upon them ; for
if they are not able to stop the progress of despotism in Britain,
where they reside, we may not imagine they can restore the liber-
ties of America. We know that the British Parliament stands
impeached by its constituents, and that numerous petitions from the
best part of the people in the kingdom have been presented to the
Throne for a dissolution of it, charging said Parliament (and sup-
porting their charge) with tyranny and many flagrant violations of
the rights and liberties of the people ; and now, what man in his
senses will hope for the restoration of American liberties from siich
a Parliament ? So much has been written upon the rights of the
Colonies, that no man of understanding is ignorantly transgressing
against them ; therefore Parliament has knowingly and deliberately
trampled on the liberties of America ; and from such men nothing is
to be expected but continued injuries.

" It is then evident, if we have relief, it must come from some
other quarter. It must result from the union and determined reso-
lution of the Colonies ; they must force their unjust aggressors to
comply with the dictates of reason. It will perhaps be readily
granted that there is no foundation to hope for redress of our griev-
ances from Parliament. But the question will be asked, — How

1 Adams to Hawley, Oct. 3 and 13, 1773.


shall the Colonies force their oppressors to proper terras ? This
question has been often ans^yered already by our politicians:
'Form an independent state,' 'An American Commonwealth.'
This plan has been proposed, and I can't find that any other is
likely to answer the great purpose of preserving our liberties. I
hope, therefore, it will be well digested and forwarded, to be in due
time put into execution, unless our political fathers can secure
American liberties in some other way. As the population, wealth,
and power of this continent are swiftly increasing, we certainly
have no cause to doubt of our success in maintaining liberty by
forming a commonwealth, or whatever measure wisdom may point
out for the preservation of the rights of America." ^

In whatever direction the search is pursued, the tireless
energy and indomitable purpose of Adams is apparent.
His genius seems to have been all-pervading. A bare re-
hearsal of his actions, with simply the comments necessary
to explain them, in consecutive order, must seem like pan-
egyric, from their very importance and results. Yet silent
memorials of his constant activity, which letters and pub-
lic documents alone unfold to curious investigation, can
only bring his shadow before the posterity for whose happi-
ness he toiled. We survey these pieces of the shattered
statue, and can but deplore the carelessness which leaves us
to imagine the figure by their character. The remnants for-
tunately preserved from a fate which had swept away the
greater portion, and was fast destroying all, might afford to
an inventive mind probable theories for narrative biography,
which would serve to reproduce the original with sufficient
accuracy. But whoever studies the great plan of the
American struggle, and seeks to comprehend its gradual
development upon the basis of reason and calm judgment,
may supply from its documents what is lacking for the illus-
tration of character in its minor details. To such an
observer, the papers of this period are so many pictures, full
of significance, and peopled in every line with the moving

' "%.," In the Boston Gazette, Oct. 11, 1773.


spirit of the time. We conjure up, without difficulty, the
scenes at the popular meetings in Faneuil Hall and the Old
South, and at the Committees of Correspondence, the earnest
debates ia the Legislature, the objections of the timid and
hesitating, and the overpowering will of the more resolute.
We imagine the conferences of the Governor and his confi-
dential friends in the Province-House; the discussions on
popular rights in the clubs and the family circles of Boston ;
the scenes in the streets, the equipages, the peculiar charac-
ter of the New England people ; the amusements, tastes,
manner of living, and dress of that day ; and fancy presents
an interminable succession of groups, embracing the entire
routine of life. But a strict adherence to actual occur-
rences, in portraying a series of political events, as illus-
trated in the actions of one or a few men, if taken as a rule
at the outset, leaves little space for the ideal.

The character of Samuel Adams is best shown in his
political works, and a. plain statement of facts places him
before us, without the assistance of inferential narrative.
Had a BosweU existed to record the daily sayings of Adams,
nothing extraordinary would be found in them, save the
wisdom and foresight which he displayed in conversation, as
well as in his public measures. But he never studied effect.
What he had to say was to the point, plainly expressed, and
uttered with the same earnestness which appears in his
writings. He never attempted flights of fancy or oratorical
display, and appealed, both with his pen and in public
debate, to the reason rather than to the imagination of
those whom he addressed. Of his speeches few specimens
have been preserved, and it is by his writings almost ex-
clusively that posterity must judge of his opinions on all
important matters. No amount of labor seemed capable of
exhausting him; no limit could be placed to his capacity
for work. And by a life of regularity, as far as the nature
of his pursuits would permit, and the strictest temperance,
he prolonged his powers for many years beyond the space
commonly allotted to man.


Having thrown abroad among the people of Massachu-
setts, by private letters, circulars, and essays in the Gazette,
his ideas of union, and urged a resolute policy to meet the
approaching danger, he again turned his attention to the
other Colonies, feeling assured that his own Province might
be counted on with absolute certainty. The intercolonial
Committee of Correspondence appointed by the House of
Representatives was in organization, but as yet few if any
documents had passed between that body and the other
Committees. Adams procured a meeting, and prepared a
Circular Letter to the Committees of the sister Colonies.^ It
was essential that CusMng, the Speaker of the House, who
was nominally chairman of the Massachusetts Committee,
should appear in the Circular, and he was brought into the
measure by Adams, who obtained his signature to the paper,
though, as we have seen, he had been opposed to its ex-
pressed policy. The original, rough draft, in Adams's hand-
writing, is extant. The Circular first calls attention to the"
nature of the intercolonial institution, and then points out
the menacing aspect of affairs, — the prorogation of Parlia-
ment, without taking the least notice of American griev-
ances; the King's resolute answer to the prayer of the
Massachusetts petition, avowing his intention to support
the authority of Parliament in the Provinces ; and the ac-
cumulating evidences that the Ministry were determined
to prosecute the revenue acts. It then continues: —

" Such being still the temper of the British Ministry, such the
disposition of the Parliament of Britain, under their direction, to
consider themselves the sovereign of America, is it not of the utmost
importance that our vigilance should increase, that the Colonies
should be united in their sentiments of the measures of opposition
necessary to be taken by them, and that in whichsoever of the Col

1 Bancroft, VI. 469. Barry's Massachusetts, II. 467. " Samuel Adams,
whose vigorous intellect overpowered opposition, persuaded even Gushing to
act as one of a select committee to prepare a circular to be sent to the other
Colonies to join with Massachusetts in resisting the designs of the EngUsh
Ministry and preventing the landing of teas in their ports."



onies any of the infringements are, or shall be, made on the com-
mon rights of all, that Colony should have the mutual efforts of all
for its support. This we take to be the true design of the estab-
lishment of our Committees of Correspondence.

" There is one thing that appears to us to be an object worthy
the immediate attention of the Colonies. Should a war take place,
which is thought by many to be near at hand, America will then be
viewed by Administration in a light of importance to Great Brit-
ain.^ Her aid will be deemed necessary ; her friendship, therefore,
will perhaps be even courted. Would it not be the highest wisdom
in the several American Assemblies absolutely to withhold all kinds
of aid in a general war, until the rights and liberties which they
ought to enjoy are restored and secured to them upon the most per-
manent foundation ? This has always been the usage of a spirited
House of Commons in Britain, and upon the best grounds ; for cer-
tainly security and protection ought to be the unalterable condition,
when supplies are called for. With regard to the extent of rights
which the Colonies ought td insist upon, it is a subject which re-
quires the closest attention and deliberation, and this is a strong
reason why it it should claim the earliest consideration of at least
every Committee, in order that we may be prepared, when time
and circumstances shall give to our claim the surest prospect of suc-
cess. And when we consider how one great event has hurried on
upon the back of another, such a time may come, and such circum-
stances take place, sooner than we are aware of. There are cer-
tain rights which every Colony has explicitly asserted, and which
we trust they will never give up. That, in particular, that they
have the sole and unalienable right to give and grant their own
money, and appropriate it to such purposes as they judge proper,
is justly deemed to be of the last importance. But whether even
this subject, so essential to our freedom and happiness, can remain
secure to us while a right is claimed by the British Parliament to
make laws binding upon us in all cases whatever, you will certainly
consider with seriousness. It should be debasing to us, after so
manly a struggle for our rights, to be contented with a mere tem-
porary relief."

' This idea of Britain's dependence npon America, in some future time of
war, seems to have frequently occupied the mind of Mr. Adams. See hia
essays in the Boston Gazette and hia letter to Hawley, Oct. 13, 1773.
VOL. 11. 7


The legislatire ecmtroversy of the last session was enclosed
with the Circular, from which only an extract has been
giyen, and it was suggested that, as some other Colony mig!ht
be called into a similar discussion, an interchange of argu-
ments would be beneficial.

" We are far from desiring," thus the paper concludes, " that the
connection between Britain and Amerioa should be broken. Usto
perpetua is our .ardent wish, but upon the terms only of equal liberty.
If we cannot establish an agreement upon these terms. Jet us leave
it to another and a wiser generation. But it may be worth consid-
eration, that the work is more likely to be well done at a time when
the ideas of liberty and its importance are strong in men's minds.
There is danger that tthese ideas may grow faint and languid. Our
posterity may be accustomed to bear the yoke, and being inured to
servility, they may even bow the shoulder to the burden. It can
never be expected that a people, however numerous, will form and
execute as wise plans to perpetuate their liberty, when they .have
lost the spirit and feeling of it.

" We cannot close without mentioning a fresh instance of the tem-
per and designs of the British Ministry ; and that is, allowing the
East India Company, with a view of .pacifying them, to ship their
teas to America. It is easy to see how aptly this scheme will
serve to destroy the trade of the Colonies and increase the revenue.
How necessary, then, is it, that each Colony should take effectual
methods to prevent this measure from having its designed effects." '

The Circular was- unanimously adopted by the Committee,
and a postscript was added, requesting that it should not be
made public, as its object might otherwise be counteracted
by the common enemies of the Colonies.

For a few months past, the Governor had found but little
else to do than to witness helplessly the gradual advances of
the people towards that union which the Ministry so dreaded.
His defeat in the legislative controversy, and the odium which
the exposure of his letters had brought upon his head, had

' ;OrigiDfil draft of the Circular Letter of the Committee of Correspondence
of the House to the other Colonies. Signed by Thomas Gushing, Samuel
Adams, and William Heath, Oct. 21, 1773.


lessened his influence in England ; and as he had received
no endorsement of his course for several months, but rather
intimations that his having raised the issue of Parliamentary
authority was disapproved by the government, his letters
grew less frequent. Dwarfed to mean proportions as a pol-
itician, anticipating his recall, and fearful of being left with-
out his usual public emoluments, he solicited the office of
Postmaster, held by Franklin, and looked forward with
gloomy apprehensions as to how he should be received on
his arrival. Overthrown in all his schemes for the aggran-
dizement of himself and family, he turned to the principal
agent of his troubles, and, as he noted the continued and
systematic approaches of Adams towards American Inde-
pendence, he addressed a private letter to Lord Dartmouth,
with the view of fally establishing in that nobleman's miad
the true position of the several leaders, and the overruling
influence of the master spirit.

" Permit me, my Lord, in a private letter to acquaint your Lord-
ship more particularly with the state of the Province than would be
convenient in a public letter. It must be allowed that the people,
in general, are possessed with a jealousy that it has been the design
of Administration in England to enslave them, as they term it, or to
subject their liberties and property to the arbitrary disposal of a
power in which they have not any choice, and over which they can-
not, be the issues what they may, have any control. There are
many, however, and more would appear if they dared, of the most
sensible part of the community who know and declare that the jeal-
ousies are groundless, and that they were raised and cultivated by
artful, designing men. The conductors of the people are divided in
sentiment ; some of them professing that they only aim to denounce
the innovations since the Stamp Act, or, as they sometimes say,
since the expiration of the war (for they are not always the same) ;
and though they don't think Parliament has a just authority, yet
they are willing to acquiesce, since it has been so long submitted to.
Others declare they will be altogether iudependent, but would main-,
tain an alliance with Great Britain. Each stands in need of the
other, and their mutual interest is sufficient to connect them to-


gether. Of the first sort, the Speaker of the House ' often declares
himself; so does a clergyman of Boston," who has great influence in
our political measures ; and so do some of the Council, who have
most influence there.

" Those of the latter opinion have for their head one of the mem-
bers of Boston, who was the first person that openly, in any public
assembly, declared for absolute independence, and who, from a nat-
ural obstinacy of temper, and from many years' practice in politics,
is perhaps as well qualified to excite the people to any extravagance
in theory or practice as any person in America. From large defal-
cations, as collector of taxes for the town of Boston,^ and other acts
in pecuniary matters, his influence was small until within these seven
years ; but since that, it has been gradually increasing, until he has
obtained such an ascendency as to direct the town of Boston and the
House of Representatives, and consequently the Council, just as he
pleases. A principle has been avowed by some who are attached
to him, the most inimical that can be d^ised, that in political mat-
ters the public good is above all othB^/jronsiderations ; and every rule
of morality, when in competition \^m ih'&ay very well be dispensed
with. Upon this principle, theJmJ>mJ^phtedi.n^, with respect to
the letters of the Governor amlrLftBtBwwmt-Govemor, of which he
was the chief conductor, has been vindicated. In ordinary affairs,
the counsels of the whole opposition ypite. Whenever there ap^
pears a disposition to any conciliatory^easures, this person, by his

Online LibraryWilliam V. (William Vincent) WellsThe life and public services of Samuel Adams, being a narrative of his acts and opinions, and of his agency in producing and forwarding the American Revolution. With extracts from his correspondence, state papers, and political essays → online text (page 10 of 46)