ADAMS (SAMUEL), governor of Massachusetts, and a most distinguished patriot in the American revolution, was born in Boston of a reputable family, Sep. 27, 1722. He was graduated at Harvard college in 1740. When he commenced master of arts in 1743, he proposed the following question for discussion, Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved? He maintained the affirmative, and thus early showed his attachment to the liberties of the people.
Early distinguished by talents as a writer, his first attempts were proofs of his filial piety. By his efforts he preserved the estate of his father, which had been attached on account of an engagement in the land bank bubble. He was known as a political writer during the administration of Shirley, to which he was opposed, as he thought the union of so much civil and military power in one man was dangerous. His ingenuity, wit, and profound argument are spoken of with the highest respect by those, who were contemporary with him. At this early period he laid the foundation of public confidence and esteem.
In 1765 he was elected a member of the general assembly of Massachusetts in the place of Oxenbridge Thacher, Esq., deceased. He was soon chosen clerk, and he gradually acquired influence in the legislature. This was an eventful time. But Mr. Adams possessed a courage, which no dangers could shake. He was undismayed by the prospect, which struck terror into the hearts of many. He was a member of the legislature near ten years, and he was the soul, which animated it to the most important resolutions. No man did so much. He pressed his measures with ardor; yet he was prudent; he knew how to bend the passions of others to his purpose.
When the charter was dissolved, he was chosen a member of the provincial convention. In 1774 he was elected a member of the general congress. In this station, in which he remained a number of years, he rendered the most important services to his country. His eloquence was adapted to the times in which he lived. The energy of his language corresponded with the firmness and vigor of his mind. His heart glowed with the feelings of a patriot, and his eloquence was simple, majestic, and persuasive. He was one of the most efficient members of congress. He possessed keen penetration, unshaken fortitude, and permanent decision. Gordon speaks of him in 1774 as having for a long time whispered to his confidential friends, that this country must be independent. In the last act of state of the British government in Massachusetts he was proscribed with John Hancock, when a general pardon was offered to all, who had rebelled. This act was dated June 12, 1775, and it teaches Americans what they owe to the denounced patriot.
In 1776 he united with Franklin, J. Adams, Hancock, Jefferson, and a host of worthies, in declaring the United States no longer an appendage to a monarchy, but free and independent.
When the constitution of Massachusetts was adopted he was chosen a member of the senate, of which body he was elected president. He was soon sent to the western countries to quiet a disturbance, which was rising, and he was successful in his mission. He was a member of the convention for examining the constitution of the United States. He made objections to several of its provisions, but his principal objection was to that article, which rendered the several states amenable to the courts of the nation. He thought this reduced them to mere corporations; that the sovereignty of each would be dissolved; and that a consolidated government, supported by an army, would be the consequence. The constitution was afterwards altered in this point and in most other respects according to his wishes.
In 1789 he was chosen lieutenant governor, and was continued in this office till 1794, when he was elected governor, as successor to Mr. Hancock. He was annually replaced in the chair of the first magistrate of Massachusetts till 1797, when his age and infirmities induced him to retire from public life. He died Oct. 2, 1803, in the 82nd year of his age.
The leading traits in the character of Mr. Adams were an unconquerable love of liberty, integrity, firmness, and decision. Some acts of his administration as chief magistrate were censured, though all allowed his motives were pure. A division in political sentiments at that time existed, and it has since increased. When he differed from the majority he acted with great independence. At the close of the war he opposed peace with Great Britain, unless the northern states retained their full privileges in the fisheries. In 1787 he advised the execution of the condign punishment, to which the leaders of the rebellion in 1786 had been sentenced. He was opposed to the treaty with Great Britain made by Mr. Jay in 1794, and he put his election to hazard by avowing his dislike of it. He was censured for his conduct; but he undoubtedly had a right to express his opinion, and his situation made it his duty to point out to the people what he conceived to be causes of danger.
Mr. Adams was a man of incorruptible integrity. Attempts were probably made by the British to bribe him. Gov. Hutchinson, in answer to the inquiry, why Mr. Adams was not taken off from his opposition by an office, writes to a friend in England, "Such is the obstinacy and inflexible disposition of the man, that he never can be conciliated by any office or gift whatever."
He was poor. While accepted abroad in the most important and responsible public duties, the partner of his cares supported the family at home by her industry. Though his resources were very small; yet such was the economy and dignity of his house, that those, who casually visited him, found nothing mean, or unbecoming his station. His country, to whose interests he had devoted his life, permitted him to remain poor; but there were not wanting a few friends, who showed him their regard. In this honorable poverty he continued to a very late period of his life; and had not a decent competency fallen into his hands by the very afflicting event of the death of an only son, he must have depended for subsistence upon the kindness of his friends, or the charity of the public.
To a majestic countenance and dignified manners there was added a suavity of temper, which conciliated the affection of his acquaintance. Some, who disapproved of his political conduct, loved and revered him as a neighbor and friend. He could readily relax from severer cares and studies to enjoy the pleasures of private conversation. Though somewhat reserved among strangers, yet with his friends he was cheerful and companionable, a lover of chaste wit, and remarkably fond of anecdote. He faithfully discharged the duties arising from the relations of social life. His house was the seat of domestic peace, regularity, and method.
Mr. Adams was a Christian. His mind was early imbued with piety, as well as cultivated by science. He early approached the table of the Lord Jesus, and the purity of his life witnessed the sincerity of his profession. On the Christian Sabbath he constantly went to the temple, and the morning and evening devotions in his family proved, that his religion attended him in his seasons of retirement from the world. The last production of his pen was in favor of Christian truth. He died in the faith of the Gospel.
He was a sage and a patriot. The independence of the United States of America is perhaps to be attributed as much to his exertions, as to the exertions of any one man. Though he was called to struggle with adversity, he was never discouraged. He was consistent and firm under the cruel neglect of a friend and the malignant rancor of an enemy; comforting himself in the darkest seasons with reflections upon the wisdom and goodness of God.
His writings exist only in the perishable columns of a newspaper or pamphlet. In his more advanced years, in the year 1790, a few letters passed between him and Mr. John Adams, then vice president of the United States, in which the principles of government are discussed, and there seems to have been some difference of sentiment between those eminent patriots and statesmen, who had toiled together through the revolution. This correspondence was published in 1800. An oration, which Mr. Adams delivered at the state house in Philadelphia, Aug. 1, 1776, was published. The object is to support American independence, the declaration of which by congress had been made a short time before. He opposes kingly government and hereditary succession with warmth and energy. Not long before his death he addressed a letter to Paine, expressing his disapprobation of that unbeliever's attempts to injure the cause of Christianity. --- Thacher's sermon; Sullivan's character of him in public papers; Rees' Cyclopaedia; Polyanthos, iii. 73-82; Gordon, i. 347, 410; Brissot, Nouv. Voy. i. 151.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The above biography of Samuel Adams (slightly edited) is from: William Allen, An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary, Containing an Account of the Lives, Characters, and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in North America from Its First Discovery to the Present Time, and a Summary of the History of the Several Colonies and of the United States (Cambridge: William Hilliard, 1809), pp. 3-6.]
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