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Sam Adams And the American Revolution

Harry Frankel

This series of articles originally appeared in The Militant, November 12, 1951, through March 3, 1952.
Transcribed & marked up by Roland Sheppard and Andrew Pollack for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Chapter 1: The Army of the People
Chapter 2: The Young Sam Adams
Chapter 3: Professional Revolution
Chapter 4: The Struggle Begins
Chapter 5: The People Shouted!
Chapter 6: The Rift Begins
Chapter 7: The Occupation and the Resistance
Chapter 8: The Merchants Desert
Chapter 9: The New Party
Chapter 10: The Boston Tea Party
Chapter 11: The Old Man
Chapter 12: Unity and Revolution
Chapter 13: National Battleground — The Continental Congress
Chapter 14: From the Boston Tea Party to Concord and Lexington
Chapter 15: Democracy and Revolution
Chapter 16: Civil War
Chapter 17: The Revolution and Social Change



On the night of April 18, 1775, a small detachment of British troops moved out of Boston up towards Lexington, where they hoped to capture the radical leader Samuel Adams. He was reported to be nearby, preparing, together with John Hancock, another prominent rebel, to set out for the second meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Within hours, the giant blaze of a revolutionary mobilization swept through the cities and countryside of New England. Adams and Hancock went on to the Congress. The detachment of British troops was driven back into Boston, and the British army encamped there found itself besieged by a people's militia of 20,000 armed workingmen and farmers.

This powerful body of troops was something new under the sun. It was neither hired nor conscripted, but entirely volunteer. It was not raised by law; it was organized in defiance of all existing laws. It was staffed and officered not by royalty, nor by professional militarists, but by farmers, printers, blacksmiths, doctors, tailors, barbers and others elected to their commissions by the ranks. This New England army of the people was soon joined by other plebeian armies throughout the nation. The common people of America organized themselves into military units, armed themselves and challenged the military might of Imperial Britain. The revolutionary army of 1775-81, with all of its imperfections, discontent in the ranks, desertions, etc., still presents a remarkable picture. Today, when the militarists have to drag the reluctant draftees practically one by one to the slaughter, it is well to recall that at one time in our past a large percentage of the population mobilized itself for war, not because the law said so, but in spite of the law and in defiance of the law.

When people defy the law in order to fight, society is being turned inside out. It is a sure sign that a revolutionary process is capsizing the ship of state, overturning all the old social and political relations and bringing a new order of things into being. The Revolutionary War of 1775-81 was the result of just such a revolutionary process.

That which historians generally call the “American Revolution” (or sometimes “The War of Independence”) was really the last stage of the revolution: a revolutionary war against reactionary ruling classes and foreign oppression. The decisive stages of the revolution came before this war. The reason that historians become confused about this is very interesting. A revolution is the process whereby the mass of the people transfer their allegiance to a new social and political order, which they have built within the shell of the old. This is very often followed by a revolutionary war. The dispossessed, reactionary classes, sometimes with foreign help, throw the weight of their remaining strength against the new regime.

In the American Revolution, the masses and their radical leaders started on the road to revolution some years before Concord and Lexington. By the time the war began, the framework of a new regime had already been elaborated.

Since the historians would like to hide or disregard as much as possible the revolutionary past, they prefer to ignore the actual overthrow of the outlived regimes. They prefer to treat the revolution as a war between two sovereign states. In contrast to these historians, we will not be primarily concerned with the military stage of the revolution. We will be concerned with the process by which the new regime arose within the shell of the old. We will be concerned with the way in which the people sifted programs and parties and found their way to the radical party, which they then built into the foremost political force.

We have already seen that the open warfare between the old regime and the new was touched off by a British military foray, one of the objects of which was the capture of Sam Adams. We shall see that this was no accident. The British and the American Tories had good reasons for hating Sam Adams and for attempting to lay their hands on him. Sam Adams was the leader of the seething revolutionary masses of New England. He was able, by skillful use of this powerful force, to determine the fundamental course of the revolution throughout the colonies, despite the widespread suspicion of the New England radicals that existed among the opposition elements elsewhere.

There were very important reasons why Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement. In the first place, Boston contained a large working class, mechanic and independent artisan-shopkeeper population. It was the center of the shipbuilding region, as well as the most important port. As we shall see, this type of population was the spearhead of the revolution everywhere. The Boston sailors, shipyard and ropewalk workers, brewery workers, fishermen, sawmill workers, together with small merchants, shopkeepers and artisans, were the shock troops of the revolution. Boston was the chief base of operations of a certain section of the merchant class: the so-called free-trade merchants, who imported goods without paying duty on them, or, in a word, smugglers. The whole economy of the New England region did not fit well into the mercantile system by which the British merchants exploited the colonies. This led to serious frictions. And so Boston early became a center of resistance to British colonial rule.

Boston developed the best of the radical leaders. At the head of the Boston mass movement was Sam Adams, the most capable, intransigent and farsighted leader of the American Revolution. He was the greatest revolutionary leader ever developed on this continent, and one of the greatest the world has ever known. Sam had been a fully conscious revolutionist for at least eight years before Concord and Lexington, and a revolutionist in deeds, if not yet fully in his consciousness, for a dozen years prior to that.




Sam Adams was born in Boston on September 22, 1722. His father, a prosperous brewer, was also a part-time politician who was active in opposition to the crown government of Massachusetts. Adams was sent to Harvard, the oldest colonial institution of higher learning. He studied law and religion, but was satisfied with neither and was graduated from college without any settled profession.

While Adams was at college, his father lost a good portion of his money in the crash of 1741, which was caused by the action of the British colonial administration illegalizing the Land Bank, a company that issued currency with land as its sole security. Many historians have jumped to the conclusion that this action of the British, which compelled young Sam Adams to wait on tables at Harvard in order to finish his schooling, made a revolutionist out of him. This is reminiscent of the story that Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, became a revolutionist because his brother was hanged by the czar's government. In actuality, Sam Adams, like Lenin, was a product of his whole environment. Adams, like the later revolutionist, Lenin, possessed a well-balanced mentality and would not permit one single event to determine the whole course of his life.

Adams grew up in the atmosphere of resistance to British rule. His father's house was a rendezvous for all the leading oppositionists of the mid-eighteenth century. For example, Elisha Cooke, leader of the Massachusetts Country Party, the party of opposition, was a frequent visitor. Adams's father was a leading oppositionist, who was removed from his seat in the General Court (Massachusetts legislature) for his battles in defense of colonial rights. He was, in addition, a founder of the Caucus Club, an opposition center important in the future work of his son. The Caucus Club was a political organization, primarily of workingmen.

Later, at Harvard, Adams studied the so-called natural-rights philosophers, Locke, Sydney, Harrington, Pufendorf. These were the theorists whose ideas of “natural right' and justice had been used to justify the English Revolution of the seventeenth century. It was becoming increasingly common to apply these same theories to American rights.

In general, the whole colonial atmosphere, particularly in Boston, was one of increasing opposition to Britain when Adams was a young man. Moreover, Sam Adams had behind him a tradition of more than one hundred years of class struggles. The whole previous century had been marked with instances of colonial revolt against the British, through which most of the colonies gained certain rights, such as jurisdiction over purely local affairs and so on.

These colonial struggles were also class struggles. British rule in America was not just a lid on a pot that could be removed without disturbing the contents. British rule here depended upon and therefore encouraged the oppression of some classes of the population by others. Thus a struggle against Britain had to become also a class struggle.

Before Adams was fully caught up in these struggles, his family tried to equip him with a “respectable” profession. He was first sent to the counting house of Thomas Cushing, merchant, but Cushing soon turned him out with the remark that he was training young men for business, not politics. Years later, Sam Adams was to have trouble with this same merchant's son. He often tried to hammer it into the younger Cushing that he was training young men for politics, not for business. Adams's father made one more try, this time giving his son a thousand pounds to go into business on his own. Adams loaned the money to a friend who lost it in an unsuccessful venture. After this incident, he started to go his own way.

One of his biographers had said of Adams: “He had no private business after the first years of his manhood.” And when such a man, with no private business, makes it his public business to oppose the tyranny of a reactionary government and work for its overthrow, we call him a professional revolutionist. That is what Sam Adams was: the first professional revolutionist of American history.

In 1746, at the age of twenty-four, Adams was elected to his first public office: a two-year term as one of the clerks of the Boston Market. Later on, in 1753, he was chosen town assessor and scavenger (garbage collector). He held this post until 1756, when he was elected tax collector of his city. This was his job until 1765, when the conflict broke out, and he moved into the “Boston Seat' as one of the four members who made up the representation from the town of Boston. When Adams left the office of tax collector in 1765, his accounts showed a delinquency of some 7000 pounds. Historians who are anxious to blacken Adams's reputation whisper slyly that Adams was involved in “the worst scandal” attached to the name of any signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Many efforts were made in revolutionary times to smear Adams with this charge of larceny. This campaign was never successful in view of Adams's well-known character. His reputation for strict personal honesty and his extreme selflessness and constant poverty make it incredible that he took any money for himself. As he explained, he had never collected these taxes, and the money never passed through his hands. Adams's close personal relations with the very people of Boston from whom he was supposed to collect taxes and his easygoing way in the business world must be taken into account, and it is most probable that he was the kind of tax collector we would all like to deal with. As a matter of fact, the Bostonians didn't want to release him from the job.

We will have more to say later on about the nagging poverty that was with Adams for the greater part of his life. Suffice it to say here that the public offices he held throughout the revolutionary period never paid enough in salary to support the household of a father of six children. Later, he was to inherit his father's brewery, but he paid it little or no attention, his entire time being occupied with the fight for independence. The business was soon in ruins, but Adams, although penniless, never expressed any regrets over his condition. His wants were few, his baggage light and his road clear.



From his young manhood on, Sam Adams made the fight against British oppression of the colonies his profession. He let nothing stand in the way of this profession. Danger, hardship and poverty were all part of his daily routine for most of his life, but he placed his principles above everything. “Stern and incorruptible” was the reputation that Sam Adams acquired.

In 1748, twenty-five years before the revolutionary crisis matured, Adams, together with some friends, founded the Boston Public Advertiser, a radical newspaper. This was the beginning of his journalistic work. Adams was to become the most able writer, agitator and propagandist of the American Revolution. After the Advertiser failed, Adams became a regular contributor to the Boston and New England radical press. The Boston Gazette was the chief radical paper, and Adams wrote for this paper under seventeen different names.

Adams was also to gain fame as the greatest of revolutionary organizers and strategists. In this early period, Adams began this work in the Caucus Club, which his father had helped to found. The Caucus Club was the steering committee of the oppositionists to British crown government. It was composed of the leading resistance fighters: workingmen, artisans, tradesmen and some merchants. This club met regularly to agree upon policies and candidates that the caucus then supported in the town meetings and sessions of the colonial legislature.

Adams rapidly became the most powerful figure in the Caucus Club. His popularity was based upon his consistently good advice, his firmness in principle, his flexibility in maneuvering and his ability in handling men. The radical newspapers of Massachusetts, together with the Caucus Club, made life miserable for the royal governors of Massachusetts. “A governor's station,” said Adams, “is very slippery.” In the course of thirty years' work, Adams was to drive many governors from the shores of New England. He knew how to build up a murderous pressure and make it very difficult for a royal governor to operate.

His fight against British governors had one very instructive exception. Governor Pownall, who held his office during three years of the French and Indian War, from 1757 to 1760, gave the colony a mild administration. The British needed colonial aid very badly during the war, and for that reason they relaxed their strictness. Adams not only left Pownall alone but virtually supported him. He was to regret this as a serious error in the years to come. A decade later, conciliationists were to use the Pownall regime as a demonstration of their claim that it was possible to live in peace with the British. These conciliators demanded a “return” to the policies of the Pownall regime. Adams, who always closed off every possible loophole to his antagonists, was compelled to refute this argument. He had to reevaluate the Pownall regime in order to make it plain that the concessions made by the British in that period were only temporary and were made only because the British had no choice at the time.

By supporting a British governor for a few short years, Adams had helped to sow the illusion that revolution was unnecessary, that all that was needed was a “good” governor. But he later corrected that error and never made it again. As a matter of fact, in later years when the mass movement succeeded in wringing a few concessions from the British, Adams always warned the people not to slacken their vigilance on that account.

As Adams developed and matured, the social antagonisms that were to produce the revolution matured in like measure. The big turning point of colonial relations with Britain came with the ending of the French and Indian War in 1763. Before that, relations had been uneasy, and even marked by rebellions, but after the ending of the war, the antagonisms flared out in revolutionary form.

The colonial policy of the capitalists who governed Britain has been given the name “mercantilism.” Mercantilism was more than a mere policy; it was a whole stage of capitalism. It was the stage when the merchant capitalists ruled, before the industrial capitalists displaced them as the dominant force in society. Merchant capital makes its profits through the purchase and sale of commodities. Thus the whole effort of the British capitalist class was to establish the most profitable conditions for the purchase and sale of goods by British merchants.

This had a twofold effect on early American development. It both helped and hindered the growth of the American economy. On the one hand, the protection and assistance of the powerful, commercially and militarily supreme British Empire helped the colonists to prosper. And on the other hand, the British merchant capitalists tried to skim off the cream of the profits produced on the plantations, farms, and fisheries of the colonies. But the British had to permit, even to assist, the growth of the early economy in order to exploit it.

British policy succeeded in the plantation colonies of the south. Here the British merchants seized hold of the big staple crops, tobacco, rice, indigo, and marketed them at great profits, turning back only a pittance to the southern planters. Because of this, the planters fell further and further into debt to British merchants and brokers. Finally, towards the second half of the century, the planters were becoming, as Thomas Jefferson-himself a planter said, “A species of property annexed to certain mercantile houses.” The planters faced absolute ruin within the British mercantile system. They had to break out of it. That is why many of the biggest planters, such as George Washington, and most of the smaller planters, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, became radicals in the end, unlike the upper classes of the northern and middle colonies, who wound up mostly Tory.

In the northern and middle colonies, in the merchant-dominated cities like Boston where Sam Adams grew up, the situation was somewhat different. The British never fully succeeded in integrating these colonies into the mercantile system. They never succeeded in getting a firm grip on the trade of these parts of the country. The merchants owned their own ships, and they scoured the seas for trade opportunities pretty much as they pleased.

During the French and Indian War, the colonial merchants preyed mercilessly upon the British forces, selling them everything at high prices and also enriching themselves by trade with the enemy. At the close of the war, the British, having removed their last serious rival on the American continent, began to move against colonists. The British renewed their machinery for collecting long defunct import taxes. They started the search and seizure of vessels and contraband cargoes. They planned new taxes to pay the cost of the French and Indian War. In brief, they opened a campaign to extend their control over the merchants and also to tighten their grip upon the planters.

Thus after 1763 the antagonisms began to come to a head, and the revolutionary explosions followed. Sam Adams, who had already labored for more than fifteen years as an anti-British oppositionist, was now joined by powerful new forces. The merchants came on the scene; the protests became widespread; great popular movements were stirred into life; and the fights started.



The observers of the great revolutions of history have described the holiday spirit with which the people begin revolts. Later on, when the insurrectionary masses learn the grim difficulties of their tasks, their early festive mood changes to a more serious and determined attitude. But in the beginning, the mass of the working people, entering upon the stage to make history in their own name, do so with a great and wholesome glee. They are made happy by the new-found knowledge that they have the power to shape the world to their needs.

That is how it was in the American Revolution. When the mass opposition began in the early 1760s, it brought with it a fresh breeze, a glow of comradeship, a new and invigorating mood that penetrated every layer of the working population.

Stirred by the measures of the British in violation of colonial rights, by the search and seizure of sailing vessels, by the new taxes imposed by the British chancellor of the exchequer, the people began to gather in new organizations and mass meetings.

Town meetings, long an institution in New England, began to grow larger. These meetings customarily decided upon policies and elected town officials. When the revolution first began, there were about 1,500 people in the town of Boston entitled by law to attend town meetings and vote. The property qualifications kept the others out, and the meetings were very small. But as the revolution proceeded, attendance at town meetings grew. Attendance reached two to three thousand and even as high as six and seven thousand in times of crisis. Moreover, the propertied voters, the only ones entitled to vote under the law, began to stay away, since, as they complained, when Sam Adams presided over a meeting, there were “very few gentlemen” present.

The people also began to barge in on the sittings of the legislature. Later on, when the radicals had elected a. number of their people to the legislature, they opened the sessions to the public and even had a gallery installed. Thus the great mass audiences followed politics in detail and made their presence felt even where they were not permitted to speak but only to sit and to watch.

As the masses intervened more directly in the course of events, they built their own organizations, such as the Sons of Liberty, or Liberty Boys, and had their own meeting places. Foremost among the gathering places of the population were the town meetings at the Old South Church and Faneuil Hall, and the Liberty Tree and Boston Common, where the outdoor mass meetings were held.

In the first flush of the popular rebellion, the masses found an idol in the young lawyer and orator, James Otis. A brilliant speaker and a colorful personality, he resigned from his government post as crown advocate in order to join the opposition. When the British asserted their right to search and seize sailing vessels, Otis spoke for the opposition. He spoke new and startling words, and a great crowd flocked to hear him. Otis dazzled his audience with a five-hour blast against the crown government and its colonial supporters. He asserted the right of the colonies to self-management and concluded with a ringing appeal for liberty. The crowds that had gathered to hear him in the courtroom and who listened to him later at the town meetings and at the legislature felt that they had found their spokesman. Otis became floor leader of the minority bloc of the General Court (legislature); this bloc soon numbered about one-third of the assembly. James Otis seemed to be one of the greatest men of the coming revolution.

Sam Adams was becoming increasingly prominent during this same period. However, this early role was largely behind the scenes. Although not yet a member of the legislature, he guided the work of the minority action through the Caucus Club and through personal discussions. Adams wrote many of the resolutions of the oppositionists and continued his educational work in the columns of the Boston Gazette and other radical papers. But James Otis was the tribune of the people, the orator and popular leader in this early stage of the revolution.

However, as the struggle became more serious, important weaknesses began to appear in Otis. He found it very hard to take the revolutionary road. He feared the growing mass movement. That is an unfailing sign, whenever it appears in a revolutionary leader, that he has chosen the wrong vocation. “Until 1765,” says one historian, “[ Otis] was the leader of the debates in the House. But thenceforward, his opinions grew uncertain, and vacillated as circumstances altered. His fervid eloquence was always at the command of his country, but the direction of its torrent could not be relied on at all times.” The more compromise became impossible, the more Otis emphasized compromise and reform. He interlarded his speeches with the most lavish protestations of loyalty to the king. In short, he wanted to live in both worlds: the old regime and the new one then being born.

The fevers of despair and indecision gripped him repeatedly in the most crucial moments of the revolution. His course became ever more erratic. One day he would try to hold back the mass movement, to prevent some necessary forcible action. The next day he would challenge George Grenville (British minister) to single combat on the floor of the House of Commons, winner take all. This was clearly the raving of a disordered mind, but there was a method in this madness. Otis reflected the American ruling classes, who hoped to find some way to settle all disputes with Britain without calling the forces of the people into the arena.

Finally, the strain of the revolution was too much for Otis. His mind snapped, and he ended his days in a straitjacket. Of course, this dilemma was not his private problem. As we shall see, he reflected the situation of his whole class: the merchant-rulers of New England. The revolution drove them half-crazy too. And, just as Otis's mind divided, so did the merchant class split over the revolution.

As the inadequacies of Otis grew plainer and the needs of the revolution sterner, Adams came to the fore. In the latter part of 1765, Adams was elected at a town meeting to fill a vacancy in the Boston representation to the General Court. Within a short time, he was clerk of the legislature and also presided over most town meetings as moderator. His power and popularity soon exceeded that of Otis.

Adams gained in influence because he offered the revolution leadership, a program and an unflinching allegiance that Otis could not give. He differed fundamentally from Otis in his whole approach to the struggle with Britain. While Otis was anxious to win, but not so anxious that he would favor smashing the empire, Adams cared nothing for the British imperial structure. While Otis hesitated to call the working people into the fight, Sam Adams understood that without the great creative powers of the mass of the people, no revolution is possible. In short, Sam Adams valued the objectives of the fight so highly that he was willing to use every weapon required to win that fight. That is why Tory contemporaries called him a “Jesuit” and modern historians parrot them, saying that Sam Adams believed in the “Jesuitical maxim that the end justifies the means.”

This change in leadership, from Otis to Adams, was like a switch -In pitchers when the game goes into the hot innings. It is characteristic of all revolutions. In the first blaze of revolutions, the people choose their leaders in a holiday spirit. Showmen, orators, often come to the top. These are people whose sounding words can sway the people momentarily, but they can never solve the knotty problems of the revolution.

Mirabeau and Lafayette in the first stage of the French Revolution, Kerensky in the opening period of the Russian, were of this type. But Mirabeau had to give way to Robespierre, and Kerensky dropped out of the picture as the people turned to Lenin and Trotsky. In the same way, when Sam Adams replaced James Otis in the affections and trust of the populace, the revolution headed for more serious work.



Early in 1765, the British Ministry threw a match into the powder barrel of American colonial discontent. Parliament, intent upon raising revenue in the colonies, passed the Stamp Act. This tax law provided that all legal documents, newspapers, mortgages, titles, deeds and so forth, had to be printed on stamped paper, which was to be sold by the British government. The passage of the Stamp Act brought a great reaction. Of course, the American ruling classes opposed the new tax. But, in addition, the mass of the people, especially the city masses, now entered the fight in person. It must be remembered that revolutions differ from all other political events in that the people enter upon the scene and make history directly, without intermediaries. And in the Stamp Act campaign of 1765, that is what happened in America. Most political leaders of the opposition were shocked and repelled by the entrance of the masses and by the work they did. But not Sam Adams. He welcomed the people as they entered the fight and understood the meaning of the events. The Stamp Act demonstrations, said Sam Adams, “ought to be forever remembered in America. The people shouted, and their shout was heard to the distant end of the continent.”

“The people shouted! . .” and they acted too. Great crowds met incoming ships and seized the stamps. The stamps were burned in big bonfire celebrations. British ministers and their Tory supporters in America were burned in effigy at great mass meetings in Boston, Salem, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Charleston and the other principal cities. At these meetings, held under the Liberty Tree, the stampmasters, brought in by large committees of brawny Sons of Liberty, were compelled to resign their obnoxious office.

One historian writes: “The stampmasters found themselves the most hated men in America. . . . Most stampmasters probably did not suspect when they received their appointment that it was to be a traveling job — usually with a mob at their heels. In their headlong dash across country, they may well have outridden Revere himself. Had you seen a disheveled figure with a hunted look in his eye thundering down a colonial highway in 1765, you might well have concluded that here was an American stampmaster, on his way to the nearest British fort or man-of-war.”

It was at this time that the Sons of Liberty were formed in most of the colonial cities. The Sons of Liberty were organizations of the leading, active fighters that planned and led the mass demonstrations. They were composed mainly of workers, artisans, shopkeepers and, very often, were formed directly out of craft or trade organizations, or out of fire-fighting companies. The following description of the functioning of these revolutionary action organizations is taken from a biography of Sam Adams:

“The 'Sons of Liberty' were soon thoroughly organized and subject to the direction of influential leaders. They were composed, for the most part, of the laboring classes and mechanics, and were successfully secret in all their meetings and preparations for concerted movements. They issued warrants for the arrest of suspected persons, arranged in secret caucus the preliminaries of elections, and the programme for patriotic celebrations, and in fact were the mainspring, under the guidance of the popular leaders, of every public demonstration against the government. They probably numbered about three hundred [in Boston], and held their public meetings in Liberty Hall,' the name given to a space around 'Liberty Tree' at the junction of Newbury, Orange and Essex Streets, which afforded ample room for a gathering of several thousand persons. . . .”

The leaders of the Boston Sons of Liberty, or “Liberty Boys,” as they were sometimes called, were all Adams men, staunch radicals. The steering committee of the organization was called the Loyal Nine. It was composed of one printer (Benjamin Edes, of Edes and Gill, printers of the Adams newspaper, the Boston Gazette), two distillers, two coppersmiths, one ship captain, a painter and a merchant. The lone merchant on the committee, Henry Hass, was a cousin of Sam Adams. The Boston copper and silversmith, Paul Revere, who was to become famous as a courier, was also a prominent member.

The Stamp Act campaign in Boston was organized by Sam Adams. It was in this fight that the masterful abilities of the great revolutionary strategist first came into active play.

Just prior to the demonstrations, Adams unified the North and South End “gangs” or “cudgel boys” of Boston into a single force. These “gangs” customarily battled each other on “Pope's Day” or on other suitable occasions. Adams brought them together in a “Union Feast” and convinced them that patriotism came before local rivalry or sport. Ebenezer Mackintosh, leader of the South End gang, became the first captain-general of the Liberty Tree and paraded his “troops” through the streets of Boston to the terror of the Tories.

Mackintosh, about whom only a few scraps of information have come down to us, was an Adams lieutenant on the field of action, a battle commander in the streets of Boston. He was small of stature and a natty dresser, a reader of poetry by taste and a shoemaker by trade, a real fighter and an interesting individual about whom we know all too little. Mackintosh led the two great demonstrations that put the Stamp Act out of business in Massachusetts. In retaliation for his part as leader of the popular movement, he was arrested and imprisoned by the government, but when Adams threatened reprisals, he was released. Others who were arrested after the demonstrations spent over a year in prison despite the protests.

The popular demonstrations in Boston that forced the stampmaster to resign became so extensive and so militant that the governor of the colony fled to Castle William, the British fortress. There he remained, bottled up in the fort together with the stamps, which had been sent along for safekeeping.

The radicalization of the masses is symbolized by the fact that the red flag, already in those days the banner of left-wing radicalism, was raised above the Liberty Tree during the anti-Stamp Act agitation of 1765.

Adams now set a further objective for the Boston insurgents. He opened a campaign to compel the various government departments to do business without stamps, that is, illegally. The letters and articles for which he became famous poured from Adams's pen. He worked with inexhaustible energy, writing, speaking, organizing, exhorting, cajoling, convincing. Emissaries were sent to the Massachusetts farming towns, in the first of Adams's backcountry campaigns. Mass meetings were organized; demonstrations threatened a renewal of the August days of violence. The General Court and the Boston town meetings, soon joined by town meetings throughout the colony, passed strong resolutions. This combination of methods was used to hammer the Tories down.

The Tories were forced to yield. one by one the government departments had to reopen. Customs agents were forced to issue unstamped clearance papers to sailing vessels. The courts of common law, the probate courts and finally even the court of the British Admiralty were compelled to go along. Finally, as the tension mounted to the breaking point, the Superior Court of the colony yielded after a hard-fought, two-month battle. Thus the governor and his council were left alone in their determination to do no business without stamps. The Stamp Act was a total failure for the British rulers and the Tories. The British were compelled to repeal it. The first great campaign ended in victory.



With this rapid increase of popular activity, the wealthy colonial leaders, the rich merchants and so-called aristocrats began to draw back from the movement. They had initiated the protests against the British, but now that the masses were in motion, they became fearful of the consequences to their own privileged positions. Gouverneur Morris, leading snobocrat, made a few remarks in those days that typify the attitude of his class towards the common people of their own land. “The mob,” he said, “begins to think and reason. Poor reptiles! It is with them a vernal morning; they are struggling to cast off their winter's slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite.” It was this bite that the colonial ruling classes feared. The rich merchants of the New England-New York-Pennsylvania region had started the protest movement with the restricted object of restoring the commercial system as it had existed before 1763. But now that the people were crowding into politics, they began to shrink from the whole business.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., a conscientious historian (not to be confused with his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.), made a thorough study of this aspect of the revolution. He summarizes as follows: The merchants retreated from their anti-British stand “when it became apparent that their agitation for commercial redress was unloosing social forces more destructive to business interests than the misguided acts of Parliament.” In other words, they feared the masses more than they feared the British restrictions and, for that reason, began to leave the opposition movement.

Meanwhile, the British rulers, undismayed by their stinging defeat in the Stamp Act fight, were moving ahead to new restrictions upon the colonies. Dying, reactionary governments never seem to learn: they always come back for more. The reason for this is not that they are stupid, but that they have no choice. If the British mercantilist were to give up America, then this meant the end of rule by the: British merchant-capitalists, even in Britain. The rising industrial capitalist class would be able to push them out of power once they lost their monopoly in the American colonies. As a matter of fact, that is what did happen in Britain in the decades immediately following the American Revolution.

Reactionary classes that are making a desperate, last-ditch battle to preserve the old way of life never have any choice. That is why reformers cut such a foolish figure in revolutionary times. They seek to convince the ruling class to change its ways, when that ruling class is fighting for its very life and cannot possibly do anything except resist change and become more reactionary. The liberals today “urge” the capitalist class to give up its imperialist aims in Asia, or to cease persecutions of minority groups. The imperialists pay them no heed. Nor did the British capitalists of the eighteenth century pay any attention to the reformers of that day who urged them to cease arousing the colonies. Even at the very moment of their Stamp Act defeat, when they repealed that law they attached a declaration insisting upon the authority of the British colonists to tax the colonies in all cases whatever. They then renewed their efforts to enforce some of the existing taxes and imposed a series of new ones. The Townshend import duties, taxes on lead, paper, painter's colors, tea and other articles of daily use, caused a fresh wave of popular resentment to sweep the country.

Thus, after a brief lull, the popular activity began again. The protest movement was organized, this time in the form of non-importation or boycott agreements.

The revived movement, however, was quite different from the previous protest waves. In 1761, at the time of the search-and-seizure disputes, and in 1765, in the Stamp Act campaign, the merchants led the way. Now they hung back. At first, the merchants made every effort to organize the protest movement in such a way that the masses would be excluded. They wanted to restrict the movement to petitioning and other “legal” gestures. When this didn't succeed, they began to drag their feet, to oppose the formation of non-importation agreements and to refuse to join them. Thus in Massachusetts, Sam Adams found it extremely difficult to get the merchants to agree to any boycott at all. The Caucus Club, the general staff of the radicals in Boston, now enlarged to more than sixty members, sent many emissaries to the Merchants' Club to convince them. Only very reluctantly did the merchants finally go along.

The Boston Evening Post, consistent spokesman for the big Boston merchants, protested bitterly against any boycott, considering this action “too radical.” And some of the bigger merchants continued to oppose boycott even after the merchant associations finally, and reluctantly, agreed.

John Hancock, a young merchant who inherited his great wealth from a childless uncle, was one of the supporters of the radicals and became one of their most prominent, if not consistent, leaders. We have all read how he later wrote his name in large letters as the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The prominence of Hancock in the radical movement has left the false impression that the radical wing contained many large merchants. This is not true at all. As a matter of fact, Hancock was to be virtually the only big merchant of the New England region to join the revolutionists, and even he deserted them for a time, as we shall see. Many small merchants, retailers, petty traders, were in the radical wing of the opposition movement. Typical of these was William Mollineux, a fiery radical who was a mass leader in the streets of Boston during the big struggles. But the wealthy merchants, the Hutchinsons, the Grays, the Boylstons, the “aristocracy” of New England, were never with the revolution. They were with the crown and the Tories.

Between the two major groupings of right and left, there was a group of wavering merchants who stood now with the right and now with the left. Merchants such as John Rowe and Thomas Cushing (in whose firm the young Sam Adams had once been apprenticed) were the leaders of these in-between men. They lived in a purgatory from which they could be delivered only by the decisive victory of one side or the other, only they couldn't decide which side they wanted to win. They expressed the dilemma of their class. Some went Tory and others went revolutionary. Such in-betweeners exist in all revolutions, and they are perhaps the most pathetic of all men who live in times of struggle and decision.



In 1768, the crisis in the American colonies appeared to be coming to a head. The British ministry announced its intention of garrisoning Boston with two regiments of redcoats. At the same time, affidavits were secretly drawn up, charging Sam Adams with treason and proposing his removal to Britain for trial.

Adams prepared to meet the challenge at the threshold. Together with his closest associates, he organized a town meeting to consider what was to be done. The meeting was held in an insurrectionary atmosphere. Four hundred muskets were stacked on the floor of Faneuil Hall, the meeting place. The gathering was told by James Otis, who was then in one of his radical moods: “These are the arms. When an attempt is made upon your liberties, they will be delivered. Our declaration wants no explanation.” A resolution was passed that called upon every citizen to provide himself with a musket and ammunition. In justifying this warlike act, the excuse was used that there were rumors of war with. . . France! This was not a fact, but purely a cover.

This ruse, or “defensive formula” as it is called, has caused many historians to reproach Sam Adams and the radicals with “deceitfulness” and “hypocrisy.” In modern times, the Russian revolutionists organized their insurrection against the reactionary capitalists and landlords under similar defensive formulas, and, like the American radicals, were reproached with being “liars” and “Jesuits.” As a matter of fact, every revolutionary movement, endangered from all sides by the armed might of reaction, is forced to take cover in order to survive until strong enough to fight. Even in union strikes and organization drives, workers use all kinds of ruses and stratagems to mislead the company agents.

The coiled serpent of reaction lies always ready to strike. Only muddleheaded liberals demand that the people show perfect frankness towards it. And Sam Adams was anything but a muddleheaded liberal. He was a revolutionist, and did what the revolution demanded, without equivocation or self-reproach.

The prevailing revolutionary mood of the people of Boston, as exemplified in this meeting, had a strong effect upon Sam Adams, and he determined upon a bold move. He called for a convention of the towns of Massachusetts to discuss measures to be taken against a British troop landing. This convention call had no legal basis within the then-existing governmental setup. It was a revolutionary move and signified a challenge to the old state power by what Adams hoped would be a new, revolutionary state power in embryo.

However, as it turned out, the people of the region as a whole, outside of Boston, were not ready for such a move. Even in Boston itself, although the populace was probably ready, the leaders were not. Adams had not yet assembled a group of like-minded people around his program, and many of the Boston leaders were uneasy about the Adams strategy. The merchants, as we have seen, were dragging their feet. They wanted to get out of the movement altogether, and many had already reneged, some even going over to the Tories.

When the convention opened in September of 1768, it was well attended, but Adams and the radicals found themselves isolated. Governor Bernard, speaking from information that his spies brought him, reported to his home office: “Hence it was that Otis, when he joined them [the convention], was perfectly tame, and Adams, when he attempted to launch out in the language used in the House of Representatives, was presently silenced.” Adams saw his hopes for a great stand against the British dashed to the ground. It was on this occasion that he allowed his feelings to overcome the iron self-control with which he usually restrained himself. Standing up in the convention he shouted: “I am in fashion and out of fashion, as the whim goes. I will stand alone! I will oppose this tyranny at the threshold, though the fabric of liberty fall, and I perish in its ruins!” However, Adams was no such fool as to really wish to stand alone. He was out to win, and he knew he couldn't win all by himself. He learned his lesson from the convention of 1768. He learned that he had to wait longer and work harder, until the mass of the people, and particularly the farmers of the backcountry, were ready for a final stand against the crown and the Tories. And so he quieted himself and bowed to the will of the convention.

Of course, in spite of the conservative majority at the convention, Adams could have gotten a strong force to challenge the British troops at the water's edge. But he sensed that a premature uprising would only exhaust the people's energies and sacrifice the best fighters. It would give the British the chance they were looking for to drown the movement in blood.

Adams's work after 1768 was directed by the lessons he learned in this crisis. He wanted a mass movement that would be irresistible when the showdown came. And in line with this, he was to be careful to prevent a showdown until he was sure of an overwhelming mass following. Thus Adams, who, as we have seen, hated opportunism, learned to shun adventurism as well.

For almost two years, Boston was occupied by two British regiments. These troops found that it is no joke to garrison a foreign territory inhabited by a hostile population. They were harassed from all sides by the working people of Boston. Even the children pelted them with snowballs. American men who are being used as imperialist occupation troops in many foreign lands today are learning the same lesson that the British troops learned in Boston during those two years.

But the people did not take a one-sided attitude towards the troops. They often helped them against their officers, shielded them from punishment and helped deserters to escape. Sam Adams himself once intervened to save a soldier from punishment. Thus the people made friends among the British soldiers, and these were to be helpful later.

However, the tension between the people and the occupying troops was great, and an explosion was bound to come. Finally on March 5, 1770, it happened. A soldier went to one of the ropewalks in town looking for work, and, as history records it, a ropemaker named Sam Gray told him: “Go and clean my outhouse.” The fight was on. When it had ended, six Boston workers lay dead on the snow. Among them was the ropemaker Sam Gray, who backed up his defiant remark with his life. Another of the victims was Crispus Attucks, escaped Negro slave, who was a Boston sailor and a leading radical fighter in the street demonstrations. The murder of these unarmed men has since borne the name: the Boston Massacre.

Sam Adams seized the occasion. Like all great revolutionary leaders, he never let opportunity knock unheeded. A great town meeting was called, and this meeting sent a committee to see Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, a native New Englander and a mortal foe of Sam Adams. In a dramatic moment, the two confronted each other, and Adams demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Hutchinson disclaimed the power to withdraw them, but finally offered to withdraw one of the two regiments. Adams pounced upon this offer like a tiger: “If you have the power to withdraw one, you have the power to remove both.” But Hutchinson insisted that the committee take his offer back to the town meeting.

Back went Adams and his committee, and as Adams passed down the hall, he greeted his friends, of whom there were many, whispering: “Both or none, both or none.” When the committee reached the platform and reported Hutchinson's offer to remove one regiment, the whole meeting shouted as one man: “Both or none!” The “Old Man,” as Adams was often called, had made his wish known, and there were thousands ready to follow his lead. This response of the town meeting was backed by such a fierce and widespread resentment that a slaughter of the two British regiments was clearly possible if they were not removed. Since the British forces were too small to resist, they were withdrawn.



As was previously indicated, the big merchants of New England began to shy away from the revolutionary movement right after the people showed their power in the Stamp Act demonstrations of 1765. By 1770, this retreat of the merchants had become a rout. They had barely been dragged into the boycott movement of 1767-70 in protest against the Townshend taxes. Now, however, the British had been compelled to repeal the Townshend Acts, and the merchants left the movement, many of them never to return. The New York merchants left first, smashing the non-importation agreement, and the merchants throughout the colonies followed suit.

Marxists have always called the American Revolution a “capitalist” revolution. This means that the revolution put the American capitalist class in power and accomplished many things that the capitalist class needed to have done. It unified the colonies, ended all of the restrictions on the growth of capitalism, set up a government that would protect capitalist property and so forth. But when we call this revolution a capitalist revolution, that does not mean that the capitalists themselves led this revolution, or even that a majority of the capitalist class supported it. As a matter of fact, the revolution was mainly made by other classes. It was even made against the will of the majority of the capitalist class of that day, the merchant capitalists. They later stepped in and picked up the ripe fruit after others had uprooted the tree.

If we glance at the history of other capitalist revolutions, we see much the same line of development. For example, in the French Revolution, the capitalist class, early in the game, was so frightened by the popular upheaval that it tried to hold the revolution back. Most of the wealthiest and most powerful capitalists and their spokesmen went over to the counterrevolution. It should not surprise us to find that in the American Revolution the capitalist class was too timid, too conservative, too fearful of the masses, to take the lead. The capitalist revolution triumphed despite the cowardice and treachery of the capitalists.

Most of the merchant class deserted Sam Adams and the radicals in 1770. Only a very few radical merchants remained supporting them. Later on, when the decisive battles approached and the radicals appeared to have great strength, a part of the merchant class, a minority part, came back into the fight. But a new movement and a new leadership had been built in the years between. When the merchants deserted the struggle in this period, Adams remarked that they had held out longer than he had expected, but that in the future the movement would have to base itself upon the workers and farmers.

Among the merchant-deserters of the opposition movement was John Hancock. Sam Adams had picked him up in the course of his work among the younger generation; Adams delved continually among the youth and brought up a whole cadre of young revolutionists with his own hand. Hancock was an asset to the radicals, being wealthy and, at the same time, quite popular. But he was a source of constant anxiety to Sam Adams. He was inordinately vain, a limelight seeker, the very opposite of Adams. He was uncertain in his politics, a strutting popinjay who deserted in the hard days, a self-seeker who placed personal whims above the needs of the movement. Adams had to deal with Hancock with the greatest of tact in order to get some good out of him. It is one of the rank injustices of history that Hancock's name is known today to every schoolboy, while that of his teacher and leader, who made something of a man of him and gave him his place in history, is covered over with obscurity.

In the hard days of 1770-72, Hancock deserted and split the radical camp, taking with him a “moderate” wing, which he led in a number of battles against Adams. The radicals found themselves reduced to a small grouping. Sam Adams himself had great difficulty winning his seat in the legislature. The radical wing lost its predominant position in almost all governmental bodies, outside of the Boston town meeting, and even there its position was shaky.

This was the period of the so-called lull in the revolutionary movement, caused by the desertion of the merchants. Most capitalist historians, finding that nothing spectacular occurred during this two-year period, tend to skip over it. This is an error. During these years, processes that went on beneath the surface, although not spectacular, were essential for the later success of the revolution.

It was pointed out earlier that Sam Adams attempted to lead the opposition movement into an insurrection against Britain in the latter part of 1768, at the time of the Massachusetts Convention, and that he found this impossible and had to back down. The years of the “lull” were the very years during which Adams did his great work to supply the missing elements, the absence of which had prevented revolution in 1768. He worked to raise the popular understanding, particularly among the farmers, to build a mass revolutionary organization independent of the weakkneed merchants, and to link up the Massachusetts opposition with a nationwide movement. The revolutionary press widened its circulation. The Boston Gazette, Adams's chief newspaper, had grown to over 2,000 circulation. And in 1770 a new radical paper, the Massachusetts Spy, was founded and soon sold about 3,500 copies of each issue. These circulations were immense in colonial times. Before the crisis, the four papers in Boston had an average circulation of about 600 each.

These papers, and particularly the new Massachusetts Spy, penetrated the farming regions and educated the people in radical principles. Revolutions do not consist exclusively of spectacular events, as most historians seem to think. This slow educational process, going on over a period of years, stored up the future power of the revolution. The most popular and able journalist of the revolutionary movement was Sam Adams. His printed words had a great capacity to teach and inspire. He was capable of a cold ferocity when it suited the occasion. Governor Bernard, the top crown official in the colony, would wince when he read Sam Adams. “Every dip of his pen,” he wailed, “stung like a horned snake.” Another leading Tory, speaking of Adams's famous articles on the Boston Massacre, said: “And bitter reading they were, for they were Wrote with a Pen dipped in the Gall of Asps.”

Adams wrote articles that convinced by their iron logic, by the manner in which they surrounded the matter under discussion from all sides. By bringing to bear arguments from all possible angles, he instilled in the reader an abiding conviction that the radical cause was just. His pen could also be “genteel and artful,” as his cousin John Adams testified. In addition, Sam Adams was famed as an excellent editor, adept at cutting, revising, polishing. A young follower, Josiah Quincy, Jr., said of many articles, petitions, resolutions, etc., that they had been “smoothed over with the oily brush of Sam Adams.”

There is a proverb: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This should not be taken too literally in all cases. But, during this time of preparation, during the “slow” years when the conciliators and Tories held the upper hand, Sam Adams's pen did work that would have been impossible for ten thousand swords. It made the revolution in the minds of men. When that kind of a revolution is made, the rest follows naturally. But a revolution of the sword without the pen, without the conviction in the minds of men, is an adventure doomed to failure.



After the merchants deserted the movement of the opposition to Britain in 1770-72, Sam Adams faced the problem of rebuilding his shattered organizations. Adams had learned from the desertion of the merchants that any solid revolutionary movement would have to be based primarily upon the workers and farmers.

The radical oppositionists were already partly organized. The Sons of Liberty, an action organization, was spread throughout the colonies, and Adams was in close touch with most of its leaders. In Boston itself, the Sons of Liberty were supplemented by that popular forum and legislative body, the town meeting. The Boston Caucus Club served as a steering committee for all activities of the radicals.

But the great, nationwide, revolutionary engine that completed the structure had not yet been built, and Adams now began that task. That organization was the network of Committees of Correspondence. This name is misleading: it gives the impression of letter-writing groups that simply kept the colonies in touch with one another. Actually, the Committees were the closest approach to a revolutionary party formed in the first American Revolution.

What was the state of the radical movement when Adams began building the Committees? We have seen how the crippling blows delivered by the merchant-deserters of 1770 set the movement back. As a matter of fact, much of the structure that Sam Adams and others had so painstakingly constructed was virtually shattered at that time.

Of the early leaders of the radical movement, two of the most famous were James Otis and his law partner, Oxen bridge Thacher. By 1770, Otis was insane and Thacher dead. Two of the other most prominent leaders, Thomas Cushing and John Hancock, both merchants, had deserted. John Adams, a cousin of Sam Adams and a future president, had dropped out of politics, resolving in his diary to be more “retired and cautious,” and to mind “my own farm and my own business.” (Yes, this is the same John Adams who is today celebrated as a “hero” of the revolution, while Sam Adams, his patient guide and teacher, is forgotten.) The radical wing of the General Court (legislature) was split by these defections, and Adams now had to fight not only Tories and British but his former supporters as well.

Thus Adams built the Committees of Correspondence when the movement was at a low ebb, organizationally speaking. He succeeded in getting a resolution calling for a Committee passed in the fall of 1772 despite the opposition of Hancock and Cushing. The Boston town meeting then chose a committee of twenty-one. Soon there were Committees in almost every Massachusetts town, and Adams then went ahead to spread them throughout the nation.

These Committees were greeted with jeers and irony by the conservatives and Tories. Since they were set up by pressure from the radicals backed by the masses, none but the most stalwart radicals would agree to serve on them. For example, the original Boston committee of twenty-one contained eighteen Sons of Liberty. The meetings that organized the Committees were dominated by the radicals, and in many cases the conservatives boycotted them. Thus the Committees, especially in New England, became centers of radicalism. They kept Adams informed of the temper of the people, assisted the radical leaders in forming decisions, carried out the decisions, organized meetings and demonstrations, formed and armed a militia and ordered it into action, and later on took over many governmental functions as the old regime crumbled.

In Massachusetts alone, there were some 300 of these Committees. This means that a vanguard of perhaps 3,000 or more active radicals were organized into a solid and active phalanx, responsive to the national radical leaders and in close touch with the mass of the people. This was a powerful, organized, political group in Massachusetts, which had a population of only about 450,000 at that time.

Thus, from the point of view of numbers, activity, functions, organization and political program, the Committees of Correspondence were the first revolutionary party in American history. In the main, this remarkable structure must be credited to Sam Adams, who was chiefly responsible for conceiving and organizing it.

The Tories, who had wasted their irony and laughter on Adams, and the faint-hearted moderates, who had sneered at his work, could do so no longer. Later on, one of the leading colonial Tories, Daniel Leonard, was to give vent to a savage outburst of rage, calling the Committees of Correspondence the “foulest, most venomous serpent ever to issue from the egg of sedition.” But it was then too late. The Committees were to stay and perform their great revolutionary work.

The new organization brought new men to the fore. Josiah Quincy, Jr., a young lawyer, found his place side by side with Sam Adams and the other radicals shortly after leaving Harvard. He became noted for his great oratorical talents and literary ability. However, he died young, shortly before the revolution burst into open war.

The most important new radical leader was Dr. Joseph Warren. He was the son of a farmer, went to Harvard, then taught school for a while, and finally became a doctor. He became a leader among the radicals before he was thirty, and, as he concentrated his chief attention upon the radical movement, he could rightly be called a professional revolutionist. He was to die a hero's death at Bunker Hill in June 1775, rushing into battle with caution thrown to the winds and performing legendary feats before a bullet brought him down.

Great men, long since forgotten or deliberately obscured, played their role in the rebuilding of the radical movement on a new foundation. The hardware dealer William Mollineux, an important action leader, the printer Benjamin Edes and many others rallied around the radical standard in the hard days. In the western part of New England, Joseph Hawley, a lawyer in Hampshire County, took the lead, and in Plymouth, Massachusetts, James Warren was the radical stalwart. Dr. Samuel Cooper, minister at the church that Sam Adams attended, was one of the so-called Black Regiment of Congregational preachers, who, the Tories complained, “spun out their sermons to a thread of sedition.” Such men as these built the new party. Those deserters who later returned to the radical movement had these men to thank for the continued existence of the revolutionary opposition.

In these difficult days, Sam Adams had to put forward his greatest efforts to keep his grouping together. James Warren wrote to him from Plymouth at one time: “I shall not fail to exert myself to have as many towns as possible meet, but fear the bigger part of them will not. They are dead, and the dead can't be raised without a miracle.” Adams answered him sternly: “I am very sorry to find anything in your letter that discovers the least approach towards despair. Nil desperandum! [Despair of nothing.] That is a motto for you and for me. All are not dead; and where there is a spark of patriotic fire, we will rekindle it.”

In another letter, Adams makes some very shrewd remarks about the low state of the movement. If town meetings are small, he says, it is “partly from the opinion of some that there was no method left to be taken but the last; which was also the opinion of many in the country.” This observation is the mark of a revolutionary genius who was able to comprehend the crucial moment in his revolution. He understood that the apathy 0f the masses meant, in part, that they no longer placed any reliance on words and meetings. How right Adams was in this we shall see when we observe the reaction of the mass of the people as they were summoned to decisive actions.



In May 1773, the British Ministry, grappling with the problem of subjugating the opposition in the American colonies, conceived what it considered to be a clever scheme. The British East India Company, exploiter of the masses of India and darling of the British crown, had large quantities of tea in its warehouses, unsold and unsalable. This tea had paid a duty of twelve pence per pound when imported into Britain from the Far East. The Ministry proposed to return this tax to the company if it would agree to ship the tea to the colonies, where it would have to pay an entrance duty to the crown of only three pence. The colonists, in protest against the import tax, had been drinking smuggled Dutch tea. But now, under the new plan, British tea could be sold for far less than the smuggled Dutch product even after paying the import duty.

By this plan, Lord North hoped to make a double coup. He would give much needed assistance to the British East India Company, and he would dangle cheap, though taxed, tea before the colonial population. He hoped that by taking advantage of the so-called Yankee avarice he could tempt the Americans into paying the hated import duty on tea, which was then by far the most favored beverage. Once this was done, other taxed commodities could slip in through the breach. In this way, as Lord North put it, “the king meant to try the case in America.” Cheap tea was to be used to undermine the principles of the revolutionists.

Rarely has a “clever” maneuver been turned more suddenly and completely against the maneuverers. If King George wanted to “try the case,” Sam Adams and the radicals were more than ready to oblige him. They had done their work well. A solid organization stood ready for the test, and the British rulers were in for a terrible shock. Throughout the colonies, the British provocation was met with the most determined resistance. The radical wing of the opposition now came into its own as the popular rage mounted against the British ruse. Huge mass meetings and demonstrations, reminiscent of the anti-Stamp Act campaign of 1765, swept the colonies.

East India Company tea was turned back from wharfs throughout the land. In some cases, it was seized and destroyed, as in Annapolis where the tea was burned, ships and all, before it could be put ashore. In other cases, the tea was confiscated and placed under armed guard by people's militias called out by the Committees of Correspondence.

The events in Boston were crucial. Here Sam Adams, with great care and deliberation, maneuvered a deadlock that could be resolved only by a revolutionary action. In the fall of 1773, three tea-laden vessels arrived from England and anchored just beyond Castle William, the British military fortification whose guns commanded the entrance to Boston harbor.

To comprehend what follows, we must take note of the regulations that governed the movements of ships that entered that harbor. Such ships could not leave without a certification from the authorities that their cargo had been discharged. Moreover, after having been in the harbor for a certain period of time, the ships had to discharge their cargo and pay duty on it.

The first move made by the Boston radicals was to invite the ships into the harbor. It is plain from this that Adams intended to create an insurrectionary crisis. Once the ships had passed the guns of Castle William, a deadlock that could not be solved by any but forcible means would be created. The tea would have to be landed and pay duty, or be destroyed. The ships entered the harbor, in compliance with the invitation from the Adams forces. It was soon to become plain that the Tory authorities, under the lead of Governor Hutchinson, had also decided upon a test of strength and were not averse to the creation of the deadlock. No sooner were the ships fairly in the harbor and moored at Griffin's wharf than the Boston radicals caused an armed guard of the people's militia to be placed upon them. If the tea were to be landed, force would be required.

Now began the next phase of the radical campaign. The town meetings and other organizations of the masses insisted that the tea ships depart with their hated cargo. Captain Rotch, master of the Dartmouth, first of the three tea ships to enter the harbor, was mercilessly badgered with this demand. He was quite willing to depart, having seen how hopeless his situation was. But he found that the governor would not issue clearance papers until his cargo had been discharged, and without such papers he could never hope to pass the guns of Castle William.

This was the situation that Sam Adams had foreseen and deliberately created. He now gathered his forces in preparation for the coming crisis. The demand of the radical leadership that the tea be withdrawn from the harbor was militantly supported by the people of Boston and of the whole surrounding area. Crowds of armed men flocked to the revolutionary capital to watch by day and sleep on their arms at night as the tension mounted. The largest meetings in Boston history raised a great shout for the departure of the vessels. Adams threw his most able, popular orators into the battle. As the distracted captain rushed back and forth between the mass meetings and the governor, the radical speakers sounded the call for action. “The hand is on the plow and there is no turning back,” one speaker put it.

Finally the crucial moment arrived. December 17 was the final date, after which the authorities would try to land the tea by force. On the night of December 16, 1773, an enormous meeting of over 8,000 people sat and waited for the governor's final reply to the repeated request for clearance papers. At length the tired Captain Rotch entered with the expected “No.” At this point, Sam Adams mounted the rostrum. He spoke only ten words: “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” This short speech was one of the greatest and wisest in American history. In it is concentrated the wisdom of a people in revolution who have reached the moment when further palaver with the reactionary minority is useless and when the time for action is at hand.

Adams's brief speech was a compact analysis of the revolutionary situation; it was also a prearranged signal. As soon as he had pronounced the fateful words, the insurrection was under way. A whoop was heard from the gallery, and turning, the meeting saw a troop of “Mohawk Indians,” Boston radicals in warpaint, blankets and feathers, who raised the shout, “Boston harbor a teapot tonight.” Sam Adams's “Mohawks” led the way to Griffin's wharf, many thousands from the meeting following. Boarding the tea ships, where the armed guard of the Sons of Liberty awaited them, they dumped into the harbor chests of tea to the value of some 18,000 English pounds. The ships' crew helped, and the thousands who lined the shore watched and cheered. The deed was done. The revolutionists, with Sam Adams at their head, had flung down the gauntlet of revolt to the armed might of Imperial Britain!

The Boston radicals were not the only ones who destroyed tea. Similar deeds were done in other colonial cities. But in Boston, the upheaval was so great, the activity and support of the masses so widespread, the challenge of the revolutionists so obvious and deliberate. that the Boston insurrection precipitated the final revolutionary crisis.-

The Boston Tea Party developed over a period of several months, and the masses throughout the colonies were kept well informed by the radicals of the events as they took place. When the deadlock was broken, a nationwide support had rallied behind Sam Adams, and when the British Ministry answered the Tea Party with the Coercive Acts, the battle was joined.



At the time of the Boston Tea Party, Sam Adams was fifty-one years old. His “long” head and steadfast reliability had won for him the affectionate title “the Old Man” among the people of Boston. A biographer, William V. Wells, says: “In the shipyards, where the real popular power resided, Samuel Adams was especially the favorite from among the champions of the public liberties. He found the people willing listeners and converts to his doctrines, and, as a most perfect embodiment of the democratic theory, he exercised more influence with them than any other man. His good judgment was often appealed to, and, in many instances, lawsuits were avoided by making him the umpire. They placed the most implicit confidence in him as a man and a patriot, and he never deceived them. . . . Careless of personal gain, he seemed to have been specially ordained for the times in which he lived. Frugal and temperate in his habits, his wants were few, and his powers of endurance fitted him for ceaseless industry.”

Elizabeth Wells became the second wife of the revolutionary leader in 1764. She shared the dangers and difficulties of life with Sam Adams without complaint, indeed, with zest, for she too was a staunch radical. The household contained six children from both marriages, and a giant Newfoundland dog named Queue who hated a British redcoat as much as did Sam.

The “Old Man” was poor almost all his life. His famous cousin, John Adams, testified about him: “He never looked forward in life, never planned, never laid a scheme, or formed a design of laying up anything for himself or others after him.” Cousin John inclined to think that Sam Adams was “too attentive to the public, and not enough to himself and his family.”

Adams accepted poverty without complaint because it came necessarily as part of his great life purpose. Revolutionists who seek to overthrow unjust, exploiting societies are never invited by the wealthy and powerful of those societies to share in the riches of the age. There are some who try to get the best of both worlds. They seek righteous self-satisfaction in the fight for a better world, while at the same time sharing in the material luxuries of the old regime that they seek to alter. But such twofold lives are, in the long run, impossible. Sam Adams, although he had many chances in the Boston that loved him to make his fortune, never made an attempt. He had neither time nor inclination for self-seeking. His whole life was consecrated to the fight for liberation of his people from an oppressive bondage.

Sam Adams has been called “the last of the Puritans.” This title derives partly from his incorruptible revolutionary asceticism, comparable to that of Robespierre and Lenin. But in addition, it comes also from his attitude towards religion. His asceticism was partly revolutionary and partly religious; he was a convinced and devoutly pious man. This strange mixture makes Sam Adams something of an anomaly among the great leaders of revolutionary history. Outside of his direct interest in revolutionary politics, his mind was narrow. He had none of the sweeping appreciation for the rising new science, art and culture of capitalism as had Thomas Jefferson or Tom Paine or others who were his pupils in politics. However, he never permitted his religious feelings to interfere with his main lifework. He was the daily associate of the most advanced thinkers of his region: freethinkers and atheists, such as Dr. Thomas Young and William Mollineux. When they were attacked, he defended their right to unorthodox opinions and stated that it was their politics, not their religious opinions, that mattered.

Whatever the cause, Adams's personal mode of life was frugal and at times even impoverished. Friends he had in plenty, and the more thoughtful among them considered it their responsibility to care for the brave warrior. When Adams prepared to set out for Philadelphia to do his great work on the First Continental Congress, he was rather poorly clad. His friends, who were proud of him, wanted him to appear to advantage in the flashy company in which he was to move. The story of his outfitting was told in a personal letter:

“The ultimate wish and desire of the high government party is to get Samuel Adams out of the way, when they think they may accomplish every one of their aims. But, however some may despise him, he has certainly very many friends: for not long since, some persons (their names unknown) sent and asked his permission to build him a new barn, the old one being decayed, which was executed in a few days; a second sent to ask him to repair his house, which was thoroughly effected soon; a third sent to beg the favor of him to call at a tailor's shop and be measured for a new pair of clothes, and choose his cloth, which were sent home for his acceptance; a fourth presented him with a new wig; a fifth with a new hat; a sixth with six pair of the best silk hose; a seventh with a pair of fine thread ditto; an eighth with six pair of shoes; and a ninth modestly inquired of him whether his finances were not rather low than otherwise. He replied: it was true that was the case; but he was very indifferent about those matters, so that his poor abilities were of any service to the public: upon which the gentleman obliged him to accept of a purse containing about fifteen or twenty johannes.”

Adams's hair had grayed at an early age, and his hands shook from a palsy-like affliction. His voice was weak, and he was not an orator, although he often moved audiences by the sheer strength of his intellect. A historian finds his popularity hard to explain: “. . . not at all the imposing hero of swashbuckling romance; there is indeed nothing of glamour in his personality.” His power lay not in glamour, but in his thorough mastery of politics. “Our business,” he said, “is not to make events, but wisely to improve them.” These words show his understanding of the essence of revolutionary strategy.

Adams possessed an unflinching personal courage, another trait of character that helps to account for his prestige. The masses cannot be led into the dangerous path of revolution by those who are themselves aft aid. Sam Adams let threats roll over him without effect “I never suffer my mind to be . . . disturbed with prospects. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. It is our duty, at all hazards, to preserve the public liberty.”

After the Boston Tea Party, Adams reached the peak of his popularity. Boston was calling him “the father of America.” “America,” said the Boston Gazette, “has erected to him a statue in her heart” Thomas Jefferson called him “truly the Man of the Revolution.”

Among the Tories, Adams was known as the “Arch-Manager,” the “Chief Incendiary,” the “Master of the Puppets.” The whole revolution was often named “the Adams conspiracy.” In England, he was called “the first politician in the world” without a peer in the work of “forwarding a Rebellion.” “The whole Continent,” said one Tory, “is ensnared by that Machiavel of Chaos.”

When John Adams went to France and was asked whether he was “the Adams,” he had to deny it. “Monsieur,” the French said, “c'est votre modestie.” [Sir, you are too modest.] They never said that after they knew John Adams better.

The “Old Man” was now more surefooted than ever in the risky game of opposition to Britain and the Tories. He had the training of a lifetime devoted to a single object to guide him. He was the firmly entrenched political leader of New England and of the radical workers and farmers of all the colonies.



With the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, the radical wing of the opposition became the dominant force in the colonies. Sam Adams's twenty-year fight for a revolutionary policy had come to a victorious climax. Another year and a half of careful work would see Adams's life project through to completion. The radical groups in all the colonies would be united, the rupture with Britain complete, and the military side of the revolution begun.

As Adams said: “The people are in council; their opposition grows into a system; they are united; they are resolute; and it requires but a small portion of the gift of discernment for anyone to foresee that Providence will erect a mighty empire in America.” From that point on, the so-called moderates, conservatives and vacillators of all kinds were compelled to either go along with the revolution or go over to the Tories, as some of them had already and many more now did.

John C. Miller, a historian of the American Revolution, has written that “Americans were more united in 1766 than in 1776.” From this he draws the conclusion that the revolution would have been easier ten years earlier than when it actually flamed into open warfare.

It is true that there was a more general unity in opposition to the British in 1766, when Stamp Act repeal was being forced, than there was ten years later when the chips were down and the crisis came. As a matter of fact, the process that went on during those years was largely a process of disunification of the nation. Professor Miller doesn't understand that this polarization of forces, replacing the previously more unified movement, was the very process that prepared the revolution and made it possible.

Great social upheavals always go through this process of disunification, of polarization. It is part of the very nature of revolutions. The reason for this law of revolution is easy to comprehend. We know that popular rebellions are not produced by scheming “conspirators,” but come about because the old society is rotten, decaying, decomposing. When society is in that shape, naturally there is widespread opposition to the existing order of things. Everyone has gripes. Not only the most oppressed sections of the population but also better-off groupings, and even parts of the ruling class, are discontented, have grievances and would like to see changes made.

That is why, when the movement against a dying social order begins, it is supported by “everyone”; it is very popular, in a word, “unified.” As an instance, in the Great French Revolution of 1789, the very nobility against which the revolution was directed, even parts of the court nobility close to the king, started out in the camp of the opposition. This state of affairs can't last too long if the revolution is to move forward. Although most of society appears to be united in demanding changes, questions soon arise: What kind of changes? How much are these changes worth to us, and are we willing to fight to get them? These questions divide the opposition.

The most oppressed portions of the population favor a complete overturn of the social order and a new society, more equalitarian, both politically and economically. They are willing to fight for these changes. But the other layers, the middle groupings and the discontented portions of the ruling class, who only want a few minor changes that would leave their privileged positions untouched, draw back from this revolutionary program.

This division of the opposition movement into two wings, variously called “right and left,” “radicals and conservatives,” “revolutionaries and reformists,” is basic to all revolutions. In the French Revolution, there was a party division along these lines between more thoroughgoing revolutionists in the Jacobin wing and the “moderates” of the Girondin grouping. In the Russian Revolution of 1917, the revolutionists rallied around Lenin's party, the Bolsheviks, and the compromisers around the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties. And in the American Revolution, the radicals were led by Sam Adams in such organizations as the Committees of Correspondence, the Sons of Liberty or Liberty Boys, the Committees of Mechanics in the various cities, etc. The conservative oppositionists rallied around Merchants' Committees, Chambers of Commerce, etc.

It must be noted that the compromisers, the reformers, don't simply stand pat. As the revolutionary movement grows, the choice is put squarely before them: with the revolution or against it? Large sections of the in-betweeners, fearing that the new society will be constructed to their disadvantage, desert the insurgent masses altogether and go back to the camp of the old society. That is what happened to most of the so-called moderates in the American Revolution. They went back to the British-Tory camp. The Adams radicals, no suckers for “unity-shouters,” wisely helped them along. They preferred to sacrifice “unity” for the sake of the revolution, rather than the revolution for the sake of “unity.”

The Boston Tea Party brought the polarization of right and left wings to a climax, and, as we have noted, the radicals commanded by far the biggest popular following. The British themselves helped the radicals by their tyrannical actions. The British Ministry replied to the Boston Tea Party with a series of coercive decrees that became known as the Intolerable Acts. The most important of these was the Boston Port Bill, which closed the city to commerce with the outside world. Sam Adams's answer to the Intolerable Acts was twofold: he moved to convene the First Continental Congress, through which he hoped to weld the thirteen colonies into a single bloc committed to revolution; and he proposed the Solemn League and Covenant, which was a sweeping nonintercourse-with Britain program.

This new boycott was based on the experience of the previous boycott movement, which had collapsed when the merchants deserted it Sam Adams had good reason to distrust what he called “mercantile avarice.” He included in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1774 a provision that “this effectual plan has been originated and thus far carried through by the two venerable orders of men styled Mechanics and Husbandmen [workingmen and farmers], the strength of every community.”

Adams adopted a far sharper tone towards the merchants, who were the center of the compromise movement, than he ever before had. He said of the nonimportation agreement that it didn't matter whether “messieurs les marchands [Messrs. Merchants] will be graciously pleased to come into it.” If no one would buy imported goods from them, it would do them no good to trade with Britain. A good example of the temper of the radicals towards the merchant-compromisers is to be found in this letter written to Sam Adams by his lieutenant Dr. Joseph Warren, while Adams was away at the Salem meeting of the General Court (legislature): “If the timidity of some and the treachery of others do not ruin us, I think we shall be saved. I fear New York will not assist us with very good grace; but she may perhaps be ashamed to desert us: at least, if her MERCHANTS offer to sell us, her MECHANICS will forbid the auction.”

Clearly, Adams and his associates didn't fear a split with the compromisers. They held their course regardless. The Solemn League and Covenant was carried over the opposition of the merchants, and when the conservatives tried to censure a committee of Adams for its conduct in the dispute, a great meeting of the people at the Old South Church upheld the radicals by a vote of four to one.

When Adams set out for the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, he was backed by a solid revolutionary movement in New England, representing the bulk of the population. This was a far cry from the situation at the time of the Stamp Act Congress of September 1765. That gathering had been called by the erratic James Otis, and Massachusetts had sent as delegates, besides Otis, one “moderate” and one extreme right-wing Tory. In contrast with the coming Continental Congress, which was to adopt much of the radical program, the Stamp Act Congress had contained only a tiny radical minority, led by Chris Gadsden, South Carolina radical. Sam Adams had not even been present Things had come a long way since that day. And Sam Adams, Professor Miller to the contrary notwithstanding, found the situation far more favorable to the revolution.



The First Continental Congress, which met for approximately seven weeks during September and October of 1774, was the national battleground to which Sam Adams transferred his efforts after his success in consolidating a radical opposition in New England. Only in New England had the radical wing of the opposition to Britain won unquestioned leadership over the popular movement. Throughout the other colonies, the battles were still going on. In some places the radicals, in others the conservatives, appeared to have the edge. When the proposal for a continental gathering was first made, it was supported by all factions. The conservatives felt that they would dominate such a congress, as they had the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, and would compel the Massachusetts radicals to back down. The choice of Philadelphia as the meeting place of the Congress seemed to support this view. This city was the center of the conservative opposition to Sam Adams. As a matter of fact, Pennsylvania had chosen as one of its delegates, Joseph Galloway, extreme rightist who was to become a leader of Tory forces in the Revolutionary War.

The Massachusetts delegation included Sam Adams and his cousin, John Adams, who had by this time decided it was safe to come back into politics since Cousin Sam had won a big majority in Massachusetts. Sam Adams had worked with great skill to have a delegation elected without the knowledge of the governor of Massachusetts, who would have dissolved any election meeting as “subversive.” Cromwell, English revolutionary leader, it will be recalled, turned Parliament out. Adams, in contrast, had to lock the Massachusetts legislature in to keep Tory members from carrying word to the governor that Sam Adams was conducting an election of delegates to the Continental Congress. Even so, word got out. The Massachusetts members of the Congress were elected while the governor's man read an order dissolving the legislature outside the locked doors, and Sam Adams jingled the keys in his pocket.

This was the last royal assembly used by Sam Adams. Through clever and flexible tactics, he had been able to use the assemblies of His Majesty, the King, for revolutionary work. That stage was over now, and the work was to proceed in the future through extralegal, revolutionary bodies.

The Congress that assembled at Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, included all factions of the opposition, from the Adams radicals to the Galloway near-Tories. The representation was closely divided between radicalism and conservatism.

Sam Adams found support in the Virginia delegation. The southern planters, the rulers of their part of the country, were wealthy and “aristocratic.” Despite this, they were extremely radical in the fight against Britain, because they were being ruined by British colonial policy. Besides, being an agrarian class, outside the cities and exploiting slave labor, they were not nearly so fearful of the “mob” as were the merchants and city employers who were the direct oppressors of the masses that supported the radicals.

In the course of the sessions of the Congress, Sam Adams hammered together a majority bloc committed to the radical program. The greatness of this achievement is clear if we realize that he came to the Congress a much feared and hated man. His own home territory was ready to follow him implicitly, but elsewhere he was suspected as a “demagogue,” as “too close to the mob,” as a Machiavelli and schemer. Moreover, at the Congress Adams worked among snobbish and wealthy people, who did not like to accept a thoroughgoing radical democrat as a leader.

Adams was a Puritan, pious and ascetic. Massachusetts Puritanism was cordially despised in the southern and middle colonies, where Episcopalianism dominated. The New England Puritans, on the other hand, held the Episcopal Church in the deepest contempt, deeming it akin to papacy. Sam Adams's motion on the opening day of the Congress came like a thunderclap: he proposed that the opening prayer be made by an Episcopalian clergyman, saying that he “could hear a prayer from any man.” This conduct was so completely the reverse of everything the delegates had been led to expect by tales about Adams that they were thrown off balance, and many suspicious people were disarmed. Of course, Adams was ready to sacrifice a minor point of this kind in order to gain sympathy and trust that he would use to good advantage later on when the important matters were discussed.

Adams remained behind the scenes, operating quietly throughout the Congress, so that the latent prejudice against him would find no issue upon which to seize. By dint of energetic caucusing, long private discussions in which he employed his justly famed persuasive talents, he made his way to power in the Congress.

The conservatives soon felt the firm hand of their quiet antagonist. First, the Congress chose to meet at Carpenters Hall, home of the Philadelphia Carpenters Guild. This came as a shock to Joseph Galloway, who had offered the State House and felt that the choice of Carpenters Hall was a symbolic gesture by the Congress to the working people of Philadelphia. Next, the Congress picked Charles Thomson, sometimes called the “Sam Adams of Philadelphia,” as secretary. Thomson had previously been defeated by the Pennsylvania conservatives in the elections for the Congress.

In the most decisive contest of the Congress, the radicals defeated, by only one vote, a conciliationist scheme put forward by Galloway. Chief floor leader in these battles was Patrick Henry, eloquent Virginia radical, described by an observer as “Moderate and mild, and in religious matters a Saint, but ye very Devil in Politicks.” The positive action of the Congress was entirely in favor of a radical program. Far from advising Boston to pay for the tea that the people had dumped into Boston harbor, as the conservatives hoped, the Congress backed Boston to the limit, organized a relief campaign for the blockaded city and proposed a nationwide boycott of the British similar to Sam Adams's Massachusetts Solemn League and Covenant. Significantly, the Congress took the management of the boycott away from the merchants, as had been done in Boston. This was achieved by making it a directly popular boycott, organizing the people not to buy British goods instead of organizing the merchants not to import them. Further, enforcement was put in the hands of local peoples' committees. One historian has estimated these actions as follows:

“The merchants had clearly been demoted from command to a humble position in the ranks: the committees frequently demanded that their ledgers and invoices be opened for inspection and maintained a far more effective watch upon shipping than had the custom house officers. . . .”

All of these actions bore the Adams stamp. Adams had put his program into operation on a national scale. The skill and delicacy required for this operation were very great. Sam Adams had once again proven his right to be listed among the great masters of revolutionary politics. The most chastened participant in the Congress was undoubtedly Joseph Galloway. He, who had earlier sneered at Sam Adams, now felt compelled to write of him: “. . . a man who, though by no means remarkable for brilliant abilities, yet is equal to most men in popular intrigue and the management of a faction. He eats little, drinks little, thinks much, and is most decisive and indefatigable in the pursuit of his objects. It was this man, who, by his superior application, managed at once the faction in Congress at Philadelphia and the factions in New England.” And, we might add, managed Joseph Galloway, too.



The Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773, and the initial skirmishes of the Revolutionary War occurred on April 19, 1775, at Concord and Lexington. The first event was the clear act of defiance by the Massachusetts radicals, while the second event marked the outbreak of war.

Sam Adams's task during the intervening sixteen months was to make sure that when war began, New England would not fight alone. He applied himself consciously to that end, and every policy, every move, made under his leadership was considered from this point of view. It is very easy to sally out to fight tyranny and to get yourself eliminated in the process. The whole trick of great revolutionary leadership, however, is to fight with a mass movement on your side and thus to have a reasonable chance of victory. Sam Adams understood this, and his object was to bring a powerful, nationwide movement to a floodtide simultaneously in all parts of the country.

In 1768, when Adams made his first definite insurrectionary move by calling the extralegal Massachusetts Convention, he could not get Boston and the surrounding countryside to go along with him. In his anger and disappointment, he rose in the convention and shouted: “I will stand alone! I will oppose this tyranny at the threshold, though the fabric of liberty fall, and I perish in its ruins!” Adams spoke that way in a moment of anger. But he didn't act that way.

Sam Adams had no intention of standing “alone” and going down to defeat in one grand and glorious demonstration. Not that he lacked the courage to do this; his whole life proves the contrary. But he just didn't play the game to satisfy his personal feelings. He played to win. Sam Adams was not an adventurer, but a serious revolutionary leader. He expressed the basic thought common to all such leaders when he said the following: “It is often stated that I am at the head of the Revolution, whereas a few of us merely lead the way as the people follow, and we can go no further than we are backed up by them; for if we attempt to advance any further. we make'

After the Tea Party, Adams turned his chief attention to the task of collecting radical forces on a national scale. He had several assets in this work. In the first place, Boston set the tone for the opposition movements in the other colonies by its forthright actions. And secondly, Adams already had a network of associates, radical stalwarts who thought as he did and followed his lead throughout the colonies.

Great progress had been made by the radicals in the ten years since the crisis began, but the opposition movements in most of the colonies outside of New England remained rather timid. For example, it is related that George Washington, together with a group of Virginia delegates, approached the Massachusetts delegation during the First Continental Congress in 1774 and asked for assurance that the Boston leaders were not pushing for independence. Two of the Boston delegates proferred profuse guarantees, but Sam Adams sat quietly at one side, saying nothing.

This timidity on the part of the Virginians, who were closest to the Massachusetts men at the Congress, shows what Adams had to accomplish before he could put a united movement in the field against the British and Tories. It was for this reason that he decided upon a policy of the strictest caution in the months after the Boston Tea Party. He calculated that he could be reasonably sure of widespread colonial support in the event of a British attack, but not so sure if the radicals opened the war with an attack upon the British troops. The maxims and pithy epigrams with which Adams customarily sprinkled his letters and articles turned more to this theme during these hard months of waiting. “Felix qui cautus” [Fortune favors the cautious] became his motto as he tirelessly expounded the necessity of patience. Writing to a friend, he reduced the strategy to a single sentence: “Put your enemy in the wrong and keep him there.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica writes of this period: “In connection with all these events, the Americans claimed to be acting on the defensive. But it was not difficult to perceive that, especially in New England, this claim only imperfectly concealed an intensely aggressive spirit.” This remark is intended to convict the radicals of “aggression,” which is the worst sin in the lexicon of supporters of the status quo. However, historically considered, the “aggression” was all on the side of the British ruling class, which was trying to rule a foreign land by force. Adams, in adopting his “defensive” course, was only trying to make this historical truth clear to the timid souls among the colonial oppositionists. He wanted the British to fire the first shot so that the historic responsibility for the war would show itself in a dramatic and easily comprehensible form.

It must be added that, even if the Adams radicals had fired the first shots, the essential responsibility for the war would still rest on the shoulders of the oppressors. Adams understood this, but he was willing to yield a point to those who did not.

During most of this critical period, Adams was away at the Congress in Philadelphia, and responsibility for guiding the movement fell upon Dr. Joseph Warren, his chief lieutenant in New England. Warren, with some help from Adams (Paul Revere employed many a weary week in the trip between Boston and Philadelphia, carrying communications between the two) tried to restrain the movement from an untimely outbreak, and his letters show how difficult this was. He wrote to Adams: “I firmly believe, that the utmost caution and prudence is necessary to gain the consent of the province to wait a few months longer for their deliverance.” And to Josiah Quincy, Jr., a young comrade of his, he wrote: “It will require, however, a very masterly policy to keep the province, for any considerable time longer, in its present state. The town of Boston is by far the most moderate part of the province: they are silent and inflexible.”

On September 1, 1774, seven and one-half months before the actual outbreak of war, came the so-called Powder Alarm, caused by a British transfer of military stores. Warren was summoned from his bed and got out to Cambridge at six o'clock in the morning where he found four thousand armed workingmen and farmers threatening to massacre a detachment of redcoats. Warren had to use all his influence to prevent an immediate uprising.

Adams and Warren did not confine themselves to urging caution and doing nothing else. Adams in this period won a majority for radical policies in the Continental Congress. Warren pushed the work of organization and prepared for insurrection and war. He wrote to a Connecticut town committee gleefully about the troubles of the British military governor: “Mr. Gage finds himself very unequal to the task that is set for him and is at a loss for measures. He sees, and is astonished at, the spirit of the people. He forbids their town meetings, and they meet in counties. If he prevents county meetings, we must call provincial meetings. . . .” By the time Adams returned from the Congress, the radicals had formed a Provincial Congress for Massachusetts, which was to be both the agency for revolution and the basis for a new government.

Adams urged the military preparations. “Inter arma silent leges, ” he wrote from Philadelphia. “[In a resort to arms, laws are suspended.] I have written to our friends to provide themselves, without delay, with arms and ammunition, get well instructed in the military art, embody themselves, and prepare a complete set of rules, that they may be ready in case they are called to defend themselves against violent attacks of despotism. . . .”

Finally, in mid-April 1775, the tension exploded into open battle. British troops were sent to take a powder magazine and to capture John Hancock and Sam Adams who were in the neighborhood of Concord and Lexington preparing to set out for the Second Continental Congress. Shortly after the troops left Boston, the radical committee knew their route and sent Paul Revere, the Boston metalsmith, to prepare the militia. The next morning saw the first clash of arms.

Sam Adams had brought the ship of revolution safely across a stormy sea. The battle was joined, and a powerful national force stood ready to fight the British.



Was the American Revolution “democratic”? The English historian Lecky wrote: “The American Revolution, like most others, was the work of an energetic minority who succeeded in committing an undecided and fluctuating majority to courses for which they had little love and leading them step by step to a position from which it was impossible to recede.” This view is generally endorsed by American historians.

It will be recalled that when the British made their first military move, the expedition to Concord and Lexington, they precipitated the great crisis. One of the remarkable events of history, such as can only take place in a revolution, happened. Within a few days, the British army. was surrounded in Boston, besieged by about 20,000 armed workers and farmers. These men came out voluntarily, not in obedience to a draft law, but in defiance of all existing laws, prepared to risk their lives, each by his own decision. This popular mobilization was all the more impressive when it is considered that the besieging force was about equal in size to the entire population of the city of Boston. Further, this was an event that was to be repeated many times throughout the colonies for the duration of the war.

These facts would seem to refute the contention that the revolution was a minority movement. However, the historians would be quick to reply that most Americans did not favor independence even after the war had begun. They would quote from Thomas Jefferson himself, who said he would “rather be in dependence on Great Britain, properly limited, than on any other nation on earth, or than on no nation.” They would cite the statements of Tories who in 1775 declared that “to hint that the Congress had any thoughts of independency would endanger a man's life.” They could even show that Sam Adams himself, although he certainly favored a full revolution against British rule, dared not speak openly of it as late as the beginning of 1776. Finally, the historians could cite the fact that Sam Adams and the radicals in Congress failed to defeat a resolution calling upon Congress to publicly deny rumors that it had any intention of declaring independence. This was nine months after the war began.

The historians could even go on to make the further startling claim that, of the thousands in the great popular army that besieged Boston in 1775, only a minority favored independence. This was probably true. Had the issue been put to a vote in the encampments around Boston, independence very likely would have been defeated.

Thus we have arrived at a peculiar contradiction. We have found that men who would fight and risk their lives for the revolution would not necessarily have voted for it! This peculiarity lies at the center of every unfolding revolution.

This contradiction between the actions and the consciousness of the great mass of the people stems from the fact that the dead hand of the past lies heavily on the brow of the living. The oppressed peoples who enter into a revolution do so because they are goaded into it by conditions that they feel they can tolerate no longer. But the old myths, traditions and political forms still hold them prisoners. They succeed in shaking these off only as the social upheaval runs its course. It is precisely this process of reeducation of society, of reconstruction of all social forms, that constitutes the heart of the revolution.

Thus, in the early days of any revolution, we see this great disparity between the historic tasks and program of the revolution, and the relatively small number of people who understand these tasks and support this program. For example, the Great French Revolution of 1789 had the job of destroying the ancient and reactionary French monarchy. Yet only a small percentage of those who entered the revolution did so with the conscious purpose and intention of toppling the king from his throne. The centuries-old traditions of monarchy made it unthinkable to most people that there could ever be any such thing as a government without a king. Despite this, all the actions of the revolutionary people tended towards the destruction of the monarchy, whether they realized it or not. Later, as the revolution took its course and thinking was rapidly altered by the lessons of the struggle, republicans by the million were created in France.

A similar development occurred in Russia in 1917 when the masses overthrew the old regime and replaced it with the communist government of Lenin and Trotsky. Many millions of peasants had come to support the Bolshevik program because they saw in it the only hope of “peace, bread and land.” They defended the Bolsheviks, fought for the Bolsheviks and supported the Bolshevik slogans, but when elections took place, large numbers of them continued to vote for the traditional peasant parties.

These considerations put us in a better position to judge the sentiments of the mass of the people of this country during the American Revolution. In 1775, the consciousness of the mass lagged far behind its deeds. No-one spoke of independence. Yet, beneath the surface, this was the real aim of the revolution. It was the end towards which the colonial masses were unconsciously directing their efforts.

As the process unfolded, that which had been a powerful underthe-surface current became a conscious movement. Sam Adams's program became the program of the mass. He was able to proceed beyond limited or “transitional” demands and to unfurl his banner.

The turning point in this process was marked by the publication of Common Sense by Thomas Paine on January 10, 1776. The amazing success of this forceful tract can be explained only by the fact that Paine expressed that which hundreds of thousands had felt but had never dared to formulate consciously. So well did he give conscious expression to the feelings of the people that his pamphlet was probably read by a larger percentage of the American population than any product of the pen before or since.

After Common Sense, the people moved rapidly towards the full radical program. A historian writes: “In the fmal analysis, the question of independence was decided not in the Continental Congress but in the states where the issue was threshed out in popular assemblies and meetings. Both conservatives and radicals in Congress appealed to the people outside to voice their wishes; and the people's answer had much to do with the final decision. . . . Congress, indeed, was in danger of finding itself left in the wake of public opinion in some states.”

Sam Adams, at Congress in Philadelphia, heard from his old friend and supporter in Massachusetts, Joseph Hawley, in April of 1776: “The People are now ahead of you, and the only way to prevent discord and dissension is to strike while the iron is hot. The People's blood is too Hot to admit of delays - All will be in confusion if independence is not declared immediately.” Hawley went on to warn that, if Congress did not act, “a Great Mobb” of citizens and soldiers would descend upon Philadelphia to purge Congress and set up a “dictator.” Sam Adams, perhaps a little astonished to find the people so suddenly “ahead” of him, was soon in action spurring the radical faction in Congress, denouncing opponents of independence as “puling pusillanimous cowards,” and setting in motion the trend in Congress that resulted in the passage of a resolution for independence on July 4, 1776.

This sketch of the course of events shows how foolish it is to try to analyze mass sentiment in a revolutionary period in purely static quantitative terms. Mass sentiment is not a quantity but a process, and a contradictory process at that. This is the lesson of the peculiar situation of Sam Adams, who was for years unable to put forward his full program because of the immaturity of popular feeling, suddenly finding: “The People are now ahead of you.”

With this understanding, we can realize that all genuine popular revolutions are the most democratic events in history; the times when the people give vent to the accumulated feelings of centuries. Only fools will demand that the whole populace attain complete maturity and comprehension at the very opening of the revolt. For this, a process of education and experience is required. The “energetic minority” of which Lecky and others speak so disparagingly are those who attain an understanding of the necessary program of the revolution sooner than the mass. This was the radical wing led by Sam Adams. It should be honored for its farsightedness and courage.



During the Revolutionary War, Sam Adams continued to serve as the mainstay of radicalism in Congress. He was a member of dozens of important committees, including the Board of War and the committee for disarming and suppressing the Tories, and he was chairman of most of the committees on which he served. Thomas Jefferson later wrote that Sam Adams “had a greater share than any other member [of Congress] in advising and directing our measures in the Northern war.”

Adams exercised his vigilance particularly against any attempts at a deal with the British. For example, when the crown sent a commission here to initiate negotiations, Adams wrote an open letter saying there was nothing to negotiate and that the British could solve all problems by withdrawing their troops.

“We are not so romantically fond of fighting,” he wrote, “neither have we such a regard for the City of London, as to commence a crusade for the possession of that Holy Land.” He then added: “To revive mutual affection is utterly impossible. We freely forgive you, but it is not in nature that you should forgive us. You have injured us too much.”

It is not the purpose of this work to carry the narrative of the American Revolution into the war period. However, certain features of the war are indispensable for the full demonstration of points we have developed. It has been our contention that, contrary to the impression given in the school books, the revolution was made not by a united people but by a disunited people. This disunity, furthermore, was drawn along class lines. Thus the revolution constituted an internal upheaval that reconstructed American society in many important respects, not merely a colonial revolt against Britain.

Let us begin with the startling facts of the Tory emigration during the war. It is not very well known that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 emigres fled the colonies during this period. The exact figures are not known, but none of the various estimates are below 100,000. If we make a comparison between this emigration and the far-better publicized flight of counterrevolutionists during the French Revolution, we are confronted with a surprising fact. A Harvard University study of the French emigration from 1789 to 1799 estimates that the total number of individuals who fled the revolution during those years comes to slightly more than 129,000. Thus the emigration in the American Revolution was about the same size as the emigration in the French Revolution. However, the population of France from which the emigration was drawn was ten times the size of the American population; slightly over 28 millions as against only 2.75 millions. It is quite likely, from all available evidence, that the Tory emigration from the American Revolution was the largest proportional emigration from a revolutionary nation in the history of revolution.

We come to the next question: who were the American emigres? An authoritative historian has written: “If we should investigate the Tory party in the several colonies in detail, we should be forced to the conviction that, in New England, it comprised in 1775 a very great share, probably more than half, of the most educated, wealthy and hitherto respected classes. In March, 1776, when Howe evacuated Boston, eleven hundred refugees sailed away with him. These eleven hundred, and the thousand or more who subsequently followed them, bore away perhaps a majority of the old aristocracy of Massachusetts.”

In New York, the same authority estimates: “In the height of the war at least, the bulk of the property owners belonged to the Tory party.” He adds that in Pennsylvania, the situation was the same. The New York Chamber of Commerce, an association of wealthy merchants, contained among its 102 members no fewer than 54 Tories and only 21 Whigs, of whom most were conservative oppositionists, not radicals.

The prominence given to the name of John Hancock, partly by himself and partly by later historians who have tried to give the capitalist class a good “patriotic” record, has, we find once more, left a false impression. Esther Forbes, biographer of Paul Revere, remarks, for instance, that Hancock was the only prominent merchant to continue the line of the old Massachusetts merchant aristocracy after the revolution. Most others were uprooted by the storm.

The fact that a huge portion of the previous ruling class was exiled (to Hell, Hull and Halifax, as the saying went in those days) and that another large portion worked as secret enemies of the new regime surely speaks eloquently as to the nature of the revolutionary war. It was civil war as well as colonial. The composition of the British armed forces further reinforces this view.

Colonial Tory regiments formed by wealthy Tories and their hangers-on played an important part in the fighting. Most of the military operations of a distinctly civil-war type, such as raiding and pillaging directed against the civilian population, burning of villages, harbor installations and ships, etc., were assigned to these Tory regiments. Johnson's “Loyal Greens,” Butler's “Tory Rangers” and a regiment organized by the traitor, Benedict Arnold (who had been a New Haven merchant in civil life), played a large part in some of the bitterest fighting of the war, in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, the Cherry Valley of New York and in the southern invasion during the latter part of the war. There were close to 20,000 such Tory militiamen, and at least 30,000 more Americans served directly in the British Imperial Army and Royal Navy. This total of 50,000 colonials who fought against the revolution is an imposing figure when it is recalled that the forces at the disposal of General George Washington often fell below 10,000.

James Truslow Adams makes the following startling statement: “Tories in great numbers did flock to the Royal Colors. Indeed it has been stated, although not wholly proved, that more colonials served in the Imperial than in the Revolutionary Army.” This claim is certainly false. Charles A. Beard estimates that in the course of the war nearly 400,000 Americans were enlisted for some kind of service with the armed forces of the revolution. But the very fact that the American Torydom contributed so many counterrevolutionary soldiers as to make this claim possible underscores the civil-war character of the fighting.

Nor was the civil war restricted to the formal military arena. Tories were tarred and feathered, their homes and other property destroyed, and some were even executed by the angry populace. The leading known Tories spent the war in prison; a Connecticut prison camp contained at one time a former governor of New Jersey and the mayor of New York.

A complaint penned by Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, shortly before the fighting opened, gives a graphic picture of the dual power development of the civil war. He wrote:

“A committee has been chosen in every county . . . which committee assumes to inspect the books, invoices, and all other secrets of trade and correspondence of merchants, to watch the conduct of every inhabitant without distinction, and to send for all such as come under their suspicion . . . to interrogate them respecting all matters which, at their pleasure, they think fit objects of their inquiry; and to stigmatize, as they term it, such as they find transgressing what they are hardy enough to call the laws of Congress, which stigmatizing is no more than inviting the vengeance of an outrageous and lawless mob to be exercised upon the unhappy victim. Every county, besides, is now arming a company of men, whom they call an Independent Company, for the avowed purpose of protecting their committees and to be employed against government if occasion requires.” The new revolutionary power had its birth in actions such as these, and the civil war that followed flowed directly from them. As we would expect, far-reaching social changes followed as a result of this war and revolution.



The American Revolution comprised, as we have seen, not merely a revolt against Great Britain but also a struggle by farmers, artisans, planters and sections of the merchant class against the wealthy ruling classes of the colonies: the large landowners, big merchants and the top layers of the clergy and professional class. This fight of class against class resulted in important changes in America

Charles A. Beard writes: “. . . The American Revolution was more than a war on England. It was in truth an economic, social and intellectual transformation of prime significance — the first of those modern world-shaking reconstructions . . . .”

The most important, single, social aspect of the revolution was agrarian. Decisive changes in the land system were wrought. The vast crown lands, slated to be formed into proprietary estates, were all confiscated outright. The question of their future disposition was fought out in the Continental Congress, where Sam Adams, supported by Thomas Jefferson, enforced the rule that these lands were to be held by the state legislatures for the benefit of the inhabitants, rather than ceded to proprietors in large parcels.

Hundreds of vast landed estates were confiscated, in most cases under laws that decreed forfeiture of property by persons found guilty of Tory activity. However, some estates were confiscated even when their owners went along with the revolution. For example, the Virginia estate of Lord Fairfax, one of the most extensive in the country, was taken from him despite the fact that he never opposed the revolution, but solely because of revolutionary opposition to landholding aristocracy.

The confiscation and division of these large estates and crown lands were accompanied by the destruction of all feudal and semifeudal property laws, such as primogeniture and entail, which were designed to hold the big estates intact, and quit rents, which cost the colonists tens of thousands of dollars each year. Further, the laws that restricted voting to owners of land were largely eliminated. While many property qualifications remained after the revolution, a citizen no longer had to own land in order to vote. Personal property of any type sufficed.

These changes add up to a social revolution on the land. All restrictions on the development of capitalist agriculture were removed. The landholding aristocracy held enormous political and economic power in some parts of New England, throughout the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and to some degree in the southern colonies solely by virtue of its ownership of land. This landholding aristocracy was smashed and was never able to rise again in the United States.

Property confiscation was not limited to landholders alone. Many merchants, clergymen and professional men lost their fortunes through the action of revolutionary decrees and tribunals. It is difficult to estimate the extent of property values confiscated by the revolutionary people. At the end of the war, a group of 2,560 exiled Tories appealed to the British Parliament for restitution of their losses. A commission appointed to sift and reduce their claims arrived at the conclusion that this group had lost about $40,000,000 in property values. This was the extent of property lost by perhaps 2.5 percent of the exiled Tories. For purposes of comparison, the total land valuation in the United States ten years after this time was only about ten times this amount.

Although exact figures are not available, indications are that these confiscations add up to one of the largest noncompensated expropriations on record in the capitalist revolutions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Slavery was seriously shaken. As a direct result of the revolution, and partly as a result of the participation of Negroes in the revolution (there was an average of 54 Negroes in each of Washington's battalions), about 11 or 12 percent of the slaves were freed. Most important, slavery was abolished in the six northern and middle colonies, thus establishing the solid nonslave area that was to serve as the base for the later assault on southern slavery.

An established church existed in nine of the thirteen colonies prior to the revolution. In most cases, the established church was one that was adhered to by a minority of the people. These church institutions received financial support out of public tax money and were further buttressed by various discriminatory religious laws. Establishment of the church was totally destroyed as a result of the revolution.

Nor did the merchants escape unscathed. This class, and particularly its wealthiest portions, was shaken to its foundations by expropriations of property, loss of former power and position, exile and impoverishment. Its place was taken by an overhauled capitalist class, very different in personnel and changing in the nature of its activities. The colonial capitalist was predominantly merchant-capitalist. It made its money not by producing commodities for sale upon the market but by buying them cheap and selling them dearer. In other words, this class did not transform the old modes of production, but preserved and exploited them. Its dominance was therefore reactionary.

The American Revolution, while not definitely bringing the dominance of merchant capitalism to an end, established the conditions for its destruction. All restrictions on the development of industrial capitalism were destroyed, at least in the northern region of the nation. Moreover, the state power was utilized to facilitate the growth of the capitalist mode of production. The fact that manufacturing took an immediate upward leap in the years during and immediately following the revolution is not at all accidental.

The place vacated by the old wealthy classes was taken by a new aristocracy of wealth, which was soon far richer than the old. These are the rich we have with us yet, the capitalist class that still rules over America. At that time, this class was progressive, since it had a great mission to fulfill. It would destroy slavery, settle the whole continent, develop production, multiply factories, mines, mills, transportation facilities. It was to be the organizer of a vast and immensely productive economy. In the process, this class would become bloated with wealth, senile and reactionary. It would bring into being its own gravedigger, the industrial working class of America, by transforming the immense majority of the people into propertyless proletarians.

From our vantage point in time, we can thus see the part played by the American Revolution in the growth of our nation and in preparation for the socialist stage of society on this continent. The immense struggles of labor against the enslaving powers of capital that are now developing have their roots in the revolutionary past.

The workers' socialist movement will produce new Sam Adamses in the coming struggles. These new revolutionists will differ in many ways from Sam Adams, for they will be socialists, and not petty-bourgeois individualists. They will differ from him in many other aspects of ideology and background. But they will not differ from him in one respect at least. The coming Sam Adamses, like the Adams of old, will know how to pursue the struggle of the oppressed with courage, with intelligence, with devotion, until they see the fight through to a victorious conclusion.

We have not attempted to deal with every aspect of Sam Adams's career. For example, his reactionary attitude of opposition to the Shays's Rebellion of New England farmers in the postrevolutionary period has not come within our scope. We have been concerned with Sam Adams solely as a revolutionist.

The art of revolution occupies a peculiar position in world history. There is perhaps no other that is mastered by so few and is of service to so many. Like all other revolutionists, Sam Adams, who devoted his life to this art, met with social disfavor for most of his life, and the very height of social approbation when it came into its own, as a revolutionary crisis gripped the nation.

Sam Adams is the revolutionist without peer in American history. His command of the revolutionary art and of its associated skills of propaganda, organization and strategy has never been equaled on this continent. Like all great revolutionists, Sam Adams belongs to the people. His glory and his triumph came with the glory and triumph of the people. His fame will shine brightly once again in the admiration and affection of the people when they rule this land once more.

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