If you’re in mixed company and you say, “Boy, that Samuel Adams was really something!“, most people will ask about the variety to which you refer. And that’s a remarkable shame. I’m probably being old-fashioned and naive, but I think it’s a terrible indictment on our culture to mention the older of the Adams cousins (the younger being our first Vice President and second President) and have most people start listing off the various beers and lagers made by the company that bears his name.
Yes, the Samuel Adams beer company makes dozens of brews, some seasonal, some year-round. People swear by it, love it, drink it on their cornflakes, and have it with their pumpkin pie. There’s probably even a game on Sporcle where you get five minutes to list as many flavors of Samuel Adams beer as you can.
But what’s been lost in the beer goggles (and probably in many classrooms) is that Samuel Adams (the beer) doesn’t even exist if there wasn’t first Samuel Adams (the man).
If you don’t know the “who” better than the “brew”, I’ll make it super simple for you (whoa!!…a bit of unintentional poetry).
Samuel Adams was quite possibly the single most important driving force behind the initial push for independence in the Thirteen Colonies. If Twitter had existed in the 1760s (I’m still trying to figure out why Twitter exists today, but one rant at a time), Adams would have been the guy everyone linked to in order to know what was going on.
And while his history has been largely forgotten, Samuel Adams was a giant in his time. When John Adams went to France in 1779, he was recognized as “not the famous Adams.“ He wrote that his cousin had “the most thorough Understanding of Liberty, and her Resources, in the Temper and Character of the people…”. Jefferson (the author of The Declaration of Independence) called him “the man of the Revolution…for depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled Sam Adams.”
The British also knew Samuel Adams, and steins of beer were not part of their discussions. If you want to know their opinion of the man, it’s best explained by example. In June of 1775, the governor of Massachusetts (Thomas Gage) offered amnesty to all the “rebels” causing trouble…all rebels, that is, but two. John Hancock and Samuel Adams. When the British Redcoats met the colonial militias at Lexington and Concord, what was their primary mission? War?…no. Territory?…no. The arrest of Adams and Hancock?…yep.
In the shadow of Thomas Paine’s publication of Common Sense, Samuel Adams (a long-time newspaperman) returned to print. On February 3, 1776, an article written by Adams (and published under the pseudonym “Candidus”) was published in the Boston Gazette. It contained what was quite possibly the first call for an actual, formal declaration of independence. “By declaring independence,” he penned, “we put ourselves on a footing for an equal negotiation.”
And like Paine, he had words for the Quakers. A devoutly religious man himself, “Candidus” appreciated Quaker piety. But their tendency to favor the British monarchy under the guise to “pacifist neutrality” irritated him. “If they profess themselves only pilgrims here, let them walk through the men of this world without interfering with their actions on either side.”
Some of Adams’ words would upset people today. They upset people in the 1770s. But when the members of the Continental Congress decided on indpendence a few months later, the words of “Candidus” were on their lips.
Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life