Samuel Adams - An Inspiring Leader
But although not skilful in managing his own affairs, he was a most loyal and successful worker for the interests of the colony. In fact, before long, he gave up most of his private business and spent his time and strength for the public welfare.
His whole income was the very small salary which he received as clerk of the Assembly of Massachusetts. This was hardly sufficient to pay for the food needed in his household. But his wife was so thrifty and cheerful, and his friends so glad to help him out because of the time he gave to public affairs, that his home life, though plain, was comfortable, and his children were well brought up.
Poor as he was, no man could be more upright. The British, fearing his influence, tried at different times to bribe him with office under the King and to buy him with gold. But he scorned any such attempts to turn him aside from the path of duty.
The great purpose of his life seemed to be to encourage the colonists to stand up for their rights as freemen, and to defeat the plans of King George and Parliament in trying to force the colonists to pay taxes. In this he was busy night and day. In the assembly and in the town meeting all looked to him as an able leader; and in the workshops, on the streets, or in the shipyards men listened eagerly while he made clear the aims of the English King, and urged them to defend their rights as free-born Englishmen.
Even at the close of a busy day, this earnest, liberty-loving man gave himself little rest. Sometimes he was writing articles for the newspapers, and sometimes urgent letters to the various leaders in Massachusetts and in the other colonies. Long after midnight, those who passed his dimly lighted windows could see “Sam Adams hard at work writing against the Tories.”
Had you seen him at this time, you would never have thought of him as a remarkable man. He was of medium size, with keen gray eyes, and hair already fast turning white. His head and hands trembled as if with age, though he was only forty-two years old and in good health.
He was a great power in the colony. Not only did he rouse the people against the Stamp Act, but he helped to organize, in opposition to it, societies of patriots called “Sons of Liberty,” who refused to use the stamps and often destroyed them. In Massachusetts, as in Virginia and elsewhere, the people refused to buy any English goods until this hateful act was repealed.
At the close of a year, before it had really been put into operation, the act was repealed, as we have already seen. But this did not happen until many resolutions had been passed, many appeals made to the King, and after much excitement. Then great was the rejoicing! In every town in the country bonfires were lighted, and every colonial assembly sent thanks to the King.
But the obstinate, power-loving George III was not happy about this repeal. In fact, he had given in very much against his will. He wanted to rule England in his own way, and how could he do so if he allowed his stubborn colonists in America thus to get the better of him?
So he made up his mind to insist upon some sort of a tax. In 1767, therefore, only one year after the repeal of the Stamp Act, he asked Parliament to pass a law taxing glass, lead, paper, tea, and a few other articles imported into the colonies.
This new tax was laid, but again the colonists said: “We had no part in levying it, and if we pay it, we shall be giving up our rights as freemen. But how can we help ourselves?”
Samuel Adams and other leaders answered: “We can resist it just as we did the Stamp Act - by refusing to buy any goods whatever from England.” To this the merchants agreed. While the unjust tax was in force, they promised to import no English goods, and the people promised not to ask for such goods.
Then many wealthy people agreed to wear homespun instead of English cloths, and to stop eating mutton in order to have more sheep to produce wool for this homespun, thus showing a willingness to give up for the cause some of the luxuries which they had learned to enjoy.
Of course, this stand taken by the colonists angered the King. He called them rebels and sent soldiers to Boston to help enforce the laws (1768).
From the first the people of Boston felt insulted at having these soldiers in their midst, and it was not long before trouble broke out. In a street fight at night the troops fired upon the crowd, killing and wounding a number of men.
This caused great excitement. The next day, under the leadership of Samuel Adams, the citizens of Boston demanded that all the soldiers should be removed. Fearing more serious trouble if the demand was disregarded, the officers withdrew the soldiers to an island in the harbor.
Still the feeling did not die down. The new taxes were a constant irritation. “Only slaves would submit to such an injustice,” said Samuel Adams, and his listeners agreed. In Massachusetts and in other colonies the English goods were refused, and, as in the case of the Stamp Act, the English merchants felt the pinch of heavy losses, and begged that the new tax laws be repealed.