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Samuel Adams: A Life

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The gripping story of the man who was the American Revolution’s moral compass—Ira Stoll tells readers who Samuel Adams was, why he has been forgotten, and why he must be remembered.

Thomas Jefferson called Samuel Adams “truly the man of the Revolution.” Adams, filled with religious fervor, inspired others to fight on and overcome the challenges of the Revolutionary War. He was the editor of the influential Boston Gazette, planner of the Boston Tea Party, and signer of the ...

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Overview

The gripping story of the man who was the American Revolution’s moral compass—Ira Stoll tells readers who Samuel Adams was, why he has been forgotten, and why he must be remembered.

Thomas Jefferson called Samuel Adams “truly the man of the Revolution.” Adams, filled with religious fervor, inspired others to fight on and overcome the challenges of the Revolutionary War. He was the editor of the influential Boston Gazette, planner of the Boston Tea Party, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and yet, he is largely ignored and unknown today. Understanding the leading part Adams played in building and sustaining support for the revolutionary cause gives readers new insight into the way religion motivated the founding of America.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

No surprise here: a biographer thinks his subject unjustly forgotten and underrated. Samuel Adams, better known now as a beer brand than as the American revolutionary leader he was, is not in the first tier of Founding Fathers. Stoll (managing editor, New York Sun) argues for Adams's key role. He's not wrong. Massachusetts, the hothouse of the Revolution, was the site of the best-remembered moments of rebellion: the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, "the shots heard round the world." Adams had a hand in all, then helped declare independence from England and managed the war that followed. In Massachusetts, he helped write the commonwealth's constitution, which was a model for the U.S. Constitution, then topped his career by succeeding John Hancock as governor in 1793. It's a good story. Stoll has mined primary sources, but his excessive fondness for quoting makes the narrative sag in places, and overall he doesn't convey deep expertise with the 18th century. There are lots of Samuel Adams bios-three others since 1997-and this one is worthy, but optional, for public libraries that don't own one of the others.
—Michael O. Eshleman

From the Publisher
"[Stoll] gives us something close to how [Adams] wanted to be remembered." —-The Boston Globe
The Barnes & Noble Review
The crucial question addressed by Ira Stoll's new biography of revolutionary firebrand Sam Adams isn't put directly until the final pages: "If Adams was so instrumental in achieving American independence and so influential even afterward, why then has his fame faded so badly with time?" The answer has to do with a stark contradiction: Sam Adams was a conservative revolutionary, an activist whose radical approach to politics was based upon his indefatigable commitment to protecting the ancient rights of Englishmen. In helping to make America independent from England, Adams ceaselessly harked back to England's own history.

Whereas American founders such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were steeped in the rationalist political philosophy of the European Enlightenment -- an 18th-century phenomenon -- Sam Adams took his political inclinations from the 17th-century struggles between England's Puritans and the English Crown. If Jefferson's inspirations were Enlightenment philosophers like Montesquieu and David Hume, Sam Adams absorbed his worldview from Puritan militant Oliver Cromwell (Adams also shared Cromwell's knee-jerk anti-Catholicism).

Like Cromwell a century before, Adams jealously guarded the rights of Englishmen against royal infringement. And, like Cromwell, Adams found a source for both fiery rhetoric and steely determination in a strict reading of the Bible. For both men, liberty and public virtue were inextricably linked. During a dark period of the Revolutionary War, Adams wrote to a friend that "[a] general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader."

Yet the devout Adams was a political activist in the modern sense, brilliantly using the media to move the American public toward his goals. Among the first colonists to seriously envision national independence, Adams's brand of consciously provocative activism so infuriated British authorities, both in the colonies and in England, that it triggered a clumsy overreaction, which directly advanced the agenda for American independence.

Stoll describes in detail British outrage after the 1773 Boston Tea Party, when an Adams-inspired mob tossed British tea into Boston Harbor. Instead of arresting and imprisoning Adams, as Edmund Burke recommended before Parliament in London ("You have these men who are delinquent. Punish them. Do not punish the town"), King George III and Parliament sought to starve Boston by closing its port. Adams used this British overreaction as God-given propaganda to unify the American colonies against royal authority.

At last understanding how formidable Adams was as an opponent, the British made what Stoll calls "a last-ditch effort" to buy him off with money or a lucrative government position. Although financially strapped due to his tireless work as a political activist, Adams (typically) chose principle over riches. "I have been wont to converse with poverty," wrote Adams, "I can live happily with her the remainder of my days, if I can thereby contribute to the redemption of my Country."

Inaugurating what would become almost an American institution, Adams found a particular focus for hostility in the taxes that Parliament began demanding from the colonies beginning in the 1760s. He believed that these taxes, starting with the Stamp Act, undermined the sacred right of personal property, allowing Crown and Parliament to confiscate the wealth of America on a whim. "[W]hat property can the colonists be conceived to have," he asked in 1768, "if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?" But the Harvard-educated Adams was no mere political theorist, and he used his prodigious skills as a journalist and political organizer to move the colonies to action. It was Adams who established the committees of correspondence to spread news that would lay the groundwork for independence. It was Adams who used the first Continental Congress to tirelessly demand independence. And it was the Crown's intention to arrest Adams (among others), that triggered the first battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

Throughout his book, Stoll works to establish Adams's central role in the struggle for independence. Crucial to this revisionary perspective are the details of Adams's work as a member of the Continental Congress, where he served on dozens of important committees and wrote countless letters urging national independence to wavering colonial leaders. Unfortunately for Stoll, Adams refused to save the documents and letters that would have cemented his reputation as a key figure. Indeed, the absence itself supplies some drama: Stoll describes one scene in which cousin John Adams walked into a room where Sam was cutting up documents with scissors and throwing them out a nearby window. Noticeably hampered by the inadequacy of archival material that would bolster his case, Stoll repeatedly resorts to conjecture or simply inserts caveats such as "Sam Adams' position on [this] has been lost to history."

In the end, Adams the man remains as enigmatic as he's always been. His few remaining letters, shrouded in biblical language, reveal little about the man except his unyielding passion for righteousness and American independence. After the struggle for independence had been won, Adams humbly returned to state government, eschewing any national role in favor of a successful bid for the governorship of Massachusetts. His views were mixed on the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, but he agreed to support it if amendments protecting civil liberties (i.e., what would become the Bill of Rights) were inserted later.

Near the end of his life (Adams died in 1803), President Thomas Jefferson paid him the highest compliment in a personal letter: "[Your letter] recalls to my mind the anxious days we then passed in struggling for the cause of mankind," wrote Jefferson, "Your principles have been tested in the crucible of time, & have come out pure."

In explaining the woeful historical neglect of Sam Adams, Stoll attempts to invoke "a feeling that the country has changed so thoroughly since his time that he has little to say to modern Americans." Alas, he is never quite able to paint more than a two-dimensional portrait of his subject. This volume lets us see Adams soldiering on through the darkest hours but never sheds much light into his Puritan soul. While Adams himself might have preferred this humble legacy, readers are left to hope that future studies will render the man in full. --Chuck Leddy

Chuck Leddy is a member of the National Book Critics Circle who writes frequently about American history. He reviews books regularly for The Boston Globe, as well as Civil War Times and American History magazines. He is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743299121
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Pages: 339
  • Sales rank: 455,507
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ira Stoll was vice president and managing editor of The New York Sun, which he helped to found. He has been a consultant to the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, an editor of the Jerusalem Post, managing editor and Washington correspondent of the Forward, editor of Smartertimes.com, and a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He is a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Harvard College. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Prelude

"Pillar of Fire by Night"

1777

"Let us awaken then, and evince a different spirit, — a spirit that shall inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in us, — a spirit that will encourage them to persevere in this glorious struggle, until their rights and liberties shall be established on a rock."

— Samuel Adams, 1777

Of all the difficult moments in the American Revolution, one of the most desperate for the revolutionaries was late September 1777. British troops controlled New York City. The Americans had lost the strategic stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, to the British in July. In Delaware, on September 11, troops led by General George Washington had lost the Battle of Brandywine, in which two hundred Americans were killed, five hundred wounded, and four hundred captured. In Pennsylvania, early in the morning of September 21, another three hundred American soldiers were killed or wounded and one hundred captured in a British surprise attack that became known as the Paoli Massacre.

Washington's troops were suffering from what one delegate to Congress called "fatigue occasioned by the bad rainy weather & long night marches." The rain had soaked the American army's ammunition, making it useless. The American troops would spend the coming winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, subsisting on firecakes made of flour and water, and leaving bloody footprints in the snow for lack of shoes; already one thousand of Washington's roughly nine thousand troops were barefoot. The delegates to Congress doubted their own generals. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland, wrote to General Washington, "I am sorry to observe that two officers in high command in our army are said to be much addicted to liquor: what trust, what confidence can be reposed in such men?"

The diplomatic situation was similarly unpromising for the revolutionaries. France had not yet agreed to an alliance with America. Some individual French officers volunteered on their own, but even they were suffering, or worse. The Journals of Congress for September 17 record that one "Mons. du Coudray, colonel brigadier in the service of his most Christian Majesty, the king of France, and commander in chief of the artillery in the French colonies of America, gallantly offered to join the American army as a volunteer, but, in his way thither, was most unfortunately drowned in attempting to pass the Schuylkill." The Congress resolved that the corpse of the man John Adams said had a reputation as "the most learned and promising officer in France" be buried "at the expence of the United States, and with the honors of war."

Burial with the honors of war was about the best that American political leaders could hope for. The enemy was closing in. Pennsylvanians lowered the 2,080-pound bronze bell from the spire of their State House, with its inscription from Leviticus, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," and carted it to the basement of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown for safekeeping. And just in time — the British captured Pennsylvania's capital, Philadelphia, America's largest city, on September 26. Congress, which had been meeting there, fled briefly to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then to York, a hundred miles west of Philadelphia. The departure from Philadelphia was frantic, prompted by an alarm from Washington's aide, Alexander Hamilton, who said the enemy soldiers were so close that one had shot his horse. One delegate to Congress was wakened by a servant at two in the morning and advised to abandon the city. A delegate from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, evacuated Philadelphia in such a hurry that he left his extra clothes behind.

Another delegate to Congress, John Adams of Massachusetts, wrote in his diary, "The prospect is chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholly, and dispiriting."

The number of delegates present at Congress had dwindled to a mere twenty from the fifty-six members who had signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Those remaining gathered for a private meeting in York to question whether there was any hope of success.

One of those present was John Adams's cousin, the patriot leader Samuel Adams, who had already suffered losses that would have shattered an ordinary man. His first wife and four of their children died of natural causes before the war began. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, British officers decapitated Samuel Adams's close friend Joseph Warren and presented his head as a trophy to the British commanding general. Samuel Adams had spent the better part of three years at the Congress in Philadelphia separated from his two surviving children and his second wife. "Matters seem to be drawing to a crisis," he had written her recently. Back in Boston, the British soldiers ripped out the pews of Old South Church, where Samuel Adams's father had once worshipped, covered the floor with dirt, and used the church as a riding academy. Samuel Adams's own house in Boston was vandalized by British troops so badly that it was uninhabitable. If the Revolution failed, Samuel Adams could expect to meet the same fate at the hands of the British as Warren.

Yet on that day in York in late September 1777, Samuel Adams, a slightly heavy, gray-haired fifty-five-year-old with large dark blue eyes, a prominent nose, and a high forehead, gave his fellow members of Congress a talk of encouragement.

"If we despond, public confidence is destroyed, the people will no longer yield their support to a hopeless contest, and American liberty is no more," Samuel Adams said in the voice John Adams described as clear and harmonious. "Through the darkness which shrouds our prospects the ark of safety is visible. Despondency becomes not the dignity of our cause, nor the character of those who are its supporters."

He went on, comparing the American revolutionaries to the Israelites who had left the slavery of Egypt. According to Exodus, chapter 13, God had guided them in the wilderness with a "pillar of cloud by day" and a "pillar of fire by night." Samuel Adams addressed the delegates:

Let us awaken then, and evince a different spirit, — a spirit that shall inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in us, — a spirit that will encourage them to persevere in this glorious struggle, until their rights and liberties shall be established on a rock. We have proclaimed to the world our determination "to die freemen, rather than to live slaves." We have appealed to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and in Heaven we have placed our trust. Numerous have been the manifestations of God's providence in sustaining us. In the gloomy period of adversity, we have had "our cloud by day and pillar of fire by night." We have been reduced to distress, and the arm of Omnipotence has raised us up. Let us still rely in humble confidence on Him who is mighty to save. Good tidings will soon arrive. We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.

When Samuel Adams said that the "ark of safety" was visible "through the darkness," he turned out to be prescient. On October 17, at Saratoga, north of Albany, New York, the American general Horatio Gates accepted the surrender of 5,800 British soldiers led by General John Burgoyne. The American troops seized from the British twenty-seven pieces of artillery and thousands of pieces of small arms and ammunition.

Detailed news of the victory at the Battle of Saratoga did not reach Congress at York until October 31, but when it did it was greeted with exuberance. "We had almost began to despair, but at length our joy was full," wrote a congressman from Connecticut, Eliphalet Dyer. The president of the Congress, Henry Laurens of South Carolina, wrote, "the glorious intelligence is now extending from City to City diffusing Joy in the heart of every Loyal American." The victory at Saratoga turned the tide of the war. News of it was decisive in bringing France into a full alliance with America against the British. Samuel Adams joked that Gates's messenger, who had dawdled for a day between Saratoga and York courting a young woman he later married, should be presented with spurs and a horsewhip.

On November 1, just after receiving news of the victory at Saratoga, Congress adopted a report drafted by Samuel Adams, declaring Thursday, December 18, as "a day of thanksgiving" to God, "particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success." The resolution went on to say that the day would be set aside so that:

with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favour, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."

Copyright © 2008 by Ira Stoll

Introduction

"Truly the Man of the Revolution"

"For depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled, Sam. Adams."

— Thomas Jefferson

Samuel Adams's inspiring speech at York, delivered at a pivotal moment, when the Congress was losing hope, has been lost in the attic of history. Six of the nine biographies of Samuel Adams do not even mention the address. The congressional declaration of a day of thanksgiving has likewise been widely forgotten, though some credit those words of Adams with starting Thanksgiving as an American national holiday rather than being a New England custom. Samuel Adams today is best known as a brand of beer. But the religious themes he struck in his York speech — that the Americans were like the biblical Israelites of Exodus, and that God was intervening directly on their side — are essential for understanding the American Revolution. So, too, was the association, in the thanksgiving declaration of 1777, of liberty with virtue and piety. These ideas help explain why the Americans fought on in the revolutionary cause in the face of discouraging setbacks and overwhelming obstacles.

Many leaders offered the same religious views. In Kingston, New York, on September 9, 1777, the chief justice of the state of New York, John Jay, said in remarks reprinted in the press, "we should always remember, that the many remarkable and unexpected means and events by which our wants have been supplied, and our enemies repelled or restrained, are such strong and striking proofs of the interposition of Heaven, that our having been delivered from the threatened bondage of Britain, ought, like the emancipation of the Jews from Egyptian servitude, be forever ascribed to its true cause, and instead of swelling our breasts with arrogant ideas of our power and importance, kindle in them a flame of gratitude and piety, which may consume all remains of vice and irreligion. Blessed be God." In New Jersey, in early October, the elected patriot governor, William Livingston, spoke of "reliance upon the divine blessing" and of how "conspicuous the finger of Heaven" had been in expelling the British from his state.

Congress's actions also reflected these assumptions. On September 11, 1777, Congress, still in Philadelphia, voted to order the importation of twenty thousand Bibles "from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere" into America. A committee appointed to consider the matter had concluded that "the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great." Congress's first recorded business in York, on October 1, 1777 — likely the morning after Samuel Adams's speech — was to note the appointment of two chaplains. One was an Anglican, William White, and the other a Presbyterian, George Duffield. Less than a week later, on October 6, Congress appointed a third chaplain, the Congregationalist Timothy Dwight, to serve a brigade of Connecticut troops.

But Jay, Livingston, and the other delegates to Congress aside, Samuel Adams was the archetype of the religiously passionate American founder, the founder as biblical prophet, an apostle of liberty. Other types are part of American lore: the plantation-owner-general, George Washington; the plantation-owner-architect, Thomas Jefferson; the plantation-owner-constitutionalist, James Madison; the scientist-inventor-printer-diplomat, Benjamin Franklin; the lawyer, John Adams; the immigrant banker, Alexander Hamilton.

Samuel Adams's achievements were widely recognized in his own time. Thomas Jefferson called him "truly the Man of the Revolution" and said "for depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled, Sam. Adams." When Samuel's cousin John Adams arrived in Paris in 1779, the French declared that he was "not the famous Adams." When the top British general in America, Thomas Gage, offered a general amnesty in June 1775 to all revolutionaries who would lay down their arms, he exempted only two men — John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

John Adams wrote of his cousin Samuel, "Adams is zealous, ardent and keen in the Cause.Ê.Ê.Ê.ÊAdams I believe has the most thorough Understanding of Liberty, and her Resources, in the Temper and Character of the People, tho not in the Law and Constitution, as well as the most habitual, radical Love of it, of any of them — as well as the most correct, genteel and artful Pen. He is a Man of refined Policy, stedfast Integrity, exquisite Humanity, genteel Erudition, obliging, engaging Manners, real as well as professed Piety."

Samuel Adams was indeed a man of "real as well as professed piety" — a man of deep religious conviction whose confidence, zeal, and endurance in the struggle for freedom were grounded in a belief that an intervening God was on his side. He was the moral conscience of the American Revolution, a man who never lost sight of the Revolution's political and religious goals, which for him were fundamentally intertwined. But he did not become a clergyman, and he sometimes clashed with ministers he viewed as insufficiently supportive of the revolutionary cause. Passionate, determined, stubborn, thrifty, eloquent, idealistic, humble, he was a religious revolutionary — and much more.

He was a newspaperman who recognized the power of the press in shaping political events and who wrote frequently, passionately, and elegantly under a host of pseudonyms about all aspects of public life; the quality of his prose alone makes him worth reading today.

He was poor compared to many of his fellow patriots, and he was a critic of extravagant personal spending by the rich and of the influence of money on politics. Yet he was not bitter, and he was an ardent defender of property rights and opponent of certain taxes.

He was a congressman and a beloved governor of Massachusetts, who, after overthrowing the British, faced the challenge of administering a new democratic government. Though he voted in Massachusetts to ratify the United States Constitution, after independence he allied himself politically with those who emphasized the importance of state and local governments as opposed to the Federalists like Washington and John Adams who wanted a powerful central government.

He was such a radical that modern historians have likened him to black nationalist Malcolm X, anarchist Emma Goldman, and the communist revolutionaries in Russia, China, and Vietnam. Yet he saw himself as a conserver of the New England Puritan tradition of his seventeenth-century forefathers and was motivated more by biblical stories of the liberation of slaves than by Enlightenment ideas of a new man.

He was so progressive for his time that he declined to accept a slave as a gift, appealed to the American Indians for aid in the Revolution, extended public education in Massachusetts to girls, and believed that "Even Savages" could be educated for democracy. Yet he sometimes veered toward anti-Catholic bigotry.

History has not been kind to Samuel Adams. A biography of him in 1885 by James K. Hosmer described him as "to a large extent forgotten." The secular trend in American universities and public schools was to the detriment of the reputation of the revolutionary who hoped America would become a "Christian Sparta." The Cold War caused some Americans to view revolutionary radicals as threats rather than heroes. Much of American history is the story of the triumph of a strong federal government over the state and local governments that were championed by Samuel Adams. And as British-American ties warmed, it became fashionable for American historians to make the eighteenth-century British look less oppressive and more sympathetic than they actually were by depicting Samuel Adams as a hate-filled and cunning conniver.

For all his detractors, though, Samuel Adams has had admirers, too, and not only among his contemporaries. "As far as the genesis of America is concerned, Samuel Adams can more properly be called the 'Father of America' than Washington," wrote Hosmer, a Harvard Divinity School graduate and Unitarian minister who became a history professor and who went on to write an admiring history of the Jews. A great-grandson of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells, published a three-volume biography of the patriot in 1865 that spoke of Adams's "incorruptible integrity and Republican simplicity of character" and his "amazing industry, his courage, ceaseless vigilance, and wise statesmanship, and his cheerfulness and fortitude amid disasters." It is appropriate that the largest and most positive biography of Samuel Adams, by Wells, was published at the end of the Civil War. As Hosmer put it, what William Lloyd Garrison was to the abolition of slavery, "Samuel Adams was to independence, — a man looked on with the greatest dread as an extremist and a fanatic by many of those who afterwards fought for freedom."

In his mixture of religion with politics, his skepticism of a powerful federal government, his warnings about extravagance and the influence of money on elections, his recognition of the power of the press, and his endurance in a war for freedom, Samuel Adams has much to say to modern Americans. If his ideas and his style have not consistently dominated American history, they are undeniably still with us today. In that sense Samuel Adams was not, as he has been called, the "Last of the Puritans" but rather one of the first Americans.

This will be a book about who Samuel Adams was, why he is forgotten, why he should be remembered. As the Massachusetts Spy wrote in concluding its obituary of Samuel Adams on October 19, 1803: "This is but a gazette sketch of his character; to give his history at full length, would be to give an history of the American revolution."

Copyright © 2008 by Ira Stoll

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Table of Contents

Prelude

"Pillar of Fire by Night": 1777

Introduction

"Truly the Man of the Revolution"

Chapter 1

"Born a Rebel": 1722-1764

Chapter 2

"Zealous in the Cause": 1765-1769

Chapter 3

Massacre: 1769-1773

Chapter 4

Tea Party: 1773-1774

Chapter 5

Congressman: 1774-1775

Chapter 6

Lexington and Concord: 1775

Chapter 7

Congressman, II: 1775-1779

Chapter 8

Back to Massachusetts: 1779-1793

Chapter 9

Governor: 1793-1797

Chapter 10

Passing of the Patriarch: 1797 to the Present

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A real mixed bag

    After reading David McCollough's "John Adams" and Ron Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton", I set upon Ira Stoll's "Samuel Adams", hoping to receive the same exciting and interesting style of biography. This book, while decent, is not in the same league as the others.

    The other two books I mentioned provided deep, vivid detail of their subjects' families, work, thoughts, gaffes, and ideals. After reading this book, I understand Samuel Adams more, but the amount of detail was lacking. The other authors made their respective subjects' legwork and daily routines seem interesting and memorable. By the end of this book, I was thoroughly bored of Samuel Adams, and couldn't tell you the names of any of his relations.

    There are a few positives, however. The book does show how feverishly devout Samuel Adams was, and how this shaped his views. In fact, that particular point is droned upon endlessly. I also greatly enjoyed the last chapter, in which the author gives some meaningful insight into why Samuel Adams is both tougher to connect with and lesser-well-known than his revolutionary counterparts.

    Don't expect the detail found in the larger revolutionary biographies here, and expect to hear a lot of "he liked God, hated Catholics, and wrote a lot of letters stating the same". If you're not an American Revolution buff, you'll probably stop reading one or two chapters in. But all things considered, it is certainly worth a once-over from anyone already interested in the subject.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 4, 2010

    Very good insight into one of the greatest Americans in our history.

    Having forgotten almost everything I learned in grade school with regards to the founding of this country, any book about Samuel Adams would have served its purpose. This book, however, went above and beyond. The story was engrossing as well as informative. It spent as much time describing how we got into a revolutionary war as it did in describing how Samuel Adams was the "Father" of that revolution. It really portrays Samuel Adams as a great American that put his life on the line for the good of the country. He was an incredible patriot and hero. I Would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know Samuel Adams or needing a reminder of how our country was founded.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2010

    Indescribably Awful

    If you're looking for a serious biography of Adams avoid this book like the plague. It's hard to imagine a book publisher agreed to print this. I want a refund. Actually B&N should pay damages to anyone who was subjected to this trope.

    The author clearly has a point of view of today's politics. It's pretty obvious he wants to bolster his claim of rightness by asserting a historical connection to one of the Founders who may--or may not, since the author's research is so weak it's never proven--have held similar views. He then makes the startling conclusion that Sam Adams was somehow one of THE most influential figures in early American political life, despite a whole host of other people who, you know, actually exercised a lot of influence on how things turned out by holding high office. Adams was SO influential that one of his allegedly core principles--governance in the mold of a Christian specific, faith based structure--was enshrined in the Constitution. Oh wait, no it wasn't. The author never really explains how exactly none of Sam Adams' alleged core beliefs ended up being adopted in early American political structure.

    Indescribably awful.

    3 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Oh my goodness! Who knew?

    What a fantastic source. I knew Sam Adams was more than a beer, but I had no idea what an important figure he was in our Nation's founding. I would say it proves to that, since King George wanted him, by name wanted Samuel Adams.
    Great read. Great information. Inspiring. Don't hesitate.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Superb Writing!

    I was truly amazed at how little I knew of truly one of our most important founding fathers. I was equally impressed with the author showing the huge role religion played in our freedom and feel like the education system has truly failed teaching this to us.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    Ira Stoll has done exceptional work in his biography of Samuel

    Ira Stoll has done exceptional work in his biography of Samuel Adams. The book is well researched and documented and sheds light on a man who has not gotten the credit he deserves for helping in the founding of this nation. In fact, he appears to be the linchpin. So many of his ideas and phrasing wound up in our Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. He was a devout Christian who lived out his faith and is a role model for the man/woman in government who is there to serve the American people and not there to get rich.

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  • Posted June 26, 2013

    Quick and entertaining, but not much depth

    This book is good for a casual reader interested in a quick coverage of a largely unappreciated Founder. This book gives a good overview of Samuel Adams's life and times, but it fails to go deep enough to be a hard hitting biography. This is not entirely the author's fault however, as he makes it clear that Adams destroyed most of his correspondence, making it nearly impossible to recreate his frame of mind at any particular point. So the book does a good job working almost exclusively through secondary sources. I did particularly enjoy the final chapter which examines Samuel Adams's rise and fall in popularity given the national mood in any given era. His memory has become a sort of national barometer. If nothing else, it was enjoyable to read a book which examines a pivotal figure in the American Revolution who can be appreciated for more than inspiring a brewery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    Informative,but.....

    My father read this book and said although it is packed with information, the writing style is horrific! And when I had to borrow this book for a report recently,I found I couldn't agree with him more!! The setup is very confusing, and the order of ebents makes no sense what-so-ever! Although I am only thirteen, I read at a high high-school level. I can usually read 100-125 pages in an hour but in this book, I read 3 pages in 40 minutes, parshly because the work bored me to sleep and parshly because I had to go back multiple times to make sure I understood, and after going back a good 15 (Give or take) times I still didn't! Over-all, seeing as though there are not many books on Samuel Adams,it is not horrible, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Too repetive!

    Sanuel was a grat man but carried only two messages. One our religious right and the other freedom.

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