Learning Objective II
Discuss Sam Adams' background and how Sam Adams used the key events from the Stamp Act in 1765 until the Second Continental Congress of 1775 to manipulate society toward unity and into the American war for independence.
- Stamp Act Riots
- Townshend Acts and the Circular Letters
- Boston Massacre
- Tea Act and the Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts (aka Coercive Acts)
- First and Second Congressional Congresses
More than any other individual, Sam Adams was responsible for the course America took after 1765. Like all successful revolutionaries, Adams was a Machiavellian (a political doctrine which denies the relevance of morality in political affairs and holds that expediency and manipulation are justified in pursuing and holding political power.) who relied upon the principles of expediency, demagoguery, manipulation, and terrorism.
In 1746 Sam started his public life at the bottom by being elected to the local post of clerk of the town market; in 1753 he moved up to the job of town scavenger. By 1756 he became tax collector for the town of Boston, a post he held until 1764. These local offices were important for many reasons. They gave him the opportunity to be in constant contact with the common people of Boston. For instance, he built friendships by being a most generous tax collector, in that he was reluctant to perform the duties of his office, especially when citizens were in dire financial straits. When he quit the post in 1764 he was 8,000 in arrears in his collections.
In colonial Boston there was a surefire way to gather a crowd: hang an effigy, or dummy, of just about any authority figure. Effigies were closely associated with November 11th, known as Pope's Day, when Protestant laborers reenacted an oldEnglish custom — hanging effigies of the Pope, setting bonfires, and brawling in the streets. In a fiercely anti-Catholic city, indulgent officials looked the other way while the lower classes used the excuse of an Old-World holiday for a bit of hooliganism.
But after Parliament passed the hated Stamp Act in the spring of 1765, colonial merchants and master craftsmen who bore the brunt of the new law used the rituals of Pope's Day to enlist the common people in political protest. They soon discovered that once incited, the mob had a mind of its own.
The Stamp Act was the first direct tax Parliament imposed on the American colonies. All paper items were required to carry a special stamp; the revenues from the stamp would be used to support the cost of administering the colonies. The impact of the Stamp Act was widely felt. No one could buy or sell land, write a will, become an apprentice, read a newspaper or almanac, or even play cards without paying the tax, but the heaviest burden fell on merchants, shopkeepers, and master artisans. They angrily denounced the act as "taxation without representation."
Two effigies were discovered at dawn on August 14th: one was a crude figure of Andrew Oliver, Boston's Stamp Act Commissioner and the brother-in-law of the colony's second highest ranking official, Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The other was a large boot, with a devil peeking out — a reference to the Earl of Bute, the English lawmaker who was the architect of the Stamp Act. As a crowd began to gather, everyone expected the usual — a day of mockery and high spirits.
But the men who organized the event had something more political in mind. They put on a carefully orchestrated bit of street theater, stopping each cart and "stamping" its goods. The large crowd included laboring men and women, apprentices, schoolboys, artisans, some merchants, and a few gentlemen disguised as artisans. At 5:00 pm the effigies were cut down, and a good-natured mock funeral procession passed the State House shouting "Liberty, Property and No Stamps." The marchers proceeded to the stamp office and pulled the little building down.
Crown officials quickly came to fear crowds that met at Liberty Tree, and the men who had engineered the events of August 14th soon learned that they, too, had something to fear. Out-of-door meetings were difficult to control. The line between liberty and license to riot was not easily maintained.
This was never clearer than on August 26th, when a bonfire was lit on King Street (today's State Street). A large and unruly crowd gathered. The object of their anger that night was Thomas Hutchinson, a man whose arrogance, ambition, power, and wealth made him one of the most unpopular men in Massachusetts. The mob attacked his house, one of the city's most elegant homes, where they proceeded to loot the contents and tear down walls and part of the roof, reducing the mansion to a mere shell. Several hundred people watched, without moving to stop the violence.
The next day, the men who had helped focus mob action on political targets were quick to distance themselves from the riot, which even the hotheaded Samuel Adams called the work of "a lawless unknown rabble." They sought to reassert control, but it was too late. The common folk had awakened to their political power.
British soldiers cut down Liberty Tree during their ten-month occupation of Boston in 1775. Today, a small plaque marks the site. Hence, during the Stamp Act crisis Sam contributed a very important line of communication to the colonial unification. The Sons of Liberty was first organized in Boston and developed into an inter-colonial organization with 12 of 13 colonies (all except Georgia) developing a branch. Adams made it an effective political tool. He used it to control the mob and kill participation by any government officials in Massachusetts in the Stamp Act and other acts passed by Parliament.
What is the following quote from the clip below defining?
"...a brutal and illegal act to enforce a political principle..."
Townshend Acts in 1767,and Circular Letters of 1768
"Nervous tension" is the term that best describes the relationship between the American colonies and England in the aftermath of the Stamp Act repeal.
Several issues remained unresolved. First, Parliament had absolutely no wish to send a message across the Atlantic that ultimate authority lay in the colonial legislatures. Immediately after repealing the Stamp Act, Parliament issued the Declaratory Act. This act proclaimed Parliament's ability "to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever." The message was clear: under no circumstances did Parliament abandon in principle its right to legislate for the 13 colonies.
In the Western Hemisphere, leaders were optimistic about the repeal of the Stamp Act but found the suggestions of the Declaratory Act threatening. Most American statesmen had drawn a clear line between legislation and taxation. In 1766, the notion of Parliamentary supremacy over the law was questioned only by a radical few, but the ability to tax without representation was another matter.
The Declaratory Act made no such distinction. "All cases whatsoever" could surely mean the power to tax. Many assemblymen waited anxiously for the issue to resurface.
Townshend had ulterior motives, however. The revenue from these duties would now be used to pay the salaries of colonial governors. This was not an insignificant change. Traditionally, the legislatures of the colonies held the authority to pay the governors. It was not uncommon for a governor's salary to be withheld if the legislature became dissatisfied with any particular decision. The legislature could, in effect, blackmail the governor into submission. Once this important leverage was removed, the governors could be freer to oppose the assemblies.
Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, sponsored the Townshend Acts. He believed that the Townshend Acts would assert British authority over the colonies as well as increase revenue.
Townshend went further by appointing an American Board of Customs.
This body would be stationed in the colonies to enforce compliance with tax policy. Customs officials received bonuses for every convicted smuggler, so there were obvious incentives to capture Americans. Given that violators were tried in juryless admiralty courts, there was a high chance of conviction.
The letter also denounced the Townshend Acts as violating the principle of no taxation without representation, attacked Parliament for its inability to represent American interests and concluded by soliciting proposals for united action. As part of this united action he suggested that the Non-Importation Association be created in Massachusetts. This idea gained the support of 12 out of the 13 colonies (all but New Hampshire). By the end of 1769, this action had caused trade to drop with England by$700,000.
Thus, during the crisis after the Townshend Acts were passed Sam Adams contributed an additional two lines of communication to colonial unity with his circular letter and Non-Importation Association.
After the repeal of the Townshend Acts, the tension between the colonies and England relaxed. There were still enough incidents in the next two years, however, to give agitators like Sam Adams a chance to keep American rebelliousness alive. The most inflammatory was the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770, which American propagandists exploited to the hilt.
Minor clashes between citizens and soldiers were common occurrences in Boston following the arrival of 4,000 British troops (Boston only had a population of about 16,000) in October of 1768. No doubt aggravated by the prolonged winter which brought unemployment as well as discomfort, conflict between town laborers and soldiers seeking employment in off-duty hours became frequent.
On the afternoon of March 5th a fist fight between a worker and a British soldier quickly became a small riot. That evening belligerent bands of both civilians and soldiers roamed the streets of Boston. The pent-up tension exploded about 9 p.m. when a handful of hecklers, some of whom were fresh from a tavern, started cursing and throwing snowballs at the sentry on duty near the State House on King Street. When the mob swelled in numbers, to about 60, the sentry called for support which was led by Capt. Thomas Preston. As the mob pressed closer, the soldiers fired (upon the command of a person never identified) killing three outright and wounding two mortally. A general uprising was averted only when Lt. Governor Hutchinson bowed to a demand by Sam Adams and withdrew the troops from the town to islands in the harbor.
After the shooting Sam Adams and Joseph Warren quickly spread the word. John Adams found his cousin that evening "cooking up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurrences &c. working the political engine."
The lull in agitation that lasted after the repeal of the Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre came to an abrupt end when the English government passed the Tea-Act which precipitated the financial crisis.
By early 1773 the British East India Company held a monopoly on all trade between India and the rest of the empire and was on the verge of bankruptcy. This was no ordinary commercial venture but a gigantic monopoly to which the English government had entrusted not only the economic exploitation but even the government of India.
England. But in Boston the ingenious brain of Sam Adams brought about a dramatic showdown--the Boston Tea Party.
Boston Governor Thomas Hutchinson would not allow the tea ships to depart from the harbor, as they had in Philadelphia and New York. Hutchinson decided to seize the tea for nonpayment of the three cent per pound tax on tea (left from the Townshend Acts); thus the royal government of Massachusetts, rather than a more vulnerable private company, would unload the tea. It was a clever idea, but Sam Adams had a better one.
In order to sidestep and avoid Adams' appeal for immediate non-importation, on May 17, 1774, the citizens of Providence, Rhode Island, the first of many cities, called for an intercolonial congress to discuss possible common strategies against the Intolerable Acts. Rhode Island's proposal met with almost universal consent, and 12 of the 13 colonies (all but Georgia) sent representatives to the meeting, which was known as the First Continental Congress.
During the crisis created by the Tea Act, Sam's contribution to colonial unity was the all important Boston Tea Party which forced England's hand and led to a series of actions which began a point of no return for both England and the colonists.
The First Continental Congress met at Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774. After considerable bickering, the Congress was able to agree on four things.
- The first was a petition sent to Parliament entitled "Declaration of Rights and Grievances".
- The Declaration summed up a new, in a list of colonial grievances, the traditional arguments of the American protest.
- It denounced the Intolerable Acts and asked that harmony be restored between the two parties.
The Congress met in June at Philadelphia with 65 delegates from 12 colonies (Georgia joined in September, 1775). The delegates to the Congress were to continue to serve with brief recesses for the next 14 years. During the first six years (1775-81) they had no constitutional authority and were thus an extra legal government.
There were three distinct factions present at the Congress which included:
1. Delegates who hoped for conciliation were from some of the well established and wealthy families. These delegates felt they would lose more in a war with England and the social and political anarchy that might occur at home than what they were losing under English rule.
2. At the opposite end were the popular leaders like Sam Adams who felt that England would yield only to armed force.
3. At the beginning of the Congress the largest group was made up of moderates who believed that a show of armed strength would force England to back down and give into their demands. This group felt that independence was neither desirable nor necessary.
One of the first measures the Congress enacted was to create a continental army (by asking the various states to raise troops to meet the need) and selected George Washington to head the hastily improvised army besieging Boston.