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Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll

- Abstract

Thomas Jefferson called Samuel Adams “truly the Man of the Revolution.” In the words of his second cousin John, Adams was “zealous, ardent and keen in the Cause.” “For depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity,” said Jefferson, “no man in Congress exceeded, if any equaled, Sam. Adams.” And yet, asks Ira Stoll, “if Adams was so instrumental in achieving American independence and so influential even afterward, why then has his fame faded so badly with time?”

This is a fair question, especially at a time when Adams’s name is known largely to the public as a brand of beer, and lives are being published of such dubious founders as Luther Martin. Stoll, who was managing editor of the late, lamented New York Sun, furnishes some plausible answers. Adams left comparatively little in the way of a written record, has been condemned in some quarters as an apostle of insurrection, and never held national office. Little about Adams would appeal to Americans of later generations: he was neither an ingenious “inventor-founder” like Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin or a prophet of the industrial state like Alexander Hamilton. Too religious, too little interested in material reward, distant from the fighting in the field, associated with no single document or pronouncement, Samuel Adams seems to hover at the periphery of the founding.

About the Author

Philip Terzian is literary editor of the Weekly Standard.