Our Favorite Founding Father
As we celebrate the 223rd birthday of the United States of America, we honor our country and the ideals of our nation's founding. Rarely, though, do we give sufficient contemplation to the Founders, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to declare the united colonies free and independent states, with the separate and equal station of full nationhood among the powers of the earth.
Founder Benjamin Rush recalled Independence Day 1776: "Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress [John Hancock] to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?" He lamented, on the 35th independence celebration, "scarcely a word was said of the solicitude and labors and fears and sorrows and sleeplessness nights of the men who projected, proposed, defended, and subscribed [signed] the Declaration of Independence."
In our age of fillips and flippancies, we may find the Signers' courage and character impossible to fathom. ...Or, perhaps, better to use more classical terms in all their senses for our Founders were men of virtue and integrity.
One Signer of the Declaration of Independence particularly inspires us. We hope the spirit that motivated Samuel Adams imbues our work.
Adams often wrote anonymously, as we do, and he could have been paraphrasing our aspiration to humilitas, in "political literature ... as selfless as politics itself, designed to promote its cause, not its author."
Adams believed, as we do, that liberty and virtue are inseparable: "Liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals." He was a devout Christian: "First of all, I . . . rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins."
Samuel Adams studied classics and science, eventually earning a master's degree from Harvard College. From an early career in merchant trades, he later joined his father's brewery business. He was never financially prosperous; at times, near poverty. But his natural genius was in politics.
Personally modest and unpretentious, he shunned such stylish affectations as powdered wigs. His cousin John Adams described him as "in common appearance, he was a plain, simple, decent citizen, of middling stature, dress, and manners."
But John also coined the term "working the political machine," complimenting Samuel as a master of those arts of practical politics: from forming activist groups like the Sons of Liberty and organizing galvanizing events such as the Boston Tea Party, to literary agitation and revolutionary philosophy. His oratorical skills incited passions for liberty, as John recalled: "Upon great occasions, when his deeper feelings were excited...nature seemed to erect him, without the smallest symptom of affectation, into an upright dignity of figure and gesture and gave a harmony to his voice which made a strong impression on spectators and auditors the more lasting for the purity, correctness, and nervous elegance of his style."
A delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams also voted to ratify the Constitution. When the colonial governor offered a blanket amnesty to colonials who would lay down their arms, he specifically refused to pardon only Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Mid-career, Adams fell into disfavor over his vehement opposition to a strong national government.
His "The Rights of the Colonists," also called "The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772" contained original outlines of the political philosophy undergirding both the Declaration and the Constitution.
Samuel Adams speaks to the afflictions of our superficial age still if we would but listen: He questioned the patriotism of anyone "who gives his suffrage for any man to fill a public office, merely because he is rich.... The giving such a preference to riches is both dishonourable and dangerous to a government, [which] argues a base, degenerate, servile temper of mind. I hope our country will never see the time, when either riches or the want of them will be the leading considerations in the choice of public officers. Whenever riches shall be deemed a necessary qualification, ambition as well as avarice will prompt men most earnestly to thirst for them...."
On trade, taxation and multiculturalism: "If our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess, or use? This we conceive annihilates our charter rights to govern and tax ourselves. ...If taxes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation, where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects, to the state of tributary slaves."
Representative leadership: "We cannot make events. Our business is wisely to improve them. ...It requires time to bring honest men to think and determine alike even in important matters. Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason. Events which excite those feelings will produce wonderful effects."
Religious liberty: "The civil magistrate has everywhere contaminated religion by making it an engine of policy; and freedom of thought and the right of private judgment, in matters of conscience, driven from every other corner of the earth...." And: "...our enemies have made it an object, to eradicate from the minds of the people in general a sense of true religion and virtue, in hopes thereby the more easily to carry their point of enslaving them."
After the unsatisfactory conclusion to Mr. Clinton's impeachment, we were sustained by Samuel Adams:
How, then, can we best honor Samuel Adams and the other Founders this Independence Day, when we have failed so utterly to uphold their ideals? As John Adams wrote on July 4th, 1776, "I am apt to believe that [this day] will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the 'Day of Deliverance' by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty!"
Samuel Adams knew the stakes are high: "Courage, then, my countrymen, our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty."
Let them know you found them on TYSK
2 July 1999