Samuel Adams


Michael Benton, Contributor

| updated

Copy Link Code

samuel adamsJohn and Samuel Adams were both significant figures in the movement for American Independence and the early legislation of Massachusetts. Not only were their politics related, so were they; Samuel and John Adams were second cousins who shared a great-grandfather. Their mutual ancestor was Joseph Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts whose father was Henry Adams. Henry Adams was a Puritan pilgrim who left England in 1630 due to religious persecution. Samuel Adams was born in Boston in 1722, 13 years before John Adams' birth. He originally tried his hand at the family malting business but failed after the death of his father. Samuel Adams then became, ironically, a tax collector. He was not very good at that either but did manage to network with political figures who would later help him spread his message of liberty. Both Samuel Adams and John Adams were graduates of Harvard College and both studied law. They were both elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the years before the First Continental Congress and both were selected to represent the state there as well. Samuel Adams may not have influenced the infamous Boston Tea Party, but he soon hailed the action as necessary and became a popular proponent of liberty who riled the British.

John Adams was not as fiery a speaker, nor was he as well known as his second cousin, but he did gain a larger influence over national affairs. While Samuel Adams was also a staunch proponent of permanent separation from Britain, it was John Adams who was asked to advise Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Both John and Samuel Adams would sign this revolutionary document, after that day, however, their political paths turned away from each other. During the war, John Adams was sent to play a diplomatic role in Europe while Samuel Adams returned to Massachusetts and focused on local legislation. John Adams was a key member of the delegation that won terms of peace with Britain in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War. When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, they began to discuss a complete overhaul of the previous Articles of Confederation for the purpose of creating a stronger, centralized government. These so-called Federalists, led by James Madison, were encouraged and certainly influenced by John Adams and the structure of republican government he designed in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Samuel Adams, however, felt somewhat betrayed by the concept of a strong, nationalized government as he was prone to fear the concentration of power. This made Samuel Adams an Anti-Federalist; he did succeed in adding amendments to the Constitution which helped lay the groundwork for the Bill of Rights.

After ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, John Adams was elected Vice President under Washington's administration. He would go on to win the election of 1796 as a Federalist and become the second President of the United States. For Samuel Adams, John Adams was his successful cousin with differing politics. They were not ever very close, but their differences in opinion probably made a relationship less likely to bloom.