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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll

The "Forgotten" Founding Father

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin. John Adams. All there at the founding of our country. All recognized for their unique contributions to the revolution. Author Gary Wills noted that Adams was "the most influential man at the first two Congresses." He was on the committees of correspondence that tied the colonies together in the first place and no one was on more committees in the Continental Congress. It is easily argued that Samuel Adams had as great a role, if not greater than any other member of the Congress. He had such an integral part to play that a local newspaper noted in his obituary that "to give his history at full length, would be to to give an history of the American Revolution."

In Samuel Adams: A Life Ira Stoll tells the story of Samuel Adams. Called by some the Last of the Puritans for his strong religious faith and willingness to express it openly, Adams was certainly one of the strongest defenders of liberty from the outset. In fact, a general amnesty was offered to everyone in the Massachusetts colony by the British government, except for Samuel Adams and John Hancock. At other times, the British government approached him with clumsy attempts to bribe him with high office or favors, which he rejected with flair ("tell Governor Gage it is the advice of Samuel Adams to him no longer insult the feelings of an exasperated people.") Stoll correctly labels Adams a "religious revolutionary" - those two themes dominate his life until the very end.

Politically, he was closer to Thomas Jefferson than his Federalist cousin John Adams. But, unlike Jefferson, he decried slavery and acted upon it (his wife received a slave as a gift and he freed her that day). He also advocated education for women. He wrote page after page for newspapers supporting the idea of independence and would not compromise on that point. He could whip up a crowd with his voice as well, and he often did during the years when Boston led the protests against taxes, leading up to the Boston Tea Party.

Stoll's prose is not necessarily the most exciting of reading, but Adams words and life are inspiring enough that I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on July 13, 2011.

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