Samuel Adams: A Life

The crucial question addressed by Ira Stoll's new biography of revolutionary firebrand Sam Adams isn't put directly until the final pages: "If Adams was so instrumental in achieving American independence and so influential even afterward, why then has his fame faded so badly with time?" The answer has to do with a stark contradiction: Sam Adams was a conservative revolutionary, an activist whose radical approach to politics was based upon his indefatigable commitment to protecting the ancient rights of Englishmen. In helping to make America independent from England, Adams ceaselessly harked back to England's own history.

Whereas American founders such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were steeped in the rationalist political philosophy of the European Enlightenment -- an 18th-century phenomenon -- Sam Adams took his political inclinations from the 17th-century struggles between England's Puritans and the English Crown. If Jefferson's inspirations were Enlightenment philosophers like Montesquieu and David Hume, Sam Adams absorbed his worldview from Puritan militant Oliver Cromwell (Adams also shared Cromwell's knee-jerk anti-Catholicism).

Like Cromwell a century before, Adams jealously guarded the rights of Englishmen against royal infringement. And, like Cromwell, Adams found a source for both fiery rhetoric and steely determination in a strict reading of the Bible. For both men, liberty and public virtue were inextricably linked. During a dark period of the Revolutionary War, Adams wrote to a friend that " general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America tha...

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

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