Sam Adams: The Man of the Revolution

The most important American during the Revolutionary War was?  George Washington. (A no-brainer).

The most important American in the post-revolutionary period was?  James Madison, who, more than any other Founder, created our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and therefore our government.

The most important American once that government was in place was?  Alexander Hamilton, our first treasury secretary, who created the financial system under which we still operate.

So who was the most important American leading up to the Revolutionary War?  In other words, who was the first most important American?  I vote for Sam Adams, who was born this week (Sept. 27) in 1722.   In the years prior to 1776, this native son of Boston was the indispensable man in our decision to break from the Mother Country.

He was an unlikely hero, having failed at almost every career he had tried, including the family business, a brewery, which went bust not long after he joined it.  But his fortunes turned in the 1760s when he turned to politics as the British began taxing the American colonists in ways that the colonists believed violated their rights.

The Sugar Act, the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts all imposed various forms of taxation on the colonists, so Adams became increasingly active in colonial resistance. Adams wrote fiery, well-read articles of defiance in the Boston newspapers — he was among the first to call for outright independence — as well as letters to leaders in other colonies urging coordinated resistance.  That led to the colony-wide Committees of Correspondence, arguably the most important step toward unified and widespread protest against British rule.

Some have called Adams our first terrorist. He helped create the Sons of Liberty, whose tactics included bullying both British merchants and the colonists who traded with them.  Adams had a hand in the demonstrations that led to the Boston Massacre and helped organize the Boston Tea Party, which dumped thousands of pounds of British tea into Boston Harbor.  Adams was so hated by the British that when, in 1775, Parliament offered to pardon all colonists identified as rebels, Adams and John Hancock were the two exceptions.

But he also dabbled in formal politics. He was a delegate to the First Continental Congress, which—thanks to Adams—called for a boycott of all British goods, and he attended the Second Continental Congress, signing the Declaration of Independence.

Yes, Adams’ star faded once the British were defeated and America turned its attention to nation building, and today he is mostly known for the smooth Boston lager that bears his name.  Which is a shame because the contributions to America of “The Man of the Revolution” — as Jefferson called him — are anything but small beer.