The Adams Family

But first, a word …

History seeks order from chaos.  It is one discipline of several in the social sciences.  The study of history must confine itself to evaluating written records.  Whatever history exists before written records must be studied and evaluated by someone other than a historian — an archeologist, perhaps, or an anthropologist.

Written records tell us about individuals and societies — their actions, decisions, interactions, achievements, and failures.  History allows us to study certain patterns over time; hopefully, by learning about the past, we can have greater hope for the future.

The value of history (beyond helping us avoid past mistakes) is that it nurtures our personal and collective identity.  It helps us to answer the question, “Who are we?” Most of our stories are complex because human beings are complex.  History reveals to us the struggles of our ancestors and their achievements.  It allows us to observe the courage of those who came before, and these past achievements shape our values, which we, in turn, communicate to our children and grandchildren.

The study of history teaches us certain laudable skills.  To think as a historian is to become critical of evidence and argument.  It prompts us to demand proof; it requires that we take what we have learned and place it in a time and place context.  History demands that we learn to ask the right questions about the past, interpret answers, and be able to explain how and why certain human events came to pass.  If we are good historians, we will strive to accomplish this dispassionately — free of preconceived notions or personal biases.  Good historians are happy to allow history to speak for itself.

But what history does for us is that it nurtures our personal and collective identities.  By understanding our history, and that of our ancestors, we find our place in a large and complex world.  The story of us is often complicated — made so by our struggles, achievements, and failures.  Historians stand at the center stage where it is possible to debate such things as civilized societies, political and religious systems, leadership (or lack thereof), geography, economics, and culture.

Introduction

President Ronald Reagan once told us that what we must have in our country is an informed patriotism.  He asked whether we were doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is (and I will add, what America isn’t) and what She represents in the long history of the world.  We must not forget what we did, otherwise, we will forget who we are.  “I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.” —Ronald Reagan.

Jarrett Stepman, in his book The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America’s Past, cautions us, “America is once again at a crossroads.  Though this superpower of almost unimaginable wealth is unlikely to be brought low by a disaster, an uneasiness about our future is difficult to explain.  An all-important question has opened up a great chasm between Americans: Is the essence of our civilization — our culture, our mores, our history — fundamentally good and worth preserving, or is it rotten at its root?”

Stepman and others argue that our gravest threat is not unsustainable debt, inequality, dysfunctional government, or even foreign enemies — it is that charismatic people have convinced a third or more of our people that we must wash away our past to clear the way for a new future.  Demanding the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus and civil war personages wasn’t the goal of these Marxists — the goal was America itself.  This is a conspiracy of radicals to dismantle the pillars of our national exceptionalism and transform them into symbols of oppression, racism, and inequality — so that America becomes an irreparably flawed place.  Who can relate to an inferior place?

Part of our problem in this regard is that historians — the people who help to tell our story as Americans, have not all remained true to their profession.  Numerous problems exist, but I do not want this to become a treatise on all that I find wrong with historians.  I will simply note that some historians present opinion as fact, others tell us outright lies, and still others mislead us because they want their students to come away from the written word with a peculiar point of view.  None of this is necessary.  History is fascinating enough without elaboration or patent dishonesty.  I favor telling the story of America as it actually happened and letting the reader decide for themselves what they think about it.

Last week, I wrote about British General Thomas Gage.  Before turning to the Adams boys, I want to address further the character of King George III’s North American Commander-in-Chief.  Not all historians have been fair to General Gage — and this is undoubtedly true about the producers of videos purporting to be a true and accurate depiction of historical persons and events between 1765 – 1783.  Gage isn’t the only victim.  Videographers have also misrepresented and slandered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.  Neither of these British officers was a fascist or murderer.  It is one thing to tell a story in such a way as to offer sympathy to one character or another — for the sake of a story well told — and something else to shatter history so that the story becomes a lie.

General Gage became an aristocrat as an accident of his birth.  He did not choose it, although I am sure he much preferred having a family of some influence over the opposite.  His aristocratic background and his education no doubt produced an idealist.  There is nothing wrong with idealism — and his brand of commitment to principle made him a patriot in the service of his sovereign and British society.  When General Gage assumed the mantle of governance in Massachusetts, he did so as a British governor of a British people.

That Thomas Gage cared about the American colonies appears readily apparent.  His success as a military commander and a governor/colonial administrator would depend upon the success of the colonists themselves.  He would not have wanted these colonies to fail.  Not on his watch.  If he did not care about the colonists, he did care about his legacy.  But I think the evidence of history (principally Gage’s papers) shows us that he did care about the colonists.  He married a woman from New Jersey.  His children were born and raised in the American colonies.

We also know that General Gage was a Whig (a British conservative).  He was also a man of the law.  Some may claim that General Gage was inflexible, but that isn’t the evidence of his treatment of certain key colonial troublemakers.  Thomas Gage never violated the law in his dealings with the likes of Samuel Adams or John Hancock.  He was far more lenient with Paul Revere than he should have been.  He might have moved to crush The Sons of Liberty but never did.  History tells us that, if anything, General Gage was perhaps “too lenient” or “too moderate” in his dealings with the rebels.  This is why he lost his job in North America.  It was the Adams family that helped send him back to England.

Cousins

Samuel and John shared a common ancestor, making them second cousins.  They were both American-born.  Raised from Pilgrim stock, the boys would have been something less than Anglophiles.  Both boys were named after their fathers (Samuel and John).  Samuel Adams, Sr., belonged to a network of law-breakers (as we shall see), John Adams, Sr., was a more law-abiding man — and that is how he raised his son.  Both boys considered themselves as patriots of the American cause: independence from the United Kingdom.

But Samuel and John Adams had little else in common.  They had different personalities, and there was no family resemblance.  One was a criminal, and the other was a champion of the law.  Both could have been hung for their treason. 

Samuel Adams

Sam Adams, Jr. (1722-1803) was born and raised in Boston.  He was one of twelve children born to Samuel Adams, Sr., and Mary Fifield Adams.  Of those twelve children, only three survived into adulthood.  Sam Sr., like his parents before him, was a devout Puritan, a prosperous merchant, and a church deacon.  He was involved in local politics, promoted populist candidates, served as a justice of the peace, sat on the town council, and served in the Massachusetts legislature.  As a populist, Sam Sr. opposed royal appointees who, because of their loyalty to the Crown, worked to circumvent the Colonial Charter of 1681.  Sam and Mary raised their son to embrace many of his father’s causes and beliefs, particularly his anti-British sentiments.

Sam Jr. attended the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard in 1736.  His parents preferred that he enter the ministry, but Sam favored law and politics over religious training.  Given his childhood development, Sam’s decision to pursue the law was more of a demonstration of populism because, traditionally, Englishmen had little use for lawyers and tried to minimize their role in society.  Colonial legislatures in Massachusetts (1641), Virginia (1658), and the Carolinas (1669) passed laws that prohibited pleading in court for hire.  In the Carolinas, for example, disgruntled citizens described lawyers as “cursed hungry caterpillars whose fees eat out the very bowels of our Commonwealth.” By the 1750s, however, colonial society began acknowledging the necessity of lawyers. 

Before the explosion of lawyers in America, one might consult with a barkeep, who generally kept two law books on his shelf.  Pub clients might rent the law books, or barkeeps might read passages to customers for a fee.  Early colony courts and legislatures limited a lawyer’s ability to appear in court unless he had been admitted into a law practice by other barristers.  Admission to a law practice would signify that the lawyer was knowledgeable of the law and that his law partners were convinced of his proficiency in the law.  Until the advent of law school, most lawyers learned their trade through apprenticeships and clerkships.  It was a pathway lasting seven or more years.  Samuel Adams was not known for his patience.  He thought apprenticeships were a “dreary ramble.” Another method of legal training was the “reading of the law.”  Some candidates read extensively because they had an inquisitive nature, while others read the least amount necessary to pass their examinations — which might describe Samuel Adams.

Although, to his credit, Sam continued his study of law after graduating from Harvard in 1740.  In 1743, he published a thesis (or a treatise) arguing that resistance to authority is lawful when (or if) a commonwealth cannot be otherwise maintained.[1]  Whatever the nature of Samuel’s argument, it may have reflected his father’s involvement in the Massachusetts Land Bank Scandal (1739-1740).[2]  On more than one occasion over many years, Samuel Adams Jr. demonstrated that he was a chip off the old man’s block.

After Massachusetts officials began compiling lists of men judged guilty of illegal financial transactions and compiling a record of their assets (for confiscation), a mysterious fire destroyed the court’s records before they could be procedurally submitted for adjudication.

It was a case of arson, purely and simply — and it saved several leading citizens from imprisonment and financial ruin — Samuel Adams Jr. among them.  Sam regarded royal authority as arbitrary and destructive to the interests of the populist movement — apparently thinking that the state should exercise no power at all.  Still, one wonders how far the Ipswich men would get in their scheme had they hatched it in modern times.  It was a counterfeiting operation worthy of severe federal penalties in contemporary language.

Taxes and Smuggling

I must pause here to elaborate on a few more problematic issues affecting relationships between Great Britain and its American colonies.

A vital element of colonial trade, smuggling developed in response to the strict mercantilist policies of England in the seventeenth century.  To enhance colonial profitability and exert greater control, England passed a series of Navigation Acts that fostered illicit trade and heightened tensions with the colonies.

The earliest Navigation Acts were passed in 1651 and expanded in 1660, 1662, 1663, and 1673.  Designed to control Dutch maritime trade, these acts were only loosely enforced, leaving room for colonial merchants to circumvent the laws.  With little to hinder their activities, colonial merchants traded illegally in goods enumerated in the Navigation Acts and the corn and manufacturing laws passed in the 1660s.  Though the bulk of colonial trade was legal, colonists imported and exported tobacco, sugar, cotton, and wool at will.  Had England strictly enforced its trade laws, the economic impact on the colonies might have been disastrous.  Instead, the colonies engaged in a flourishing trade with other European countries even though such trade was forbidden under the terms of the laws.

Illicit trade between the colonists and European nations did not escape the attention of London merchants, who informed the Lords of Trade in 1676 that their businesses were failing as a result.  They warned that the Crown would suffer dramatic losses in customs revenues (estimated at £60,000 annually).  When pressed for information, colonial merchants admitted they could import goods from Europe at a cost twenty percent less than those imported from England.  Smuggling was very profitable.

In 1677, colonial customs agent Edward Randolph estimated that smuggling cost the Crown well over £100,000 per year in lost revenues.  By 1684, the Lords of Trade convinced the court to revoke the Massachusetts charter and form the royally governed Dominion of New England — an action justified in part by New England’s intentional violations of the navigation acts.

The Molasses Act of 1733 was arguably the harshest of England’s laws governing colonial trade because it provoked a substantial increase in smuggling.  The Molasses Act placed prohibitive duties on molasses and sugar shipped to the colonies from the Dutch, Spanish, and French West Indies.  Often bribing customs officials to avoid paying duties, colonial merchants smuggled in large quantities of molasses, used primarily in rum production — an integral product in what was called the triangle trade.  The Board of Trade received proof of the breach of the Molasses Act and other trade laws from various sources, but it remained extremely difficult to curb these violations.  As but one example, scholars argue that Rhode Island merchants illegally imported 85% of their molasses from the Dutch, French, and Spanish West Indies.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Crown passed more trade regulations intended to increase revenue from the colonies and restrict their financial autonomy.  These acts, including the Revenue (Sugar) Act of 1764, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and the Tea Act of 1773, resulted in even more smuggling.  In response, England turned to the only organization capable of combating illegal trade: the Royal Navy and British Army.

A Caustic Personality

Someone once described Sam Adams as a man who liked the sound of his voice in private company. He was loud, simple-minded, and arrogant.  Many people found him boring. Following graduation from law school, Sam had an opportunity to open up his law practice but opted instead to work as an accountant.  It was a poor career decision because Sam had no head for numbers or patience for accountancy. 

After failing as a bookkeeper, Sam joined his father in managing the family malthouse, where they produced mead and beer.[3]  When Sam Sr. died, Sam, the younger, took over the business.  A year later, Sam married his pastor’s daughter, Elizabeth Checkley.  They had seven children, the last of which caused Elizabeth’s death in 1757.  Of their seven children, only two survived into adulthood.  In 1764, Sam married Elizabeth Wells, a widow.  He sired no other children.

Sam Jr. also followed his father into politics.  While serving as the tax clerk of Boston Market, Sam was happy to draw a wage for collecting taxes but refused to assess friends whom he knew could not afford to pay.[4]  Sam’s leniency made him popular among his friends but did nothing to enhance his career.  A reasonable employer might conclude that Mr. Adams was a dishonest man.  Still, Samuel Adams’ dishonesty, if that’s what it was, may have been the effect of earlier British taxation policies.[5]   

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Sugar Act of 1764 were the United Kingdom’s first two attempts to correct Robert Walpole’s unwritten policy of salutary neglect and regain fiscal control over the American colonies.  The Sugar Act was a trade regulation intended to raise revenue while curtailing smuggling.  The Act, a tax on molasses imported into the colonies from the West Indies, disproportionately affected Massachusetts, and the other New England colonies, which depended on the molasses for their rum distilleries.

Sam’s involvement in protesting the Sugar Act propelled him into the Massachusetts political spotlight.  As a member of the Town Meeting and a vocal critic of the tax, the town council asked Sam Adams to voice the council’s opposition to the act to the members of the House of Representatives.  Sam recommended that the thirteen united colonies oppose the act.

Borrowing from James Otis’[6] thoughts about taxation without representation, Adams asserted: “For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands?  Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of?  This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves.  It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain.  If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?[7]

In questioning Parliament’s authority over the colonies and offering the suggestion of united opposition, Sam Adams highlighted the duality of Puritan New England’s fundamental, radical conservatism while laying an essential cornerstone for revolution.   The Town Meeting, a form of government created by Puritans (unique to the New England colonies), challenged the authority of the British Empire’s legislature.

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required that most printed materials bear a revenue stamp and anyone who violated the Act to stand before an admiralty court.[8]  Unlike previous taxes, the Stamp Act was a direct tax that affected nearly all colonists.  To Sam Adams, this tax was an affront to Massachusetts’s Colonial Charter, and his opposition to it propelled him into a leadership position within the so-called Loyal Nine (precursor to The Sons of Liberty), who opposed “parliamentary tyranny.”  In September, the people of Boston elected Adams to a seat within the House of Representatives (which he held for nine years).  He almost immediately began to write resolutions defending the rights and liberties of the people of Massachusetts.  Among his writings were, “…that all acts made by any power whatever, other than the General Assembly of this Province, imposing taxes on the inhabitants, are infringements of our inherent and inalienable rights as men and British subjects, and render void the most valuable declarations of our charter.”

Joining with other radicals, Sam Adams became Clerk of the House.  Thomas Cushing served as Speaker.  Combined with members such as James Otis and John Hancock, the Massachusetts House became a den of radicals (and, given their involvement in smuggling — criminals).  The New England colonies were overjoyed when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act but positively incensed when British legislators concurrently passed the Declaratory Act, reaffirming Parliament’s authority over all colonial assemblies.  In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts — an effort to disrupt rampant smuggling operations in the colonies.  Sam Adams led efforts to boycott British goods and draft a petition to the King urging his respect for the Charter Rights of Massachusetts.  Not everyone in Massachusetts agreed with the petition, however.  About a third of these people were British loyalists.

John Adams

John (1735-1826) was the son of John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston.  He was the eldest of three sons, born in Braintree, Massachusetts.  John Sr. was a farmer, shoemaker, and a lieutenant in the local militia.  He also served as a deacon in the family’s church and a member of the town council responsible for supervising road and school construction.  Susanna’s father was a medical doctor from Brookline, Massachusetts.

As with Samuel, John was raised in a Puritan environment, an influence that remained with him all his life.  John’s parents raised their children to exhibit unyielding good character.  As the family’s eldest son, his parents insisted that he receive a formal education, beginning at age six.  He later attended the Braintree Latin School (Latin, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic) — although not without some truancy, a distaste for his teacher, and a preference for working as a farmer.  Despite his son’s well-articulated objections, his father “commanded” that he remain in school.

While at Braintree Latin, John demonstrated that he was a keen scholar and a classicist.  John’s father wanted him to become a minister.  However, John wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so after graduating from Braintree, he taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts.  His eventual decision conflicted with his Puritan upbringing; he decided to study law.

John Adams enrolled at Harvard in 1751, studied under James Putnam in 1756, and earned his degree in 1758.  After passing his bar examination in 1759, Adams opened a law practice.  He was most influenced by James Otis, who wrote and spoke eloquently and may have inspired Adams to take up the patriot cause.  Some historians argue that if there was one thing that ignited the American Revolution, it was the issue of writs of assistance.[9]  The Americans would tolerate many things, but an interruption to their smuggling activities and other criminal enterprises was not one of them.

John met and married Abigail Smith, a third cousin.  John sired six children, two of whom died before maturity.  Quincy was their only successful offspring. All three of their sons became lawyers; John Quincy would become the 6th President of the United States and a career member of the U. S. House of Representatives.

Charles and Thomas were failures as lawyers and as human beings; both eventually died from alcoholism.

Like Sam, John rose to prominence in Massachusetts politics after Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act of 1766.  John’s primary objection was that the Act should not have passed without first consulting with the colonial legislatures.  Wary of exposing himself to British authorities, John wrote in opposition to the act under the alias Humphrey Ploughjogger.  He wrote four such essays, published in the Boston Gazette and republished in the London Chronicle in 1768 as Two Sentiments of America.  One thing John would not do, however, was participate in radical mob demonstrations.

After the Townshend Acts, enraged radicals committed violent acts against lawful authority.  Tax collectors and customs agents conducted their business on the premise that law-abiding citizens would fork over amounts due on demand.  Should a citizen refuse to pay, the matter went into the courts for resolution. This was a viable strategy because there were no police departments or other law enforcement mechanisms.

But officials of the crown became quite nervous about all this radical and criminal activity and sought the protection of the British military.  General Thomas Gage dispatched troops to occupy the City of Boston to provide security and ensure law and order.  On 5 March 1770, a gang of thugs descended on a lone British sentry (Private Hugh White), surrounded, and assaulted him.  Captain Thomas Preston quickly mustered seven additional troops to reinforce White, but the mob also surrounded them.  The soldiers, firing into the crowd in self-defense, killed five colonists and wounded five more.

Civil authorities quickly arrested the nine soldiers and charged them with murder.  John Adams placed his local reputation on the line by stepping forward to defend these soldiers when no one else would.  A jury acquitted Captain Preston in October (the prosecution failed to prove that the officer gave the order to fire).  The rest of the men went to trial in December.  The jury convicted the two shooters of manslaughter.[10] 

The rest of the soldiers were acquitted.

John Adams’s now-famous closing argument included these words: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.  It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.  But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection, and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen — that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

Of all the founding fathers, John Adams was among the more conservative.  In 1770, he steadfastly believed that British actions toward the colonies were wrong and misguided, but he also thought rebellion and insurrection were unwarranted.  John Adams preferred a peaceful, reasoned settlement of perplexing issues.  He moved away from this position in 1772 when the British Crown assumed responsibility for paying the salaries of governors and other high officials.  This was a significant issue, for, in the colonists’ minds, any governor or judge paid by the Crown could never render an impartial decision. All judges and prosecutors are on the government’s payroll. This system, objectionable in 1772, remains in place today.

Conclusion

Samuel Adams left Philadelphia and returned to Boston in 1779 to attend a state constitutional convention.  The Massachusetts General Court had proposed a new constitution the previous year, but voters rejected it, so a convention was held to try again.  Adams was appointed to a three-man drafting committee with his cousin John Adams and James Bowdoin.  They drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, amended by the convention, and approved by voters in 1780.  The new constitution established a republican form of government, with annual elections and a separation of powers.  It reflected Adams’s belief that “a state is never free except when each citizen is bound by no law whatever that he has not approved of, either directly, or through his representatives  .”By modern standards, the new constitution was not in any way democratic.  In Adams’ day, free white males who owned property were allowed to vote. 

Sam Adams retired from the Continental Congress in 1781, two years before the end of the war.  His health was not good.  He was approaching his sixtieth birthday.  He wanted to return to Massachusetts to influence politics in the Commonwealth.  He never left Massachusetts again. 

John Adams was inexhaustible as a member of the Continental Congress.  He was a member of the Grand Committee — helped draft the Declaration of Independence, sat on 90 separate committees, and chaired 25 of those — an unmatched workload among his peers.  He served as Commissioner to France, Ambassador to the Dutch Republic, and participated in formulating the Treaty of Paris. He was Ambassador to Great Britain, Vice President of the United States, and Second President.

The story of two New Englanders — both men a product of their parent’s upbringing and their values, changed by circumstances that they helped to create … and both men, affected in some way by their adversary: British General Thomas Gage, who was a product of his parent’s upbringing, and their values, whose circumstances were changed by two cousins from Massachusetts.

Source:

  1. Alden, John R.  General Gage in America.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1948.
  2. Alexander, J. K.  Samuel Adams: America’s Revolutionary Politician.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
  3. Anderson, F.  Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766.  New York: Alfred Knopf, 2000.
  4. Ellis, J. J.  Passionate Siege: The Character and Legacy of John Adams.  New York: Norton & Company, 1993.
  5. McCullough, D.  John Adams.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  6. Miller, J. C.  Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda.  Boston: Little Brown, 1936.

Endnotes:

[1] Some historians claim that Sam Adams earned a magister degree (master’s) in 1743, but the earliest such degree awarded in the United States was in 1870.  Source: American Historical Association.

[2] In the first half of the 18th Century, the British colonies suffered from a shortage of money in circulation.  Local merchants had coinage, but most everyone else did not.  In 1727, the General Court of Massachusetts, in recognizing the seriousness of the issue, allowed the province to collect taxes on commodities and manufactured goods (so long as the goods were produced inside the providence).  By mid-summer 1731, the issue was unresolved, which caused provincial officials to send out an appeal to the towns for aid.  In Ipswich, city fathers debated the issue and finally decided not to offer any relief to the province at all.  By this time, the town of Ipswich had been in existence for 100 years and had, in that time, lost most of its interest in assisting the Massachusetts government in any fashion whatsoever.

However, what did evolve was a scheme to print its own money in violation of the authority of the Crown and over the objections of the governor and his council.  The scheme began as a solution to a serious issue, but it evolved into a populist movement.  If the government couldn’t solve this problem, the fathers of Ipswich could.  But printing money is a function of government, notably the British Parliament, and no one in Parliament was amused by the activities of Ipswich.  For one thing, printing illegal money was treason.  One of the schemers was Samuel Adams Sr., and when he died, his son became responsible for settling the matter.  It made Samuel Adams Jr., a somewhat less enthusiastic citizen of the United Kingdom.

[3] Mead is made from honey, water, and yeast.  Beer is made from malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting barley, yeast, and hops. 

[4] At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Great Britain gained control over French Canada but at the same time, doubled its national debt.  The Parliament was forced to raise revenues.  Increased revenues made it necessary to increase taxes within the American colonies.

[5] Salutary neglect was Britain’s unofficial policy, initiated by Prime Minister Robert Walpole, to relax the enforcement of strict regulations, particularly trade laws, imposed on the American colonies late in the seventeenth and early in the eighteenth centuries.  Walpole and other proponents of this approach hoped that Britain, by easing its grip on colonial trade, could focus its attention on European politics and further cement its role as a world power. Because the policy was unwritten, it went unnamed until March 22, 1775, when Edmund Burke, addressing Parliament, cited British officials’ “wise and salutary neglect” as the prime factor in the booming commercial success of the country’s North American holdings. Indeed, salutary neglect enabled the American colonies to prosper by trading with non-British entities, and then to spend that wealth on British-made goods, while at the same time providing Britain with raw materials for manufacture. But the policy had an unintended side effect: it enabled the colonies to operate independently of Britain, both economically and politically, and to forge an American identity. Some historians argue that this loose hold on the colonies, which King George III and his ministers tightened in 1760, gave them the freedom to pull away from Britain and start down the path to revolution.

[6] In 1761, James Otis (Jr.) (1725-1783) famously challenged the British government’s writs of assistance, which were search warrants designed to enforce trade and navigation laws.  Such warrants authorized customs officers to search any house for smuggled goods.  Otis raised the doctrine of natural law which emphasized the rights of citizens to be secure in their homes and property — a framework for the Bill of Rights in subsequent decades.  Otis coined the phrase, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

[7] From the British point of view, given the appointment of royal governors, governor’s councils, houses of representatives, or assemblies, the colonies were adequately “represented.”  What Adams (and Otis) suggested was that the colonies should only be taxed on things they agreed to pay taxes on.  This is an interesting argument, but I would guess that no one in the present IRS would agree with such a proposition.

[8] Dating back to the reign of Edward III, Admiralty Courts exercised jurisdiction over maritime contracts, torts, injuries, and offenses.  Judges were appointed and removed by England’s Lord High Admiral, and they were paid a stipend from the Crown, which called into question their impartiality in matters before the bar — that, along with removing a right to a jury trial, further inflamed the passions of the American colonists.

[9] In colonial America, writs of assistance increased tensions leading toward the Revolutionary War.  In 1760, customs officers were granted writs (search warrants), which the colonists insisted violated their rights as British subjects.

[10] Two musket balls killing five men was a remarkable achievement; it was either that, or more than two men fired into the crowd.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, Bill of Rights, British Colonies, Colonial America, Founding Fathers, History, Outlaws, Politicians, Revolution, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Adams Family

  1. bunkerville says:

    One of my favorite families… excellent post Mustang. Thanks,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andy says:

    Let me suggest that no matter how hard one tries to avoid it, bias always creeps into the written word. This is just as true in non-fiction as it is in fiction. Although, fiction writers seldom try to control their prejudices, especially the very good authors. Perhaps that’s one element of their greatness.

    Writers of historical personages and events must analyze the source documents they read. In so doing they bring to bear all of their personal background knowledge to sort truth from non-truth. This is where – like it or not – bias arises. No one, least of all those who feel empathy for their subject matter, can escape the bias they feel for that content.

    The most that a reader of non-fiction can hope for is that the author try to hold his bias in check and present the fairest evaluation possible of people, their actions, and their motives. On the whole, Mustang, you are rather good at this, particularly when reporting historical events themselves. But it’s true for all of us, our biases show more vividly when the topic is politics.

    Stay well and continue to write, my friend,
    S/F

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      I know you’re right about that, Andy. In reading about such groups as the Sons of Liberty, I try to place myself in the community of the time and try to imagine what I would think of those guys — Hancock, Adams, Revere — assuming that I knew then what I know now. My guess is that I do not think that I would have approved of smugglers and street thugs back then any more than I embrace drug dealers and street thugs today.

      Who knows … I might have been a loyalist.

      I’m sure not everyone agrees with my point of view … and I certainly understand that. On the other hand, in assessing whether the Sons of Liberty were “patriots” or gangsters, it was John Adams who first used the expression in court that facts are stubborn things. If all that matters is how the colonies turned out … then Marx was right — the ends always justify the means. Sad when you think about it, in a moral society … if such a thing ever existed.

      Some scholars argue that if the colonists had never rebelled, the America we live in today would be about the same as it is now … with far less human suffering. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. It is interesting to imagine how an American dominion of the United Kingdom would have dealt with the slavery issue in the agrarian south. I’m guessing “not very well.”

      Thank you for your comment, sir. I appreciate that you take the time to share your thoughts. Semper Fi …

      Like

  3. Andy says:

    Your response to my comments was as interesting as the article itself.
    S/F

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