Sam Adams: The Sock-Puppet Propagandist of RevolutionRoundup
tags: American Revolution, Samuel Adams
This essay is adapted from Ms. Schiff’s new book, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, which will be published by Little, Brown on Oct. 25.
Had you picked up the Boston Gazette in early December 1768, you might have read a lengthy front-page piece under the byline “Vindex.” Two regiments of British redcoats had marched into Boston that fall, drums beating and flags flying. They were meant to return an unruly town—increasingly resistant to parliamentary efforts at taxation—to order. Vindex warned that the troops were more likely to have the opposite effect. Would a proud people, “unawed by the menaces of arbitrary power, submit to be governed by military force?” Such tactics would “never awe a sensible American tamely to surrender his liberty.”
Two weeks later, on the front page of the Boston Evening Post, “Candidus” delivered a tribute to freedom of the press. There was no better court in which to try those who abused public office. Early in January, “TZ” claimed all of page one to demand why the colonies—settled without expense to the mother country, which benefited handsomely from their trade—should contribute to the national debt. The colonies were not represented in Great Britain. Was it not clear that “No man can take another’s property from him without his consent?”
Each of the voices was distinct. And each belonged to Samuel Adams, on his way to becoming one of the most wanted men in America. Over a decade he would lead a tireless, multifaceted campaign from behind some 30 pseudonyms. He encouraged resistance to what struck him as imperial overreach, warning of the dangers of newfangled revenue acts and insisting on the need for colonial union. The papers filled weekly with his fables, howled officers of the Crown, which no one dared to contradict. The royal governor submitted one objectionable column after another to London, at one point attempting to label the seditions alphabetically. Within weeks he was up to the letter M.
A Harvard graduate and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives after 1765, Adams quickly became the voice of that body. He churned small grievances into unpardonable insults before others had arrived at the end of a sentence. An expert organizer, he folded men, women and children into Boston protests. If there was a subversive committee in Massachusetts, he sat on it. If there was a subversive act, he seemed somewhere near or behind it. “He eats little, drinks little, sleeps little, thinks much, and is most decisive and indefatigable in the pursuit of his objects,” noted a Philadelphia colleague, unhappily.