Samuel Adams: Contribution to American Literature

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      SAMUEL ADAMS (1722-1803), a Bostonian and graduate of Harvard, probably gave his time in fuller measure to the cause of independence than any other writer or speaker. For nine years he was a member of the Continental Congress. When there was talk of peace between the colonies and the mother country, he had the distinction of being one of two Americans for whom England proclaimed in advance that there would be no amnesty granted. We can seem to hear him in 1776 in the Philadelphia State House, replying to the argument that the colonists should obey England, since they were her children:—

Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams


      "Who among you, my countrymen, that is a father, would claim authority to   make your child a slave because you had nourished him in his infancy?"

       After he had signed the Declaration of Independence, he spoke to the Pennsylvanians like a Puritan of old:—

      "We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes which see not, ears that hear not our prayer, and a heart like the nether millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds His subjects assuming that freedom of thought and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them."

      These sentences plainly show the influence of biblical thought and diction. A century before, this compound of patriot, politician, orator, and statesman would also have been a clergyman.

      An examination of these three typical orators of the Revolution will show that they gained their power (1) from intense interest in their subject matter, (2) from masterful knowledge of that matter, due either to first-hand acquaintance with it or to liberal culture or to both, (3) from the fact that the subject of their orations appealed forcibly to the interest of that special time, (4) from their character and personality. Most of what they said makes dry reading to-day, but we shall occasionally find passages, like Patrick Henry's apotheosis of liberty, which speak to the ear of all time and which have in them something of a Homeric or Miltonic ring.

      INCREASING INFLUENCE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION.—Not one of the great orators of the Revolution was a clergyman. The power of the clergy in political affairs was declining, while the legal profession was becoming more and more influential. James Otis, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay (p. 71) were lawyers. Life was becoming more diversified, and there were avenues other than theology attractive to the educated man. At the same time, we must remember that the clergy have never ceased to be a mighty power in American life. They were not silent or uninfluential during the Revolution. Soon after the battle of Bunker Hill, John Adams wrote from Philadelphia to his wife in Boston, asking, "Does Mr. Wibird preach against oppression and other cardinal vices of the time? Tell him the clergy here of every denomination, not excepting the Episcopalian, thunder and lighten every Sabbath."

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