Samuel Adams Analysis
Adams was politically active for more than two decades following independence, serving until 1780 as a member of the Continental Congress. Returning to Massachusetts, he helped to write its new and unique state constitution. Although the people had rejected a previous document, Adams wrote a pamphlet persuading them to accept the new one. Thereafter, elected to the Senate, he played a key role in suppression of Shays’s Rebellion, urging harsh punishment of the participants. Later, Adams served as lieutenant governor and governor of Massachusetts. Yet Alderman follows the example of several pre-1960’s historians who specify the start of the American Revolution as the apogee of Adams’ political career. Adams, the reader is told, lived until 1803 but contributed little after 1775, when others assumed the mission of forming the new nation.
Confusions regarding Adams’ character have evoked these interpretations. Even in his lifetime, Adams was misunderstood because of his postrevolutionary support of limitations on popular suffrage and his condemnation of western settlers for violent actions during Shays’s Rebellion. His stand in the later instance, in fact, may well have lost him the congressional election of 1788. Apparently, Alderman, among others, has been unable to reconcile this postrevolutionary Adams with his perceptions of a prerevolutionary Adams as a leader in mob activities and a proponent of violence.
Recent historians have, in fact, revised their image of Adams to that of an individual who never approved of violence, preferring instead to work behind the scenes by creating exquisitely written propaganda. Alderman’s Samuel Adams falls within the tradition of older historiography, mirroring the ambivalence of many early historians toward Adams. Adams, in his relentless pursuit of independence, has been condemned for inciting mob violence that, once unleashed, was frequently uncontrollable. In an accusatory vein, Alderman writes of Adams’ machinations leading to the destruction of Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. Cognizant that no evidence supports Adams’ involvement in the incident, Alderman nevertheless blames Adams for unleashing popular passions. Alderman’s ambivalence mars his work, confusing the reader, as he accuses Adams of shamefully violent excesses while simultaneously exalting his revolutionary leadership. In other connections, the author’s condemnation is inappropriate. In an age characterized by violence, mob actions in Colonial Boston, on the contrary, were remarkably restrained. Disappointingly, Alderman fails to recognize this fact and instead brings twentieth century prejudices to weigh in judgment against any mob violence by inflating its importance.
Samuel Adams is structured around a single theme: its protagonist ’s exceptionally early and subsequently untiring labor in behalf of American independence. Adams, Alderman claims in his opening paragraphs,...
(The entire section is 658 words.)