Samuel Adams Critical Context - Essay

Clifford Lindsey Alderman

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Focusing principally on Adams’ purported lifelong desire for American independence, Alderman’s study closely derives from older scholarly interpretations. Published in 1961, this biography differs in several fundamental ways from more recent, revisionist scholarship. Several nineteenth and early twentieth century historians, for example, portrayed Adams as the first American to strive actively for independence, planning for revolution as early as the 1740’s. In the 1960’s, however, historians began ably to discredit this characterization. Stewart Beach, in Samuel Adams: The Fateful Years, 17641776 (1965), and Pauline Maier, in The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (1980), have described a radically different Adams. These and similar works illuminate an Adams working relentlessly not initially for independence but for the maintenance of liberties traditionally guaranteed under the English constitution. Indeed, his greatest virtue was patience. These historians have found no evidence supporting Adams’ disposition to independence before 1775.

In other ways, Alderman’s work is unfortunately dated. The ambivalence that he displays toward Adams because of the actions that he took to incite common people to violence had been shared by earlier historians, yet scant evidence confirms Adams’ participation in organizations advocating violence. Even his purported leadership in the Loyal Nine and the Sons of Liberty is questionable considering the lack of evidence. Because of these reinterpretations of events, Alderman’s work, however informative it may have been when originally published, remains rooted in a tradition that is no longer current, consequently providing a skewed portrayal of the great revolutionary.