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This Week in History:
September 25 - October 1, 1768
Samuel Adams Faces Down Gov. Hutchinson — British Troops Driven from Boston

September 2011

In this ca.1772 portrait by John Singleton Copley, Samuel Adams points at the Massachusetts Charter, which he viewed as a constitution that protected the peoples' rights.

In addition to his birthday on Sept. 27, 1722, Samuel Adams is associated with another event that occurred this week, on Oct. 1, 1768, when British troops were landed in Boston to counter demonstrations against the hated Townshend Acts. The royal governor, hearing that the troops were on their way, adjourned the Massachusetts legislature and ordered the beacon taken down from Beacon Hill, so that the Bostonians could not alert the countryside when the soldiers arrived to occupy the city.

The precursor of the Townshend Acts was the Stamp Act, which Parliament passed in March of 1765, trying to raise revenue to pay off debts incurred during the French and Indian War (which the colonists had helped to win), and to aid the East India Company in expanding its empire. When the act was passed, a member of the British Parliament named Isaac Barre had predicted that "those sons of liberty" in America would fight the new law. Samuel Adams, who had been organizing Bostonians over for 20 years to resist any attempt by the British to revoke the few liberties which the colonists still enjoyed, adopted the name "Sons of Liberty" for his group of some 300 citizens. By October, Adams had also organized a Stamp Act Congress in New York to which nine colonies sent delegates.

While Patrick Henry was making dazzling and emotional speeches in Virginia against the Stamp Act, Adams was writing to other colonies and to British sympathizers, using reasoned arguments to show that the tax was illegal and unjust. This extensive correspondence evolved, in his 1772 proposal to the Boston Town Meeting, to become the Committees of Correspondence, which were established in each of the colonies. Under intense pressure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in early 1766, but the Townshend Acts, which levied a tax on paint, tea, lead, paper, and glass, soon followed in 1767. This time, Adams used the organization he had already built to launch a campaign to keep British-made goods out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

This was too much of a threat to the East India Company's looting policies, so a total of 4,000 British troops were sent to Boston, one for every adult male in the city. The city's Tories were afraid to open their homes to the troops, and so the soldiers pitched tents on Boston Common, and were quartered in Faneuil Hall and unused warehouses. As a deliberate provocation, they set up cannons and aimed them at the Old State House, where the Massachusetts legislature met, and at other strategic spots. They also harassed Boston's citizens by stopping them on the street and demanded to know where they were going.

This created an explosive situation, and Samuel Adams and the other patriots worked constantly to calm things down. However, things went from bad to worse. In September of 1769, James Otis, a prominent patriot, was attacked with swords in the British Coffee House and given a head wound that affected his sanity. Then, in early 1770, a group of young boys put up an "Importer" sign in front of the home of a merchant who refused to honor the boycott against British goods. When he tried to take it down, they pelted him with stones, so he got his gun and fired at them, killing a 12-year-old boy.

Not long after the boy was buried in a funeral attended by most of Boston's citizens, a clash between a group of British troops and a mob hurling snowballs and ice resulted in the troops firing their muskets and killing five Americans. At a very large Boston Town Meeting the next day in Faneuil Hall, the citizens voted that all the soldiers must leave Boston. They appointed a committee, headed by Samuel Adams, to present Gov. Thomas Hutchinson of the demand. When the committee met with Hutchinson, he declared that he could send away the regiment that had been involved in the shooting, but that permission to send away the other regiment would take some time, because it had to come from General Gage in New York.

By the time the committee returned with the reply, the town meeting had grown to 3,000 people, and had adjourned to the larger Old South Church, where the huge gathering spilled out into the street. When they heard Hutchinson's reply, the citizens labelled it "unacceptable," and again sent Adams and the committee to meet with the governor. This time, Adams pointed his finger at Hutchinson and said, "If you have the power to remove one regiment, you have power to remove both. It is at your peril if you refuse. The meeting is composed of 3,000 people. They have become impatient. The whole country is in motion. Night is approaching. An immediate answer is expected. Both regiments or none!"

Adams turned to another member of the committee, who said that people would come in from the neighboring towns, and that there would be 10,000 men who wanted to remove the troops. In a letter he wrote afterward, Adams said that the governor turned pale and that his knees trembled. Hutchinson signed an order to remove the troops, and when Prime Minister Lord Frederick North heard what had happened, he called the departed troops the "Sam Adams' Regiments," a name that received wide usage for many years. He also referred to the American patriots as "Adams' crew."

Ironically, the successful outcome of the confrontation led to three years of relative calm, when Samuel Adams had difficulty convincing people that it was only the lull before the storm. He told his daughter Hannah that "I am in fashion and out of fashion, as the whim goes. I will stand alone." And he continued writing and organizing the Sons of Liberty until the passage of the new Tea Tax in 1773 reminded the Bostonians that he had been right. The new tax measure offered a cut in the price of tea by half, while maintaining the right of the East India Co. to tax the colonists; the British counted on greed to induce the Americans to substitute a bargain for their insistence on having some measure of control over the government that supposedly represented them. More tellingly, the salaries of many public officials would be paid by the revenue from the tea sales, thus wedding them to the policies of the East India Company, not the public good.

One of Adams's newspaper articles, in the Boston Gazette of Oct. 14, 1771, demonstrates his commitment to fighting for both the past and the future good: "The liberties of our Country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth defending at all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have receiv'd them as a fair Inheritance from our worthy Ancestors; They purchas'd them for us with toil and danger and expence of treasure and blood; and transmitted them to us with care and diligence."

"It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle; or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men. Of the latter we are in most danger at present: Let us therefore be aware of it. Let us contemplate our forefathers and posterity; and resolve to maintain the rights bequeath'd to us from the former, for the sake of the latter."

"Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance. Let us remember, that 'if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.' It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers in the event."


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.