HOW THEY MADE SAM ADAMS A FEDERALIST.
Once upon a time four desperate adventurers
went out from Massachusetts. To be sure, they appeared to be quiet, sober,
dignified, and highly respectable gentlemen, in the attractive and
picturesque costume of our great-great-grandfathers of the year 1774.
But as they rode toward staid and conservative
Philadelphia, where a congress of the American colonies was to meet, they
discovered that a most startling reputation had preceded them; for, as
they approached the Quaker city by the Delaware, a party of the
Philadelphia "Sons of Liberty" came out to meet and greet them,
but more especially to warn and caution them as to what they should do or
say; for, so the welcomers told them, they had been represented to the
town which they were approaching as "four desperate adventurers,
seeking to raise themselves by popularity, and having independence in view
"—dangerous and unsafe men, simply because they were the delegates
from Massachusetts, "that hotbed of rebellion."
These" four desperate adventurers "—political
pirates and colonial ciitthroats, as they were deemed—were Samuel Adams,
John Adams, Thomas Gushing, and Robert Treat Paine—learned, cultivated,
gifted, and in
fluential gentlemen, fearless and earnest patriots,
the representatives of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the first
American Congress. Of them Massachusetts was to make judges, governors,
and presidents; three of them were to sign the Declaration of
Independence, and all of them were to help guide the destinies of
Massachusetts as she took her place in the new nation of the United
States of America.
Three of them were born in Boston, one in that part
of the town of Braintree that is now called Quincy.
To-day, if you visit Quincy you may see a little,
low-roofed, unpretentious farmhouse, honored by all Americans as the
birthplace of that "desperate adventurer" John Adams, the
first of a long line of statesmen, presidents, diplomats, and patriots,
of whom ,Massachusetts and America may well be proud.
But John Adams and his famous cousin Samuel were to
see Massachusetts in much strain and stress in those early days of
It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the
threatening months of Shays’s rebellion, though they shook the new
State well-nigh to its foundations, disturbed it in all its relations,
and made agitators of peace-loving citizens, did have a salutary effect
on the State and the nation as well.
Shays’s rebellion seems, to-day, a small affair;
but it brought the people of Massachusetts face to face with the
question: Shall we support our government with all its shortcomings, or
side with restlessness and anarchy? And they chose the side of law and
order. Then, too, the strain of this upheaval led the people to
see that if such uprisings as this were possible,
there must be some strong central government, able and authorized to
support the State governments and protect the integrity of the Union.
Leaders and thinkers throughout all the thirteen States felt this; a
Constitutional Convention followed, out of which came at last the
Constitution of the United States and the formation of a permanent and
controlling government—the republic of the United States of America;
and for this result Shays’s rebellion was largely responsible.
It was hard, however, to bring the several States to
sink their own importance and place the controlling power in the hands
of a central federal government. Prominent men, men who had been
statesmen and patriots in the stir and stress of revolution, could not
agree to the plans of Washington and Franklin, of Hamilton and Madison
and John Adams.
One of the chief of these objectors to a federal
union was Sam Adams of
Massachusetts—the organizer of revolution, the man who has been styled
the "Father of America."
Sturdy, uncompromising, and unyielding, this man of
the people was unalterably opposed to anything that seemed like taking
the power from the many and placing it in the hands of the few.
He opposed everything that looked like what is called
a centralization of power. He objected to a general government vested
with control, and to a President armed with power.
He objected to the departments of government such
as we know today—the secretaries of state, treasury, war, navy, etc.
wished the Union, if there must be a Union, governed
by committees of Congress, as the colonies had been governed during the
Revolution; and he was very certain that, to give men outside his State
the power to say anything about the affairs of his State, would weaken
and swallow the sovereign commonwealth of Massachusetts.
There were other people in America who thought as he
did. There were many in Massachusetts who ardently followed his lead;
for Sam Adams, the "tribune of the yeomanry," as some loved to
style him, was still the people’s idol.
But the lesson of Shays’s rebellion had its effect
upon the people of Massachusetts. Even Sam Adams had no good word for
Captain Shays’s midwinter madness. In fact, he was ready to suppress
the rebellion by stern measures, and was one of the first to strengthen
the hands of the prompt and fearless Governor Bowdoin, who put it down.
But when, out of such threatening uncertainties of
popular discontent and weakness came the Constitutional Convention at
Philadelphia, and finally the Constitution itself, Sam Adams decided
He was not, as too many unjustly believe to-day, an
opponent of a Constitution; he was simply against certain things
prescribed by the Constitution which was signed in Philadelphia.
So when, in 1788, a State Convention met in Boston to
decide whether or not Massachusetts would ratify— that is, agree to
and adopt—the Constitution prepared by Washington and Franklin and
Hamilton and their asso-
ciates, as the controlling law of
the land, Sam Adams and John Hancock, those fellow-patriots of the
American Revolution, were either openly or silently opposed to that
There were, however, in the State of Massachusetts,
able, clear-headed, and determined men, who were agreed that the State
should ratify the Constitution, Sam Adams and John Hancock to the
contrary notwithstanding. They believed it to be the only salvation of
the country, already imperiled by anarchy, and, being as shrewd as they
were able and as politic as they were determined, they set about to win
over the Constitution’s chief opponents, Adams and Hancock.
What they could not effect by argument they
determined to bring about by strategy—by an appeal to the weak side of
these two famous men. With Sam Adams this was a belief in the will of
the people; with John Hancock it was a belief in John Hancock himself.
So Hancock's support was won by just a bit of a trick
played upon his well-known vanity and his always convenient gout. But
when it came to Sam Adams, who was neither susceptible to flattery nor
swayed by personal desires, a different course was pursued.
The friends of the Constitution prevailed upon Paul
Revere, that historic rider of the Revolution, to get up a big mass
meeting of mechanics and working people— the plain people in whom Sam
Adams believed so implicitly—and make a noise over the new
The ratification meeting was held at the Green Dragon
tavern in Boston; resolutions favoring the Constitution were rushed
through, and a committee,
whom Paul Revere was one, was appointed to wait upon Samuel Adams
and tell him what the people desired.
The committee called at the modest house in Winter Street, and
Revere presented the resolutions.
"A meeting about the Constitution?" exclaimed Sam Adams—"
a meeting of the people? Why,
Mr. Revere—was was not I asked to attend the
"Oh, they are too apt to do as you say. We wanted to get the
real voice of the people," replied Revere.
Adams glanced over the resolutions. There was no mistaking their tone
of approval of the Constitution.
"Hm! " he
said; "who made up the meeting, Mr. Revere?"
"The mechanics of Boston, Mr. Adams," was
Well, tell me,’’ said Adams, still holding the
resolutions in his hand, "how many mechanics were at the. Green
Dragon when these resolutions were passed?"
More, sir," was the prompt reply, "than the
Green Dragon could hold."
And where were the rest of ‘em, Mr. Revere?"
queried the " Father
of the Revolution," who knew the mechanics of Boston even better
than does a modern walking delegate."
"They were in the streets, sir,’ Revere
"And how many were in the streets, Mr.
Revere?" persisted Sam Adams.
But Revere’s reply was prompt and convincing.
"Why, sir," he said, "
more than there are stars in the sky."
That settled it. With Paul Revere, comparison was
emphasis; but Sam Adams did not need an arithmetical comparison. He knew
that the meeting was the voice of the people, and in that voice he was a
It was their will, he said, that
Massachusetts ratify this Constitution, faulty as it was. Their will was
his law, and he would vote to ratify.
So he became, for the time being, a Federalist, or
supporter of the Constitution, and, because of his advocacy, the end
came at last. On the 6th of February, in the year 1788, the
Massachusetts State Convention, assembled in the meetinghouse on Long
Lane in Boston, decided, by a close vote of ‘87 to
167, that Massachusetts should ratify the Constitution of the United
Then the people shouted their
approval. From the Berkshires to the sea, Massachusetts celebrated the
Bells rang; bonfires blazed; cannons boomed. "The Boston people
have lost their senses with joy," wrote General Henry Knox.
And, as a memento of their joy, the street on which stood the
meetinghouse in which the convention was held was no longer called Long
Lane, but Federal Street; and Federal Street it remains to this day.