Skip to main content

Sam Adams organized a network of political activists and used it to rouse the American people against King George III and his colonial government.

Adams built his insurgency around the power of language to shape the people’s perception of events unfolding around them. His inspiration was John Wilkes, whose noisy advocacy for the political rights of England’s working classes earned him the admiration of London mobs and persecution by King George III and his ministers.

Seeing in Wilkes’s success building a popular following an opportunity for himself, Adams adopted Wilkes’s method of speaking “in the voice of the people” and used it to rally his countrymen against British rule.

John Wilkes’s Method

Arthur Cash called John Wilkes “the scandalous father of civil liberties.” The popular slogan, “Wilkes and Liberty,” captured the essence of his message: all Englishmen, whatever their rank or station, have a right to participate in England’s political process and to share in making its laws.

Working class people in England embraced Wilkes and his message. But Wilkes ultimately betrayed them. He used their support to gain a place for himself in England’s aristocratic governing class and became a Tory!

Sam Adams’ objective was starkly different from John Wilkes’s. The right of the people to make the law had little to do with the insurgency he masterminded. Excited by Wilkes ability to rouse London’s working classes against the King with his calculated rights rhetoric, Adams imagined that he could produce an uprising in colonial America by organizing his followers and having them flood the countryside with anti-British propaganda.

James Thompson - Blog Banner

The Powerful Propaganda

Sam Adams’ appropriation of John Wilkes’s method allowed him to transform his personal animosity toward Parliament, the English monarchy, and English rule into a rebellion on behalf of law and liberty.

His first argument from right was a masterpiece of political propaganda: “No taxation without representation.” By broadcasting this maxim across the colonies, Adams linked his insurgency with the English constitution and the rights of Englishmen for whom Wilkes was then the iconic symbol.

Adams organized his followers into a legion of patriotic scribes who used pamphlets, newspapers, and public speeches to condemn Parliament, the King, and English rule. He strengthened his patriotic minority with public violence and threats of public violence. Organization, propaganda, and intimidation unified the members of his “violent party,” but they did not win over large numbers of the King’s American subjects. A majority, probably a significant one, of the King’s American subjects remained loyal to the King and his commonwealth into to War for American Independence.

By adapting the rights rhetoric John Wilkes exploited in England, by speaking in the voice of the people as Wilkes did, and by organizing his followers in a patriotic network that spread propaganda and intimidation across the King’s American colonies, Sam Adams produced a political revolution that changed the world.

James Thompson’s Book “The First Revolutions in the Minds of the People” is groundbreaking, offering a new perspective on the origins of the American Revolution. This innovative work delivers historical insights, emphasizing the importance of transatlantic connections and intellectual exchanges in shaping history.

Leave a Reply