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In American history, one name stands out as a fervent advocate for liberty and natural rights during the tumultuous years leading up to the American Revolution – Samuel Adams. Known as the “Father of the American Revolution,” Adams played a pivotal role in shaping the ideological foundation of the independence movement. But was he truly a champion of natural rights, or did political maneuvering and personal biases underpin his commitment to individual freedom?

The Roots of Sam Adams’s Rebellion

To understand Samuel Adams’s stance on natural rights, one must delve into the political landscape of colonial America in the 18th century. Born in 1722, Adams’s perceptions of England and the control it exercised over its American colonies were shaped by the stifling regulations Parliament enforced to protect English merchants who sold goods in America. When Parliament attempted to raise revenues in King George III’s cash-starved colonies, he organized a resistance that became a patriotic movement. To build public support, he clothed his insurgency in rights rhetoric borrowed from English provocateur John Wilkes.

The Pen

Adams was not just a rebel. He held a Master of Arts degree from Harvard and used his scholarship to create propaganda to shape public opinion in support of his cause. Through writings like the “Circular Letter” and reports to the townsmen of Boston, Adams invoked principles of natural rights that resembled ideas framed by the father of majoritarianism, John Locke.

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The Stamp Act and the Sons of Liberty

Adams was a driving force behind the formation of the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization dedicated to resisting British oppression. When the Stamp Act of 1765 threatened to stifle colonial freedom, Adams mobilized the Sons of Liberty to protest, showing his commitment to defending the right of the King’s American subjects to consent to the laws by which they were governed.

The Boston Tea Party and Independence

When the King’s Prime Minister, Lord Frederick North, closed the port of Boston to punish Boston’s rebels for “the Boston Tea Party” (on 12 December 1773), Sam Adams began to organize an independence movement. As the leader of the Independence Party in the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses, he encouraged his cousin John to create a bill of right that would recognize natural rights as a source of rights belonging to the King’s American subjects independent of the British constitution.


One of the objectives of this narrative is to correct the storybook image of Samuel Adams. He studied John Locke at Harvard and then used a key Lockean-like idea, the right to revolution, to rally public support for political independence. At the same time, however, he used public violence and intimidation to undermine the King’s colonial governments and suppress those who opposed his revolutionary cause. His ability to create the impression that he was a champion of the inalienable rights of man is a testament to his skill as a political manipulator.

If we want to understand Samuel Adams, we must confront the contradiction between his rhetoric and actions. We can then recognize that the quest for natural rights began in a difficult time with maneuverings by men who frequently resorted to violence and intimidation.

James Thompson’s “The First Revolutions in the Minds of the People” is a groundbreaking work that offers an important new perspective on the American Revolution. The first book in a four-book series presents a 21st-century history of America that enlightens the readers with new insights into our past and our heritage in individual rights.


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