Popular opinion has traditionally installed Samuel Adams as integral in fomenting the Boston Tea Party. Adams has been credited with penning revolutionary propaganda that helped inspire angry colonists into a spontaneous act of revolt. Despite this traditional belief, Adams' name is conspicuously absent from contemporary documents listing the Americans who organized and took active parts in the protest.
The Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party took place on the evening of December 16th, 1773. The protest was in response to a British demand that colonists accept the East India Company as the sole importer of tea to the New World, and that merchants who supported the crown should have a monopoly on distributing and selling the tea. Such tea would be taxed, and the taxes delivered to Britain. Three ships holding British tea were anchored in Boston harbor when a public meeting was held to debate the issue at the Old South Meeting House. Samuel Adams was the keynote speaker. Between 5,000 and 7,000 people gathered for the meeting, a number that equated to approximately one-third of the city's entire population. The Boston Tea Party is therefore considered by the experts at Boston Tea Party.org (boston-tea-party.org) to be one the Revolutionary War's best planned and executed acts of resistance. Immediately following Adams' oration, the people walked to the waterfront and 50 individuals -- dressed as Mohawk Indians -- emerged from the crowd, boarded the three British vessels and threw 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor. The tea could not be landed and the taxes could not be collected.
Samuel Adams as Vital to the Tea Party
In the years before the Boston Tea Party, Samuel Adams forcefully advocated independence and was constantly outspoken in his criticisms of English policy toward the colonies. Adams was elected to the General Court of Massachusetts in 1765 and soon rose to prominence among his colleagues, organizing protests over both the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act. Adams also led a group -- the Sons of Liberty -- with a well-earned reputation for committing dramatic acts of protest. For these reasons, Adams is considered a prime candidate as mastermind of the protest. It is believed by some that Adams installed a trigger phrase within his speech to the pre-Tea Party gathering that cued the Sons of Liberty to perform the rebellious act. According to these accounts, Adams either said "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country," or "Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight."
Samuel Adams as Peripheral to the Tea Party
Because a law allowed for the arrest and extradition to Britain of colonists suspected of treason, Samuel Adams may have kept his public role in the Tea Party secret. His name does not appear on any known list of Boston Tea Party participants. Joseph Fort Newton, in his book "The Builders," suggests Boston Freemasons were the most instrumental party in the act. A group organized within the Lodge calling itself the Caucus Pro Bono Publico included Paul Revere, who said of the group, "We were so careful that our meetings should be kept secret, that every time we met, every person swore upon the Bible not to discover any of our transactions but to Hancock, Warren, or Church, or one or two more leaders." Adams was neither a Freemason nor a person mentioned in Revere's list.
Determining Adams' Actual Importance
After almost 250 years of debate, only incontrovertible proof can now determine Adams' exact importance to the Boston Tea Party. The proof would have to be a document in Adams' own hand, or one authored by a close associate, that implicated Adams in the Boston Tea Party. Such a document has not been discovered.
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