Time line for Samule Adams' campaign for American independence. Horizontal axis = time, vertical axis the degree of campaign activity

Time line for Samuel  Adams’ campaign for American independence. Horizontal axis = time, Vertical axis the degree of campaign activity

The founding father most responsible for encouraging the colonist to seek independence from Great Britain is Samuel Adams. While he was in college at Harvard his father, a brewer and successful businessman, was driven to bankruptcy by a capricious ruling by the British Parliament. From that day on Samuel Adams dedicated his every hour to convincing his fellow colonists that our country needed to seek independence from the intrusive governance of the British.

As he began his efforts the Massachusetts Bay colonists were complacent. They were prospering and did no have to expend money for military protection. Their trade with the British was lucrative. All was well, why change? It took 17 years for Samuel to convince his fellow countrymen to act. How did he convert them from complacency to urgency?  He used 5 approaches:

  1. One-on-one meetings – He met individually with his countrymen to discuss British rule and to share his vision for an independent America. Using personal narrative and sharing the misfortune of his father he recruited those with a shared vision to join his campaign for American independence.
  2. Assembled a leadership group – Through his one-on-one meetings and through his membership in the Caucus club he identified young and influential members of the community to form a leadership team to create strategies and tactics for the campaign for independence. He also helped to create the “Sons of Liberty”.  Among his recruits were his younger cousin John Adams, and a highly successful merchant John Hancock.
  3. Editorials in the Boston Gazette and Public Advertiser.  These anonymous editorials warned of the danger of taxation without representation. When British soldiers shot 5 colonist for throwing snowballs, he labeled the event the “Boston Massacre” and had Paul Revere create an engraving and distributed the posters depicting the massacre throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony
  4. Organized large gatherings beneath the Liberty Tree, Faneuil Hall and the Boston Harbor.  It was here that his fiery oratory aroused his audience and created an urgency to act.
  5. Created effective strategies and tactics that countered the British Government’s every move to manipulate the colonists. When the Stamp Act taxed colonists’ commercial activities Adams convinced his fellow countrymen to institute the “nonimportation” of British goods (100 years later this tactic received the name “boycott”). The refusal of American merchants to buy British products led British merchants to complain to their Parliament and encouraged the Parliament to rescind the tax.

The ultimate event and culmination of Samuel Adams campaign for independence came I773 when he organized the gathering of over 7,000 people (over half of the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) at the Boston Harbor to protest the unloading of tea by the British ship the Dartmouth. He had previously orchestrated a unanimous ruling by the colonial North End Caucus forbidding the unloading of British tea in Boston Harbor. This act was in response to a ruling by the British Parliament allowing the East India Tea Company to import their tea directly to the colonist, bypassing the American Merchants. The captain of the Dartmouth came to this large gathering and requested that he be allowed to unload his tea because the British Parliament had mandated that all cargo must be unloaded in American ports within 20 days and the 20th day had arrived. Samuel Adams instructed the Captain to go to the governor and request an exception to leave the port without unloading his tea. The captain beseeched the governor to make an exception, but he refused.

The captain returned to the huge gathering and informed Samuel Adams of the governor’s order. What should Samuel Adams do? Should he insight a riot, be labeled a traitor, and be immediately jailed? He implored the crowd “This meeting can do nothing more to save our country” and disbanded the crowd. As though on cue, 40 men dressed in Indian outfits yelled out “Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight”, marched to the British ships unopposed, and with hatchets split open 342 chests of tea and dumped them into the harbor.

This act infuriated the British who blockaded the harbor, and sent 4 infantry regimens to Boston. These events precipitated the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, and the Revolutionary War.

Nothing is more American than organizing fellow countrymen to act. And those of us who have been injured by medical errors should follow the example of Samuel Adams to create a sense of urgency among our caregivers and our health systems. We should follow the example of this great founding father so that others will not suffer our fate, and to assure that those who have been injured by medical errors receive the care and compensation they so justly deserve.

For more about Samuel Adams read Chapter 6, “Culture is Nothing More than Group Habit” in Critically Ill, A 5-point plan to cure healthcare delivery.