J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Samuel Adams’s Christmas Spirit in 1768

Two hundred fifty years ago today, 25 Dec 1768, was a Sunday. As a good late Puritan, Samuel Adams no doubt went to his regular meetinghouse and didn’t celebrate Christmas.

However, we know from John Adams’s diary entry for 3 Sept 1769 that his second cousin sometimes spent Sunday evening after sunset at the Edes and Gill print shop, “Cooking up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurences, &c.—working the political Engine” for the next day’s Boston Gazette.

And we know that Samuel Adams wrote two long essays that appeared in the newspapers for Monday, 26 December. So he might well have been proofing or polishing those the night before.

In the Boston Gazette, Adams wrote as “Vindex,” the name of a Roman senator who rebelled against Nero. Adams’s topic was the same he had been railing about for months—that the Crown government’s decision to station army troops in Boston was unconstitutional and unwise.

On the front page of the Gazette “Vindex” declared:
A STANDING Army, is an army rais’d, and kept within the community, to defend it against any sudden attacks.— If it be ask’d who is to judge, when the community is in danger of such attacks? one would naturally answer, The community itself: For who can be more proper judges of it than they, for whose safety alone, and at whose expence alone, they are kept and maintain’d. The people, while they enjoy the blessings of freedom, and the security of their property, are generally early enough in their apprehension of common danger; especially when it is so threatening as to require the military aid: And their judgment of the necessity or expediency of a standing army, is generally, at least as honest, as that of their superiors. . . .

I have heard it said, that these troops are marching troops, and therefore they cannot be called standing armies; which to be sure is arguing very conclusively, for there is, in some respects, a manifest difference between them. Their marchings and countermarchings, have hitherto been inexplicable to many persons of a common understanding; and were it a time of war, one might expect to see or hear of some notable display of military skill and valor very soon: . . .

But if these troops are marching troops, that is, if they are only marching thro’ this town to the frontier garrisons, the places of their destination, how is it that we are told by some who I believe are in the secret, that they are ordered here to suppress riots and tumults? This I should think has rather the appearance of a standing army, designed to be established in the province. It is said that they have strict orders “to preserve the peace”: Are then the military gentlemen constituted the conservators of the peace in a civil government? No, but they are “to act under the civil magistrate”, and this is said to be the declaration of lord H[illsboroug]h himself: Has his lordship then been told, and does he believe it, that the civil magistrates of the province have been deserted by the people, their only constitutional aid, in the legal exercise of power, and that a military force is become necessary to support the King’s authority in it? If he has, he has been egregiously deceived, and the people have been grossly abused: . . .
Adams’s other essay for the week, signed “Candidus,” appeared in the Boston Evening-Post. It, too, was the first item on the front page. It was part of a long series of weekly articles attacking the Customs Commissioners through disguised names. The first set had referred to Commissioner Charles Paxton as “Charles Froth,” for example.

Then Adams had turned to Commissioner John Robinson, who had been a Customs officer in Rhode Island before being driven out by the Stamp Act riots of 1765. These essays referred to Robinson as “(Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales)” and explicitly played off stereotypes of Welsh social climbers who talked funny.

Adams suggested that Robinson had gotten a provincial education in the law, angered his mentor, and then moved to London, where “some say he plyed with his countrymen in the Sedan way (but I do not aver this for truth).” It’s just that some people say he carried a sedan chair, you know.

“Candidus” continued:
The next thing we know of him, is his advertising at the New England Coffee-house in order to get a berth as Clerk to any skipper bound to the coast of Guinea that would please to ship him.——Here again unluckily, I must lose sight of Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales) till his embarkation for America with a very worthy countryman of his (as an Officer in the Revenue) who through good nature, and the utmost humanity, smuggled him and what baggage he had (exclusive of his Petigry) on board ship, in order to prevent both from falling into the hands of the Philistians.

On his first arrival, to my knowledge, he had at least the appearance of much humility; tho it was observed at the same time that he looked wild and confused: however Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan) in a very little time waxed fat and kicked his five months instruction from his Mongomeryshire Attorney, began now to break out; he thought it impossible that the people of N[ewpor]t, of which place he was C[ollecto]r (under a very severe rider) could know any thing of Acts of Parliament, or any other kind of literature and in short, in a very little time Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales) turned out a very tyrant; harrassed the merchants out of their lives, with a continual unintelligible jargon about Acts of Trade, and false quotations;———grew fat;———began to dress well; and carry a great air of importance——nay began to fortune hunt——but without success.
Either as “Vindex” or as “Candidus,” Adams was not full of holiday generosity.

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