A Book Review of Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan Historians such as Drew McCoy and Joseph Ellis have produced noteworthy studies of the Founders and their impact on the time period of the American Revolution. Fowler’s supplement to this blossoming literature is in many ways a traditional biography. It investigates Samuel Adams’s life as it unfolded and pays less attention to the larger conceptual issues that commanded the age. No reader can escape this brief biography without a sense of the personal loss that Samuel Adams felt when he witnessed the death of many of his children and his wife. Delivering five children, three deaths among them took a heavy toll on ElizabethElizabeth died on 25 July. (37) Nor will an attentive reader assume that political events unfolded according to some foreseen path. Fowler’s achievement here is to bring the reader into the loll of Boston politics, the arena of much of Adams’s life.
His representation of Adams’s Harvard, his outline of the careers and reputations of other notable figures – such as John Hancock and John Adams – and his depiction of Adams’s disenchantment with the rise of the Federalists in the 1790s – which included the election in 1796 of his cousin, John, to the Presidency – have particular distinctness. But this book is designed to be more than an abstract biography. Fowler disputes that Adams was in many ways the revolutionary leader most impressed with upholding the mission of the Puritan founders of the Bay colony. “It would be difficult to find among Adams’s contemporaries any who matched him in his selfless devotion to public service” Fowler writes. (77) During his discussion of the non importation movement, Fowler emphasizes that the “staunch Puritan Adams urged repeatedly that luxuries and superfluities be eschewed.” (94) The difficulty here is that historians remain divided on what the term “Puritan” meant in the eighteenth century. Although Fowler briefly traces the objectives of early seventeenth-century Puritan leaders, he spends inadequate space on the complex evolution in Puritan ideology. Instead of a careful evaluation of Congregational religion in late eighteenth-century Massachusetts, the reader comes across a “Puritan” Adams whose religious beliefs seem closer to those of John Winthrop or William Bradford than his contemporaries.
... City: Clarion Books, 1998. Miller, Ann. Samuel Adams. Lucid caf Library, Inc. web 1995. Morris, John. Adams, Samuel. The Reader s Companion to American History. Electric ... . Avoiding all social pretension and cultivation ascetic manner, Adams embodied an austere Puritan republicanism that was seen as exemplary in 1775, but ...
But was this the case? A good way to make his argument would have been to deal directly with the boundless historical literature on the evolution of Puritanism, none of which is cited in the bibliography, an unusual omission given the supposed influence of Puritanism in Adams’s world view. Though the book was critically acclaimed in many quarters, some are of the view that it lacked spirit. (Peter C. Mancall, Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan, Historian, v. 61, issue 4, Summer 1999, 903-904.) According to those who hold this view of the book Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan, the book recalls only the major events in its subject’s life, but doesn’t leave you with a feeling about the basic nature of the man. Samuel Adams does not speak for himself enough via quotes from his own writings.
The coverage of the Sons of Liberty is limited to thirteen depthless pages. It does provide a glance of an old revolutionary not changing with the times after the war has been won. But it is not the full color portrait of a life like that Van Doren has provided for Benjamin Franklin. (Peter C. Mancall, Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan, Historian, v. 61, issue 4, Summer 1999, 903-904.) No matter what anyone says about the lack of spirit in the book, one thing can not be denied.
Fowler maintains the sharp style and depth, which we desire from a historian and a biographer. It is still not clear why Adams’s own writings were not mentioned often in the book. These would have let the reader get a better idea of what the man stood for and who was he as a person. Most of us are familiar with Samuel Adams as a politician and a revolutionary but very few of us know him as a person. There are few instances where you can get a glimpse of the man himself. But these incidents have been given a tone that is too factual which might make a few readers resist from taking on the book because they don’t seem to empathize with the subject. Fowler had still done a great job in narrating the story of Samuel Adam’s life as it was without too many unwanted additions. Adams was known as an activist more than a creative founder, Fowler has presented this image of Adams very fully.
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But it would have been better had he mentioned him as a forceful writer too, which Samuel Adams most certainly was. There was also very little attention that has been paid to the evolution of Puritanism. The title of the book says its subject was a puritan. It would have made sense if the author had done some more research in this area too. He should have explored the religious beliefs of Samuel Adams persistently in order to prove that he actually was a puritan, if in fact he was. Biographies should always be a little unconventional and a little untraditional in approach. What makes a biography interesting to read is that little extra that the author has tried to explore.
But when a biography presents only the facts known already, the book loses its appeal and in turn becomes only a reference book. Fowler, with his knowledge and expertise, should have tried to explore the man a little deeper and should have tried to bring forth some aspect of his personality, which is not known, to the general public. But leaving this aspect of the book apart, we can say with certainty that the biography is a great source if one wants to know more Boston politics in Adams’s days. The political scenes, and all the conflicts and rifts that arose have been carefully written with a depth that can not be ignored.
Peter C. Mancall, Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan, Historian, v. 61, issue 4, Summer 1999, 903-904 Fowler, William: Samuel Adams: Radical Puritan, New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1997, Pp.
37, 77, 94.