Why Is Samuel Adams the Forgotten Founding Father?
Stacy Schiff In Conversation with Roxanne Coady on Just the Right Book
Thomas Jefferson considered Samuel Adams the earliest, most active, and most persevering of the revolution. Yet when we think of the founders, his name is often missing, submerged by other founders, his cousin John Adams or John Hancock, or obviously Washington and Jefferson himself. Now, Stacy Schiff does what she does brilliantly in The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, using her Pulitzer Prize-winning skills as a biographer to bring to life the revolution, the politics, the propaganda, and the man who insidiously and deliberately became a revolutionary of the first order. Resurrecting a man history has almost forgotten, a man without whom our history might have taken a different course.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
Roxanne Coady: Did England have any notion that Samuel Adams or some of the others were acting purely on principle?
Stacy Schiff: Principles. Such an interesting word in retrospect. No, the assumption being that Adams in particular, and this is mentioned over and over in the in the letters of governors and lieutenant governors, is understood to be kind of a bad egg and eager to upset things because he is penniless and a desperado. And it’s under this assumption that because he’s bankrupt and doesn’t have any money, he wants to just upend the entire system. No one seems to think he’s acting from principle.
No one seems to remember that he’s actually a well-born son who’s downwardly mobile, which is a different item from someone who grew up in poverty. And I think the opposite is also true. I think it was hard for Adams to believe that anyone who was wealthy could be principled. So I think it went both ways.
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award; Cleopatra: A Life, winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography; and most recently, The Witches: Salem, 1692. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.
Roxanne Coady is owner of R.J. Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which—since 1990—has been a community resource not only for books, but for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read To Grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.