Page images

school-room, so he left the school-room to take his chances at earning a living in his profession. He was poor. Where should he go? There seemed but one place for him, which was Braintree, where his father's roof and table gave him what he had not money to buy. So here he began his professional career. But he had no prestige. His greatness was not yet known. It had not been published that he would sit in kings' courts, help create and then rule a great nation-that he was to enter the the ranks of the greatest men of the world and was to go into history as one of the luminaries of humanity. His old neighbors did not know, or dream these things of him; so they did not go much to him with business. He sat lonely hours in his office waiting for clients that did not come, wondering how he should ever get clients and business. He was anxious, sad and full of questionings as to what to do and what he could do. His coming greatness did nothing for him, and he had to plod and work, and worry and wait, as nearly all young professional men have to do. These were the gloomy days of his life. It was long an anxious question as to what he should do in life-what profession he should adopt. So now it was an anxious question as to how he should get anything to do in his profession. But he did not give up in despair, nor waste his time in idle sorrow. He renewed his zeal in the study of law. His diary indicates the great amount of study, speculation and investigation, which he gave to the broad fields of natural, statute and constitutional law, as well as the law of nations. In this lonely and unenlivened work of legal research, he laid the foundations of his future greatness. If clients did not bring him cases, he found them in the books. If his neighbors did not consult him, he consulted the law as it had been adjudicated in the practice of the past. To this uncheered study he devoted several years.

On the twenty-fifth of May, 1761, his father died, after nearly three years of this much study and little practice. He remained with his mother, caring for her business, three years longer, when he married Miss Abigail Smith, daughter of Beverend William Smith, a Congregational clergyman of Weymouth, a town adjoining Braintree, Mrs. Adams was a woman of rare ability

and worth. She was connected with several of the best families in the colony. She was herself a rich flower of her rich family tree. By this marriage, after six years of weary plodding and studying and waiting, his business prospects brightened. The many family connections on his wife's side began to employ him, and by their influence put business into his hands. His acquaintance enlarged. Influential friends suggested, here and there, his employment in important cases. By the time he was thirty years old he seemed to have got well started in his profession, largely through the influence which came to him through his marriage with Miss Smith.

The troubles between the British parliament and the colonies began to foment about this time, which led to public meetings, to addresses, resolutions, and much private and public discussion of the relations of the colonies to the mother country. A society of lawyers had been formed in Boston for extended study of, and dissertations on, important legal questions. Mr. Adams, though living ten miles away, was invited to join this association. It did much to sharpen and broaden the legal talent of Boston and vicinity; and his participation in its discussion brought him to a more intimate acquaintance with the bar of Boston. He had, some years before, heard James Otis, in an argument on writs of assistance, go to the bottom of their danger as instruments of tyranny, and written out the argument in his diary, which led him to a profound study of human rights. All these things were schooling him for the great work that was before him, and acquainting him with the men to be joined with him. The Stamp act was passed by the British parliament in March, 1765, and was to go into operation November 1. The Massachusetts Colonial Legislature took decisive action, in June, to resist that act, which proposed to tax the colonies without their representation. James Otis proposed that all the colonies should be invited to join with Massachusetts, and that to this end a representative meeting of delegates from all the colonies be held in October, in New York city.

This was the initiatory movement to a union. It was due to James Otis, at that time one of the most powerful and patriotic

orators of Massachusetts. The public meetings held in Boston that summer to resist the Stamp act were addressed by Mr. Adams, by invitation of the citizens.

When it became clear that the people would not permit the use of stamps, the Governor announced that all business would. be suspended, especially of the custom-house and courts. Mr. Adams had now got a good start as a lawyer, had a thriving business, a large acquaintance and a growing popularity. It seemed to him as though this Stamp act was sure to ruin it. If the courts were closed, his occupation was gone. He expressed his gloomy fears in his diary. The very next day he received a letter, sent by express, from the town clerk of Boston, asking his aid as counsel for the town, in connection with James Otis, Jeremiah Gridley and William Cooper, to secure the continuance of the courts without the use of stamps. The proposition was to be argued before the governor and his council. Nothing was effected by this hearing, only to make more vigorous and popular and intelligent the opposition to the tyrannical act.


So much had his business increased in Boston, and all his interests become identified with that town, that in 1768 he took up his residence there. The events in England and America were tending rapidly to revolution. Question after question was being discussed. The conflict between the governor of Massachusetts and the town of Boston grew more and more complicated and determined. The best legal talent was in constant service. Mr. Adams was one of the most active, and was always unswerving in the interests of justice and the people. The front of the conflict was between the governor, England's servant, and the legislature the servant of the people. For several years this conflict raged with all the force that craft and power and money could apply on the part of the governor, and the honest skill and patriotic zeal of the people, defending their rights and resisting tyranny on the part of the legislature. Mr. Adams, through these years of intellectual encounter, was the patriotic lawyer, the people's counsellor, the sharp, strong, zeal

[ocr errors]

ous advocate of American rights and principles. He, with his patriotic coadjutors, won victory after victory in these legal and moral encounters, till the people were so fired and the king and his parliament so resolved on the forced submission of the colonies that the civil power retired and the military arm came into rule by might. Now courts were suspended, legislatures were at an end, and Mr. Adams realized what he feared when the Stamp act was passed-the loss of all business. With the coming of General Gage, commander of all the British forces in America, and the occupancy of Boston by his troops, the lawyers' business ceased. Cases were not to be tried in the presence of cannon. Arguments were not to be made to regiments in arms.

At this gloomy time, when his wife was on a visit to Braintree, he wrote to her as follows:

BOSTON, 12 May, 1774.

My own infirmities, the account of the return of yours, and the public news, coming all together, have put my philosophy to the trial.

We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What will be the consequence I know not. The town of Boston, for aught I can see, must suffer martyrdom. It must expire, and our principal consolation is, that it dies in a noble cause-the cause of truth, of virtue, of liberty and of humanity, and that it will probably have a glorious resurrection to greater wealth, splendor and power than ever.

Let me know what it is best for us to do. It is expensive keeping a family here, and there is no prospect of any business in my way in this town this whole summer. I don't receive a shilling a week. We must contrive as many ways as we can to save expenses, for we may have calls to contribute very largely, in proportion to our circumstances, to prevent other very honest, worthy people from suffering for want, besides our own loss in point of business and profit.

Don't imagine from all this that I am in the dumps. Far otherwise. I can truly say that I have felt more spirits and activity since the arrival of this news than I have done for years. I look upon this as the last effort of Lord North's despair, and he will as surely be defeated in it as he was in the project of the tea.

His letters, diary and public addresses all indicate that he had a profound philosophy of the triumph of liberty and justice. However dark the present, he saw light in the future. If Boston shall be laid in ashes, a new Boston will rise there

from more glorious and powerful. If America shall suffer from misgovernment and oppression, she shall come from her sufferings renewed in spirit for a grander career. He had read history to learn that truth, right and virtue, in the long run, prevail; and that wrong and injustice turn upon and devour their propagators at last. He had rejected the prevailing theology because of its despair of human nature and its distrust of the Divine goodness. He had adopted a generous and hopeful philosophy of humanity. All this now came to sustain him in his own and his country's peril and distress; and not only to sustain him, but to make him a great leader, through darkness and war, to the light and peace beyond. It was not simply his intellectual strength and furnishing that made him the power he was in his times, but those great and humane, and hopeful, moral and religious convictions which almost led him into the ministry, and would, but for his rejection of some of the dogmas of the prevailing church, and which he carried into all the work of his life. He was a lawyer, and believed in law; a philosopher, and believed in truth; a moralist, and believed in virtue; and a religionist, and believed in God. All these combined made the basis of his statesmanship and the ruling power of his private and public life.

The opening of the war scenes of the revolution changed the course of Mr. Adams' life. He was a lawyer, and sought only to magnify his calling. He had ambition, but it was in the line of his profession. He saw an ample field for all his power; but now his occupation was gone. Boston, his chosen home, was a camp of war. The rights of his countrymen were trampled under invading feet. There was but one course for him to pursue; that was to put himself and all he had into the defense of the rights of America.


Mr. Adams was now thirty-nine years old. General Gage, now acting in the double capacity of military commander and civil governor, had ordered the meeting of the legislature of the

« PreviousContinue »