Department of Communication
Public Address Conference
Patrick Loebs

An Appeal to the World: The Controversial Rhetoric of Samuel Adams, 1768-1774

Samuel Adams is a well-known member of the American revolutionary era. A politician by trade, his writings are credited by some as sparking a flame which led to independence. Communicating primarily through his writings in official Massachusetts documents and articles in the Boston area newspapers, Adams was a significant figure of the time. Yet history has routinely characterized his persuasive techniques with varying degrees of honor or disgust. Shortly after the revolution, he was thought of in glowing terms, yet by the late 1800s, the name of Samuel Adams was associated with malicious demagoguery and propaganda. Interestingly, however, these characterizations have been put forth without a thoroughly rhetoric-based analysis. In this dissertation, I explore the writings of Samuel Adams' looking for the “themes” of his rhetoric in order to determine the motives which drove Adams' style of writing, as well as the common rhetorical traits by which one can understand his work. Doing so provides a glimpse at a relatively unexplored facet of an important figure. My research focuses on a roughly six-year period (1768-1774) when Adams emerged as Boston's foremost political figure. Through an examination of his response to the Townshend Duties, Boston Massacre, and other colonial events, I examine the way Adams framed debate. I argue that Adams' writings must be understood through the lens of his deeply-held convictions and that his unwillingness to bend on certain issues ultimately resulted in helping to define the American people in such a way that independence came to be thought of as not only acceptable, but necessary. Consequently, I argue, his effectiveness can be understood through an analysis of rhetorical controversy. That is, his stalwart understanding of the American people and of the British Constitution was ultimately inconsistent with British understandings of the same and resulted in confusion as to the relationship between Britain and her colonies. After years of restraint, Samuel Adams and others ultimately determined that Independence was ultimately the only viable solution to the conflict of interests, terms, and definitions that plagued British/colonial arguments.

Patrick Loebs
University of Memphis

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