Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Sandra Sarkela

Committee Member

Antonio de Velasco

Committee Member

David Appleby

Committee Member

Maurice Crouse


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 his writings, 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 three events which occurred in pre-revolutionary Boston: The 1768 Circular Letter; moving the Massachusetts Court in 1770; and furor surrounding the Whately letters. Through an examination of the conversations between Adams and British leaders Lord Hillsborough and Thomas Hutchinson, I examine the way Adams framed debate and controlled the argument. 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.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.