The Sons of Liberty was a formal underground organization with recognized members and leaders.  The name was an underground term for any men resisting new Crown taxes and laws. The well-known label allowed organizers to issue anonymous summons to a Liberty Tree, "Liberty Pole", or other public meeting-place. Furthermore, a unifying name helped to promote inter-Colonial efforts against Parliament and the Crown's actions. Their motto became "No Taxation without Representation."

     In regard to the dissemination of news of the various Sons’ activities and their ever-more-articulate defense of the principles of liberty, no individual was more important than Boston-based patriot Samuel Adams, cousin of the far more conservative John Adams, who would go on to become our second President. Samuel Adams was called by his contemporaries “the living embodiment of the concept of freedom” and is sometimes cited as the true “father to his country.” While Washington led the colonial armies to victory, the truth is that there might not have been a fight to begin with had it not been for the work of Sam Adams.

     In 1767, on the motion of James Otis, Boston’s distinguished lawyer, orator and Son of Liberty, the Massachusetts legislature created a letter inviting the thirteen colonies to send delegates to a congress in New York. Representatives from nine colonies appeared, four colonies chose not to attend. At this gathering, known as the Stamp Act Congress, the delegates petitioned the king and Parliament, making note of their rights and declaring their protests against the Stamp Act. A flag of nine alternating red and white vertical stripes (representing the nine colonies that attended the congress) was soon produced by the Sons of Liberty in Boston. It became known as the “Rebellious Stripes” and was a symbol of their protest against British taxation and support of American economic freedom.


Copley’s portrait of Samuel Adams
John Singleton Copley 1738-1815
Samuel Adams 1722-1802
Portrait done c.1772

     Samuel Adams wanted to be remembered not for his famous inflammatory, rabble-rousing speeches, but rather for his actions on the morning of March 6, 1770. This was the morning after the Boston Massacre, when Adams stormed into the office of the hated, ultra-Loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson to confront him with a list of demands including the end to military occupation of Boston. This he considered was his finest hour. However, it was not Adams who requested this portrait but rather John Hancock, who wanted this stormy scene of defiance and resolve to hang on his wall in his home. Hancock wanted it to inspire, persuade, (and perhaps also threaten) the leadership of the independence movement who frequently met in his living room.

The layout of this scene was designed to put the viewer in the same position as the Governor (across the table from Adams) in order to confront all who see it with this issue of injustice. This was a call to arms and in fact everyone of the period understood its urgent and stirring, yet discomforting message. The portrait was well known and was frequently copied on canvas and mass produced on political broadsides for propaganda purposes.


The Schiller Institute Steve Carr