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Sam Adams used propaganda as a tool

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Sometimes, leaders must resort to subterfuge.

That’s what Samuel Adams and other colonists did to whip up hostility against the English in the late 1760s. Adams, clerk of the Massachusetts House, had already been loosely accused of rebellion and treason.

One of Adams’ tools was a news service reporting the misdeeds of the British troops in Boston. Together with allies from other towns—Adams discovered he couldn’t rely on the Tory rural outposts—he circulated a newspaper called Journal of the Times in New York and Philadelphia, as well as Boston. He syndicated it to newspapers in Georgia and London. In it, he cooked up charges true and false.

News of rape was particularly rife in the Journal, with no woman portrayed as being safe. The redcoats objected to the charges against them, but it did no good. One said that if this “news” were to be believed, the coming war would be the first in history to produce more births than deaths.

John Adams, Samuel’s cousin, called the Yankees’ antics “working the political engine.” He helped prepare news copy every Sunday along with a handful of men led by Samuel, their puritanical and high-minded editor.

In rare interludes when the Brits were not raping and seducing women, the Journal reported, they were beating small boys, drinking till dawn and violating the Sabbath with gunfire and horse races. The propagandists would stop at nothing, complained a British official.

But the soldiers’ provocations weren’t all invented. The redcoats roughed up citizens and disturbed church services. Even England’s acting governor admitted some were “bad fellows.”

Lesson: When a situation grows bad enough to incite war, propaganda is one of your tools.

—Adapted from Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, A.J. Langguth, Simon & Schuster.

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