When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
October 17, 1770
John Adams DEFENDS the soldiers
accused of murder as a result of the Boston Massacre
Although a devout patriot, John Adams agreed to risk his family’s livelihood and defend the British soldiers and their commander in a Boston courtroom. At stake was not just the fate of nine men, but the relationship between the motherland and her colonies on the eve of American Revolution. Seven months had passed since the “horrid, bloody massacre” took place on the 5th of March. But the passions of the people remained strong. “Sons of Liberty” such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock had seen to that! They reminded the good citizens that the British soldiers were not welcomed, and that mobs had as much right to carry clubs as the soldiers had to carry loaded muskets! But now the jury was set and the true drama was beginning. Only a fair trial would show the world that Massachusetts, and by association all Americans, deserved their liberty by an appeal to justice and not by the rule of a mob.
In less than three hours, the jury reached a verdict. No malice was found. All eight men were found not guilty of murder. Two, Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy, were found guilty of manslaughter. A defense lawyer to the last, Adams negotiated the sentences of Montgomery and Kilroy using and ancient precedent of English law. The “Plea of Clergy” meant that instead of death, the two men would be branded on the thumbs as first offenders, never to be permitted to violate the law again.
Adams would later describe his role as “the greatest service I ever rendered my country.” Why? In a town where British soldiers were hated, there had been a fair trial by jury. In a land where mobs could sway events, the world saw that justice and liberty were valued as the legal rights of all!
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