Justice, John Adams and the Boston Massacre

The case was opened with a parade of witnesses who testified that soldiers had fired without provocation. According to their testimony, a few boys – “shavers”- had thrown snowballs at the redcoats and had called them nasty names, but no adult had raised a hand against them.

What is more, several witnesses swore that one of the accused soldiers had previously brawled with Bostonians and had declared his hatred of Americans. “The witnesses insisted that the soldier and another soldiers, had shot Crispus Attucks and rope-worker Samuel Gray at point-blank range while they were standing peaceably in the front of the crowd.” ("Justice, John Adams and the Boston Massacre"). Other witnesses told a vivid story of attack on the inhabitants by soldiers earlier in the evening. Nathaniel Appleton described how a dozen soldiers with drawn bayonets had rushed toward him on the steps of his house.

However, the verdict was announced: six of the defendants were found not guilty. Matthew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery were found guilty of manslaughter but not of murder.

Case Analysis Summary

Under the British law, anyone convicted of this crime who could read and write could plead “benefit of clergy” and accept as punishment branding on the thumb with a hot iron. Adams rose immediately and pleaded this rule, which the judges granted. The soldiers were freed. John Adams (the attorney) had won. However, the triumph, as Adams rightly saw, really belonged to America. He had proved to Englishmen that Americans were civilized men, and when they demanded their rights, Parliament should listen to them.

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