March 5, 1770, on this day was the Boston Massacre, something that sparked the fury of countless colonists. With it word was spread of the British cruelty; of how the British slaughtered innocent people was then well known. And what became of these tyrants who slaughtered those people? Well, if it was up to the colonists they would have had a thousand times worse than death. Yet not one single British soldier was sent to the gallows. Why? Because a man named John Adams decided he was going to go against the common feeling of Colonists and defend the soldiers. This man, a renowned patriot, despite risk to his livelihood as a lawyer and while grieving the loss of a child decided to help his enemy, people he was fighting against. So the question comes, why?
Simply put, he wasn’t caught up in all of the mysticism of the revolution, he was focused on the ideals. One cannot be fighting for freedom, for liberty, and for justice, while at the same time denying those same freedoms to others. He knew that if he didn’t step up to defend those soldiers then they would be robbed of their freedom and justice. Because those soldiers were not tyrants, they weren’t evil fiends waiting to destroy the colonists. They were people, doing their job, and trying their best not to get hurt in the process.
Let’s look at what the records have shown, now that we’ve had 200 years to collect the information and get over biases against the British. As such we can now see a clearer story, and much more accurate then the one we often hear dismissing the mob as just protesters. It began with Private Hugh White defending the British Empire’s money. He was doing so by himself when a mob came around and harassed him with threats of violence. White struck one of them with his gun, though not in any lethal capacity. The mob grew furious and began throwing rocks, ice, and broken glass. After this became too much for White on his own he called for aid, Captain Preston and eight other soldiers.
The crowd, then somewhere around 300-400 individuels, were continuing to harass and assault the guards, even telling them to fire their muskets at them. This continued until one of the soldiers was struck to the ground by one of the icy rocks thrown by the crowd. At this point he fired upon the crowd, something that Captain Preston had told them not to do unless ordered, and proved he was extremely reluctant to do so by standing between his soldiers and the crowd. In other words, in their line of fire. He later remarked, “That instant…I saw something resembling Snow or Ice strike the Grenadier on the Captain’s right hand…He fired the first Gun. After the Gun went off I heard the word ‘fire!’ The Captain and I stood in front about half between the breech and muzzle of the Guns. I don’t know who gave the word to fire.” With that, the boston massacre had taken place and enraged a nation. The soldiers were arrested and held for trial.
These soldiers were clearly bloodthirsty; after all, standing in front of his soldiers’ line of fire is something every captain who intends on killing his men would do. Sarcasm aside, these soldiers, while not entirely justified, shot their guns at a crowd actively attacking them. Was it right? Who am I to judge, but was it murder? That I think we can say it wasn’t. John Adams believed so at least. He saw that Boston was out for blood and determined he could provide them a fair trial and representation. And so he went and gave the soldiers a fair trial. The judges seeing all of the evidence declared the innocents of all but two who were branded following an older British law.
And so, John Adams, a later president of the United States of America defended British soldiers because he refused to let the idea of a new nation overcome what that new nation was all about. And so the question now lies before us, will we let justice prevail like John Adams? Will we defend even our enemies because it is the just and right thing? Because if we wish to truly make the world a better place, we cannot get lost in the idea of freedom, liberty and justice; we have to actually have it as well.
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