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John Adams and The Boston Massacre Trial

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From the moment the redcoats set foot in Boston tensions were high. Civilians and soldiers were at constant odds so it’s not a surprise that the Boston massacre took place. What is a surprise is the astonishing outcome of an acquittal. There were undoubtedly hostilities involved on both sides but the general attitude towards the English occupants was negative and even more so after the event. But when no attorneys came to defense on the soldier’s behalf John Adams couldn’t willingly stand by. The notion that every man is entitled to a fair and equal trial was what I believe to be the prime motivation for Adams taking the case. Upholding the law was very important to John Adams regardless of personal beliefs of the accused; by not allowing the soldiers and the captain proper counsel the colony was acting hypocritical to the belief that law be just and fair unlike the crown of England they resent. There are other speculations to the involvement of Adams in the trials that are not solely based on his nobility. Encouragement to take the case could have stemmed from the possible guarantee of a seat in Boston’s legislature considering he was first choice three months post trial success. Maybe the attention of the trial, although extremely negative at the time, was something he wanted remembrance for. Regardless of vanity reasons, John Adams took major risks and did face repercussions with his law practice plummeting.

The most important thing to Adams regarding the case was its facts and getting the jury to separate their resentment towards England from the men being accused. As he famously quotes, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Much of the cross examination by the defense was centered around who shouted the word “fire” and whether or not the redcoats were acting in self-defense against a hostile mob or a lawful assembly. But the fact of the matter was that Captain Preston did not give the order for the troops to fire and this was something difficult to prove especially when witnesses amongst an emotional crowd might be inclined to not speak the truth. But an innocent indictment was still ruled for both the captain and his troops, against undesirable odds John Adams was able to convince a jury to look beyond their biases.

A lot has changed about the conduct of trials in today’s courts, the most obviously being US justices don’t wear wigs. Another more important aspect of modern court proceedings is the way witnesses are presented. Removing them from the pressures of the crowd definitely helps to improve the witness testimony. I believe the phrases “to prove beyond reasonable doubt” was implemented after this trial due to the ruling being declared based on the reasonable doubt of the jurors based on the evidence that the troops acted in self-defense. Another difference between now and then in court proceedings is disruption such as vocalizing emotional distress from the gallery is not tolerated and can land you in contempt with a fine and possible jail time. Other than differences in how the courts regulate today verses then, a lot is still the same. Law being upheld regardless of the emotions of the majority was just as relevant then as it is today, at least according to this specific case.

I personally had concerns with the rulings of the case. I can’t help but feel as though the redcoats should have been better prepared for a situation such as this; the tension between the civilians and the troops was very obvious, for apparent reasons, so a mob shouldn’t have been something completely surprising to them. It is the duty of the captain and the soldiers to respond in a professional matter and to be prepared for outbursts without the immediate use of artillery. Maybe I have this perspective due to today’s law enforcements history, but the shooting of children (as depicted in the film) should never be justified. Another concern I had was if the men who did shout the infamous “fire” were ever prosecuted. Nonetheless, the trial is defiantly inspiring and insightful, we need more John Adams in today’s world.

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