What The Boston Massacre Trials Teach About Resisting Mob Rule

Via:  Vic Eldred  •  5 months ago  •  1 comments

By:   Kai LeBret (The Federalist)

What The Boston Massacre Trials Teach About Resisting Mob Rule
On the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, it is worth remembering how America passed its first major test in equal application of the law.

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S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

It was March 5, 1770. Future President of the United States John Adams was enjoying a local Boston social gathering when the town bells began to ring. Townsmen often rang these bells in case of fire. However, the guests hurried out onto the cobbled streets to discover a different sort of blaze: British soldiers, surrounded by an indignant and pressing mob, had discharged their muskets, hitting 11 civilians. Three died on site. Two more followed in the ensuing days.

Most schoolchildren learn the basics of the Boston Massacre, but few are taught about the trial that followed soon after, the trial of Captain Preston and his company. As documented by Dan Abrams and David Fisher in their book John Adams Under Fire, this trial would test the very limits of judicial impartiality. It would test whether the inflamed city of Boston could give a fair hearing of justice, even against the most vilified objects of the colonists' scorn.

Reports of the Boston Massacre were jumbled, often contradictory, but a few facts were known. A certain Private White had been guarding the Custom House on King Street when he was encircled by a growing mob. Captain Preston and seven men of the 29th Regiment came to his defense, yelling for the Bostonians to back down. After intense pressure, one of the soldiers snapped and fired the first shot, followed by the remainder of the troops. In a balcony address later that night, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson promised the riled citizenry that the "law shall have its course. I will live and die by the law."

First, the law needed defenders. Approximately two weeks prior, a British loyalist named Ebenezer Richardson had murdered an 11-year-old boy, Christopher Seider. This young boy was the first casualty of the American Revolution. With the funeral procession still raw in Boston's memory, their tempers were not a light simmer; New England was whistling at full boil. Anyone who dared to touch the defense of Preston and his men would be accused of supporting Seider's murder. The blood-soaked snow demanded vengeance. How dare the law get in the way.

The Unwanted Call to Defend

John Adams was in his office on March 6 when a loyalist merchant, James Forrest, entered. He was flustered, tears welling in his eyes. Every attorney that had been offered Preston's case had refused. Now it was up to Adams to decide: Would he risk his burgeoning legal career to defend these ostracized men — to defend justice herself — even as every gauge of public pressure was reading well within the red zone?

He had every reason to refuse. A Harvard graduate of '55 with a ballooning caseload and law practice, Adams was gaining a reputation for his skillful delivery in court. Up until this point, he had been an advocate of the American colonists, arguing against the controversial Stamp Act and allying himself with his firebrand cousin Samuel Adams. Yet Adams knew that good government existed for exactly times like these; when disorder and chaos abound, there must be an impartial peacemaker. There must be justice, with an impartial blindfold over her gray eyes.

He assented. This decision, as discussed by John Adams years later in his life, would be "the greatest service I ever rendered my country," far greater than his presidency or his founding of the Federalist Party. America was in its embryonic state, and without his protection in 1770, her ideals could never have been birthed on Independence Day, 1776.

The trial of Captain Preston's men began in the fall. Though the harbor was inundated with sensationalist headlines, the spectators told a more complicated tale. Perhaps the defense's best witness was Richard Palmes, a patriot and member of the Sons of Liberty. He overheard the conversation between Preston and Theodore Bliss in which Bliss asked, "Why don't you fire?" The captain responded, only to be yelled at in response, "God damn you, why don't you fire!" Palmes stepped in, telling Preston, "I hope you don't intend to…" Captain Preston calmly replied: "By no means."

Just then, Palmes heard the first shot. The simple inference was that Captain Preston couldn't have ordered his men to fire while speaking with Mr. Palmes. Additionally, Jane Crothers Whitehouse testified to seeing the crowd hurl oyster shells, chunks of wood, and snowballs at the unresponsive soldiers. Another bystander remarked, "The word fire was in everybody's mouth." Men pressed in on all sides. Projectiles filled the air. In the chaos, it was nearly impossible to tell whether Preston had ordered them to fire.

After the days of witnesses and arguments had passed, the jury held a session to decide a verdict. When they returned, all the soldiers were cleared of murder charges and two were found guilty of manslaughter. The nation had passed its first major test: resisting the allure of mob rule.

A Nation Ruled by Mobs, Not Truth

Two-and-a-half centuries removed from the Boston Massacre trial, many Americans have forgotten the importance of equal application of the law, sacrificing it on the altar of "social justice" or partisan favoritism.

In 2020, the violence of Black Lives Matter riots was largely ignored by the corporate media and Department of Justice, even as rioters declared entire portions of cities to be autonomous zones like CHOP and CHAZ. One would think that these qualify as attempts to overturn democracy, except that no one cared when it was left-wing mob rule. The same grace was certainly not extended to the J6ers, who have been relentlessly prosecuted for doing roughly one-thousandth the damage.

The trial of Derek Chauvin in early 2021 was treated with the same attitude. Jurors were never sequestered from news coverage, which repeatedly threatened to publish details about them if the "right" verdict wasn't reached. At that point, it didn't matter what conclusion the court came to. The verdict was already tainted by the threat of mob violence.

The problem is clear. We live in a nation that seems to be ruled more by ideological mobs than by fairness or justice.

There is only one way forward, and ironically, it requires that we turn back. We must remember that when party affiliation becomes more important than the search for truth, the line between political persecution and just prosecution becomes increasingly blurred. If we ever want to return to the glory days of America's youth, we must never forget that when Lady Justice loses her blindfold, she ceases to be justice altogether.

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Vic Eldred
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1  seeder  Vic Eldred    5 months ago

Lessons from American history.


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