Saturday, October 15, 2005

John Adams and the Boston Massacre

On the evening of March 5, 1770, a throng of several hundred people converged on the Custom House in Boston where nine British soldiers stood sentry under the command of their Captain.

A riot broke out. In the chaos the soldiers opened fire and five men were killed. This incident would become known as the Boston Massacre.

The following day John Adams, a young lawyer, was asked to defend the soldiers and their captain when they came to trial.

No one else would take the case.

Arguing that "facts were stubborn things", Adams stood for the defence in two trials. The first of Captain Thomas Preston ended in a not guilty verdict.

The second trial was of the soldiers. Six were acquitted and two were found guilty of manslaughter and were branded on their thumbs.

John Adams was vilified by many because of his decision to defend the British. But Adams, who would become one of the framers of the Constitution, was more interested in doing the right thing than in appeasing the mob.

He would write :

"Government is nothing more than the combined force of society, or the united power of the multitude, for the peace, order, safety, good and happiness of the people..... There is no king and queen bee distinguished from all others, by size or figure or beauty of variety of colors, in the human hive. No man has yet produced any revelation from heaven in his favor, any divine communications to govern his fellow men. Nature throws us all into the world equal and alike....
The preservation of liberty depends on the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.

Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable...
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

Perhaps it was fear of ambition of a certain class that led Bush to choose Miers, a practicing attorney, to sit on the bench. Would John Adams make the cut today?

I doubt it.


JB said...

The following comment, which I like very much, was left by someone on Beldar's blog:

I'm ever amused by the cyberspace breast-beaters who presume to speak for the "base". The "base" is the over 62 million Americans who voted for George W. Bush last November and who will find Harriet Miers a trustworthy, talented and honorable person. Nobody who delivers elections cares what the self-styled wannabe conservative opinion makers picking at hors d'ourves at Manhattan and Georgetown cocktail parties think of this pick. Laura Ingraham wants to write another book and bolster her radio ratings. The NRO ham 'n eggers (who are dependably, hysterically wrong about everything)are desperate for web hits and funding. They've thrown this President overboard in the hope of taking leadership of the '06/'08 pundit brigade (and its attendant book deals, speaking gigs and media bookings). Bush is going to BENEFIT from the harpies of the fringe right so adamantly opposing this nomination. The dumb dumb elitists are effectively providing Bush and any pol who supports him a huge "triangulation" opportunity. But, elitism and street smarts are often mutually exclusive traits.

RogerA said...

I have tried to stay out of the Miers' brouhaha--so I dont really have a dog in this fight. Seems to me there are several levels of argumentation going on:
(1) The punditocracy--in this case the conservatives--apparently want a cross between Thomas Hobbes and Aristotle. More to the point, they wanted Bush to nominate someone whom they had already preapproved.
(2) Part of the base: having cruised the conservative sites, there seems to a large part of the right that simply wanted to pick a fight so the nuclear option could be invoked. Sorry--the sounds much to me like Clinton's explanation of his affair with Lewinski: I did it because I could. I dont think that is really a good metric for selection an associate justice: to wit, who can we nominate that give the democrats apoplexy.
(3) the group into which I probably fall--the president nominates, the senate confirms. In this republic we delegate our power to our elected officials, so thats the basis of my approbation.

I personally think the third rationale is far better than the first two. Would Miers be a good justice? beats the hell out of me; but there is NO indication that anyone else from Robert Bork to Janice Rogers Brown would be either--there is just something about lifetime tenure that creates a great degree of independence.

It is genuinely tragic to see the judicial branch become so politicized--that is not a good thing for the republic.

Damn--is this a wishy washy post, or WHAT

terrye said...


I belong to the let the woman speak fringe.

I wonder what these self proclaimed spokespeople think they have to gain by shutting her up?

BTW, Hillary Clinton would seem to me to be the ultimate crony and I can bet she would pick someone they would like even less.

Meanwhile the people of iraq go to vote.

The intellectuals yawn.

terrye said...


Yeah well I agree with you.

The Supreme Court is not supposed to be a political battleground.

Rick Ballard said...


The Supreme Court has been a political battleground since Roosevelt's court packing scheme failed in the '30's. The politization probably predates that but I can't recall nomination battles prior to it.

Politization has become a necessity because of the court's interjection of itself into what should be the legislative process. Having arrogated to itself legislative functions - especially in areas that are clearly best left to legislative action - it has become the epitome of politics. It has also come to be truly despised by a rather large section of the electorate and with good cause on their part.

Personally, I don't want to see anyone who has exhibited great intellectual curiosity appointed to the court nor do I care to see anyone appointed who has passed a litmus test proposed by either side of the partisan divide. Tinkering by "deep thinkers" has placed the court in the position it occupies today. To its discredit.

Btw - referring to the babbling critics of the President's decision as "the party" or "Republicans" may be an error of classification. The leader of the NRO revolt was fired for a very good reason. He proved himself untrustworthy then and he remains untrustworthy now.

David Thomson said...

The American Revolution should have never occurred. Radicals pushed the envelope to the point where the violence was unavoidable. Great Britain was already cutting the colonists some serious slack. The crown essentially only wanted to save face and was more than willing to let the Americans have their de facto independence. We should never forget that slavery was officially ensconced because of this unnecessary war. It also took years for the Americans to pay off their incredible debts.

chuck said...

Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart.The love of power is insatable and uncontrollable...

I love the unvarnished view of human nature the founders had. Is there the slightest doubt that they would have instantly recognized the potential mischief in the philosophy of Marx or the persons of Lenin and Trotsky? I don't think so. The quality of political thought since that time strikes me as romantic regression, not progress.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I agree with chuck. The increasing ease of our material existence has made us less, rather than more, able to understand human nature.

"Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable...
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

Now apply those words to Kofi Annan and the UN. The UN is a government. The EU and China and Cuba want to make it a more powerful government in order to control the United States. But that new government has never had an Adams or a Franklin writing its primary statutes. Is it a "free government"? Are we trusting men with "power to endanger the public liberty"?

terrye said...


That may be true but it seems to me that certain people on the right are following in very nearly the same path. Just a slightly defferent direction.

It should be remembered when Adams lived slavery was legal in many of the colonies. They failed to tackle that thorny issue in framing the constitution hoping time would do it for them.