Black Lives and the Boston Massacre

12 Dec

On March 5, 1770, at a little after nine o’clock in the evening, men in uniform shot and killed an unarmed black man named Crispus Attucks. They got away with it.

This may seem like a radical way to introduce the Boston Massacre, that seminal episode in American history in which British soldiers fired on a mob, killing five men. But it is not far from how John Adams described the events to jurors while defending those soldiers at trial. The future president would later say that winning their acquittal was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” He engaged in some excellent lawyering, no doubt about it. The trial cemented Adams’s reputation as the archetypal lawyer-as-hero, a man willing to be hated in order to give individuals the chance to have their cause fairly heard. And it confirmed for Revolutionary British North Americans that theirs was a cause rooted in legal ideals. We have remembered the trial this way ever since: as a triumph of principle over self-interest or impetuous emotionalism. But an honest look at the transcript complicates the story by showing how racial prejudice contributed to the outcome. A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man and his cronies and that they didn’t deserve to hang for it.

So begins Farah Peterson’s masterful and sobering review of John Adams’s defense of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre. You may read the rest of her American Scholar article here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Exploring the Past

Reading, Thinking, and Blogging about History

Enough Light

"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't." - Blaise Pascal

Lenten Lamentations

Preparing to Participate in God's Mosaic Kingdom

The Text Message

Discoveries from processing and reference archivists on the job

john pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said

Wirelesshogan: Reflections from the Hogan

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

The Way of Improvement Leads Home

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

the way of improvement leads home

reflections at the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life

The Pietist Schoolman

The website and blog of historian Chris Gehrz

Native News Online

American Indian News

Reformed Journal: The Twelve

Reformed. Done Daily.

i-history

by Alex Scarfe

blogwestdotorg.wordpress.com/

Thoughtful Conversation about the American West

Northwest History

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

%d bloggers like this: