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Posted in Newsletter on July 18, 2022   |  by Gary Burger

Fun Founding Fathers Fact!

President John Adams is one of my favorite trial lawyers. He, with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, wrote the Declaration of Independence and became our second president. Today is the 190th anniversary of his death (along with Thomas Jefferson). He is a true American hero for standing up for the rule of law against public opinion. He defended the British troops that shot Americans in the Boston Massacre. Defending them was very unpopular with regular newspaper stories by Samuel Adams and others against the soldiers and John Adams. (You think the press or
politics is bad now – the stories then were crazy).

The incident occurred on Mar. 5, 1770, when British troops fired into a rioting crowd and killed five men. The prosecution of Captain Thomas Preston was separated from that of his men because they had different standards of guilt.

The jury assembled in the Boston Massacre trial did not include anyone from Boston. This was done to ensure a fair trial of the British. The trial was also delayed by several months to let the emotions cool down after the shooting. In the trial, it was the first time a judge used the phrase "reasonable doubt." Here is a part of Adams’ closing argument:

Gentlemen of the jury, as you are under oath to determine this cause by law and evidence; clubs they had not, and they could not defend themselves with their bayonets against so many people; it was in the power of the sailors to kill one half or the whole of the party, if they had been so disposed; what had the soldiers to expect, when twelve persons armed with clubs, (sailors too, between whom and soldiers, there is such an antipathy, that they fight as naturally when they meet, as the elephant and Rhinoceros) were daring enough, even at the time when they were loading their guns, to come up with their clubs, and smite on their guns; what had eight soldiers to expect from such a set of people? Would it have been a prudent resolution in them, or in any body in their situation, to have stood still, to see if the sailors would knock their brains out, or not? Had they not all the reason in the world to think, that as they had done so much, they would proceed farther?

Captain Thomas and 6 of his men were acquitted; two others were found guilty of manslaughter, punished, and discharged from the army. The two guilty soldiers used a medieval relic, called the Benefit of Clergy, to escape the death penalty.