In the dark, Pvt. Hugh Montgomery could not tell who among the crowd confronting him threw the four-foot long piece of birch cordwood, but it knocked him back and made him stumble in the packed snow. Pain and anger thus mixed with fear and humiliation as he rose, pulled the hammer of his Brown Bess back to full cock, and squeezed the trigger; while at the same time yelling "Fire!" in an attempt to get his comrades to do the same. In ragged succession, half a dozen other muskets went off, each one sending two .75 caliber balls into the assembled citizenry. Four instantly expired, one was mortally wounded and several others were wounded in varying degrees. The Redcoats instantly reloaded and presented, and were only stopped from firing a second volley by their officer, Capt. Preston, who knocked up their barrels shouting "Stop firing! DO NOT FIRE!"
Even before the soldiers dropped their hammers church bells had been ringing, turning out the townsfolk as if to a fire. A tar barrel had been made ready on Beacon Hill (which was called that for this reason) to summon the militia from surrounding towns. Had it been lit, the American Revolution could well have started five years before it did. Acting Governor Hutchinson moved quickly. The balcony of the Townhouse (now the Old State House) faced the crowd, and from there he proclaimed "Let the law have its course!… I will live and die by the law!" The crowd dispersed, probably due more to the news that the soldiers, along with their captain, had been arrested and would be put on trial for their lives before a jury of colonists than to any exhortations from Hutchinson.
Ah, but who could be found to defend these most unpopular clients, and risk the wrath of the crowd themselves? There were a couple of young "legal eagles" bold enough to take a shot at it, but neither of them would do so without a senior counsel of impeccable credentials, not only at the bar, but with the "Sons of Liberty" themselves. That man was John Adams.
Why would HE take such a case, and risk not only his good standing in the town, but his own safety and that of his young family? The high-minded reasons usually given were certainly in play. Adams’ legal principles had been marinated in the Magna Carta for over five hundred years, and the Mayflower Compact for a 150 years. (See previous stops.) He most likely knew the Latin of the former by heart: Nullus liber homo capiatur vel imprisonetur… nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terre. "No freeman shall be arrested and imprisoned… except by the lawful judgment of his peers or according to the law of the land," even Redcoats. He had other more practical concerns as well. The town of Boston would be on trial along with the soldiers. A defense centered too much upon the acts of the citizenry would condemn the town, but so would some farcical proceeding followed by a lynching, making Boston a disgrace throughout the English speaking world.
Much to the horror of the soldiers, Adams shrewdly separated the trial of Capt. Preston. His would be the easier task. All that needed to be done was to point out that he would’ve been an idiot – and no officer – to order his men to fire while they were at the half-cock with charged bayonets (i.e. butt at the hip with the bayonet angled forward) and WHILE HE WAS STANDING IN FRONT OF THEM. Did any witness testify hearing the command to present? Umm… no…
The soldiers’ trial was where he had to tread lightly. When one of his young proteges was about to introduce evidence as to exactly whom had riled up the crowd in the first place (probably William Molineux, a well-known "Son of Liberty") Adams quickly shut him down. No, no, he argued, the mob was "…most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mullattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs." Clearly not the sort of folks a member of proper Boston society would have to afternoon tea circa 1770. He summarized as follows:
I will enlarge no more upon the evidence, but submit it to you – Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact… On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamours of the populace.

All but two were found not guilty, and those two were convicted only of manslaughter, with a brand on the thumb as punishment.
The father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, was sympathetic to the American colonists because he did not see them as firebrands out to turn the world on its head, as he would view the French. The Americans, he said, were "…not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles." And a nation, like the one we would become, "… is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not only of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice; it is made by the peculiar circumstances occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time." From such thoughts came the inspiration for this series.
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