Like the similarly named Boston Tea Party or the Battle of Gettysburg, the Boston Massacre is one of those American historical events that the majority of people barely know the broad strokes of, if at all, now that we won’t be taking a pop quiz on it next week.
The conflict on March 5, 1770, was a crucial turning point in the events leading up to the Revolutionary War. It served as a microcosm of the simmering conflicts between the American colonists and the British enforcers.
The British saw the incident as evidence that the colonists were an irresponsible group that required more control, while the colonists used it as a call to arms for independence.
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Why Did The Boston Massacre Happen?
The American colonists’ anger with the British government and its intolerable restrictions was the primary factor that led to the massacre that took place in Boston.
In the years leading up to this massacre, the British Parliament had passed a number of legislations that worked to the detriment of the colonists and were in direct opposition to their interests.
The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts were two of the more significant acts (1767). The colonists were subject to a significant amount of taxation as a result of these legislation passed by the British Parliament.
In the year 1770, on June 5th, colonists went to Boston, Massachusetts, to demonstrate against the Townshend Acts. But because of the participation of crowds in the demonstration, it descended into the road of violence.
In particular, they began hitting British soldiers with snowballs, stones, and clubs. As a result of this reason, the British Soldiers that were present there shot the protestors, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of some people right there and then.
Only five people were killed, while another six protestors were injured as a result of the violence. Despite the fact that there were relatively few people killed, this event is nonetheless remembered as the horrific Boston Massacre in the annals of United States history.
In the years that followed, this event served as a major catalyst for the American Revolution and the subsequent Revolutionary War.
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The Boston Massacre: Why Was It Important?
The Boston Massacre was viewed by some patriot-minded colonists as an example of British rulers ruthlessly murdering unarmed civilians, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.
History claims that’s how they explained it to other colonies, in an effort to incite anti-British feeling that would finally result in independence.
‘Let all America join in one common prayer to heaven that the inhuman, unprovoked murders of the fifth of March, 1770, planned by a British commander and a knot of treacherous knaves in Boston, and executed by the cruel hand of another British commander and his sanguinary coadjutors, may ever stand in history without a parallel,’ Hancock would later say, according to Revolutionary War and Beyond.
Unintentionally, but undoubtedly, the Boston Massacre contributed to American independence. Six more years would pass until the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to draught the Declaration of Independence, which was then adopted about a year after the Revolutionary War began.
The Boston Tea Party, for example, happened during the period between the Boston Massacre and the Declaration of Independence, and it is part of the long series of occasions that culminated in America’s liberation from British authority in 1783.
Boston Massacre Victims
- James Caldwell
- Patrick Carr
- Samuel Gray
- Samuel Maverick
- Crispus Attucks
Boston Massacre Trials
Supporter of the British government James Forrest recruited colonial lawyers Josiah Quincy, Jr., and Robert Auchmuty, Jr., who agreed to take on the case only provided John Adams was on the defence team, to represent his buddy Preston and the other British defendants.
Adams, a future founding father and president of the United States, stood up for the soldiers for a number of murky and illogical reasons, chief among them probably his belief that everyone should be given a fair trial and equal justice, his general disapproval of the occasionally violent tactics used by his cousin Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, and his desire to be recognised as a man whose respect for the law overrode his politics.
Samuel Quincy, Quincy’s brother, a fervent royalist, and Robert Treat Paine made up the prosecution. Prior to the “massacre” trial in court, Ebenezer Richardson was tried for the murder of Christopher Seider, and the prosecution included Paine and Samuel Quincy.
The jury in that case disregarded the judges’ ruling that Richardson should only have been convicted guilty of manslaughter and found him guilty of murder instead. The judges therefore declined to sentence Richardson.
However, the verdict in that case was not favourable for the accused soldiers. Because they believed that having separate trials for Preston and the enlisted men would be advantageous for both parties, the defence team was successful in gaining one trial for Preston and another for the men who had been under his command.
But the trial already had political goals in mind before the soldiers’ guilt or innocence was determined. The prosecution attempted to expose Parliament’s use of force to suppress the colonists’ political rights, while the defence wanted to draw attention to the potentially dangerous consequences of the Sons of Liberty’s mobocratic strategies.
Adams demonstrated that in the midst of the sea of conflicting testimony, nobody could be clear who, if anyone, had issued the order to fire. By emphasising the confusion, commotion, and bewilderment of the shooting moment and convincing the jury of the lack of malice on the part of the soldiers, Adams was successful in getting acquittals for Preston and all but two of the enlisted men.
Additionally, he reduced the charges against those two to manslaughter and arranged their punishments such that their thumbs would be marked as first-time offenders utilising an archaic English legal doctrine called as the “plea to clergy.”
John Adams would go on to accomplish far more success as a Founding Father and President of the United States, and another paved piece of the road leading to revolution, despite the fact that the troops were freed.
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