The Boston Massacre Trial
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The Boston Massacre was an incident involving violence between civilians and soldiers. Boston citizens had increasingly expressed their disapproval of the British soldiers’ occupation and often engaged in throwing stones and sticks at soldiers patrolling the city. In 1770, the conflict expanded when about 50 Boston citizens unexpectedly attacked a British officer. The crowd did not retreat but instead attacked the other soldiers. Outnumbered and sensing danger, the soldiers fired into the crowd in an attempt to secure their safety. This act led to the death of five people and left scores of others nursing gunshot wounds and injuries due to the ensuing stamped. Following the incident, numerous disputes arose between patriots and loyalists with the former demanding the immediate removal of British soldiers from Boston and their trial. On the other hand, loyalists championed the dismissal of the charges against the soldiers citing their actions as self-defense.
At the Boston Massacre Trial, John Adams and Josiah Quincy represented the defendant’s side. On the other hand, the prosecution’s attorneys were Samuel Quincy and Robert Paine. Captain Preston, purported to bear the greatest responsibility in the massacre, was the first to face the jury. His trial commenced several days earlier than that of the other soldiers (Burgan 67). The trial of the other eight soldiers lasted for a shorter time unlike in Preston’s case. There were numerous conflicts in the evidence presented to the jury with witnesses giving different accounts of the massacre. While some witnesses swore that they heard Preston order the soldiers to fire into the crowd, others presented accounts that exonerated Preston from any wrongdoing (Draper 78). During the trial, the jury sought to determine whether the action by the British soldiers was due to malice or fear. In addition, the jury paid particular attention to the identification of the soldiers responsible for the fatal shots. One of the defense attorneys, Adams, concentrated on demonstrating that the greatest responsibility of the Boston Massacre laid within the jurisdiction of British policymakers whose decision to station the soldiers in Boston city was faulty. During the case, the defense was keen to point out to the jury the existence of detest among the people of Boston towards the British soldiers as the main factor that led to the shooting incident. Along this line of argument, the defense successfully illustrated to the jury that Boston’s people had premeditated to harm the soldiers and that any channels of ending the standoff without putting either side at the risk of injury proved fruitless.
Patrick Carr’s admission of hearsay was one of the weighty evidence that the defense relied on to argue for a not guilty verdict. Carr was one of victims of the massacre who succumbed to his injuries. Before he died, Carr shared with his physician the conviction that the soldiers acted in self-defense rather than on a malicious intent. After an extensive analysis of the evidence presented by both the defense and prosecution attorneys, the jury delivered its verdict on the case by acquitting six of the eight soldiers involved in the case. However, the jury found two soldiers responsible for manslaughter. The court exhibited leniency on the prison terms served to the convicted soldiers by considering the provisions in the plea of the benefit of clergy (Lukes 112).
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Account of various witnesses in the Boston Massacre confirms the defense attorneys’ argument that the British soldiers had minimal if any aspects of malice in the event. Rather, hatred towards British soldiers by Boston people influenced the massacre and the soldiers only acted in self-defense. Theodore account of the incident indicated that there were plans by the people of Boston to engage the soldiers in a battle. However, the fact that he is not sure who gave the order to fire exonerates Preston from the responsibility of instigating the massacre. There are no indications of the willingness of the crowd to engage in negotiations regarding the stalemate. At that moment, the captain could not order a cease-fire since such a decision would expose the soldiers to immense danger considering the frenzied crowd and confusion among the soldiers. Benjamin Burdick confirms that Boston’s citizens were a dangerous adversary considering he had armed himself with a sword during the chaos. He was ready to use the weapon against any soldier who would attack him. Alexander Cruikshanks’ statement shows that the people of Boston started the chaos by harassing a British sentinel. The additional soldier came to assist the sentinel who was outnumbered and faced the threat of an attack. The accounts by Henry Knox, John Cole, Daniel Calef and Diman Morton indicate that the witnesses assumed the shouts to fire must have originated from Captain Preston. The fact that their description of the captain varies illustrates that they did not know the captain. Isaac Pierce confirms that although Captain Preston recognized the fact that it was unlawful to fire at the crowd, he explains the soldiers’ action as necessary since he had the responsibility to protect and save the lives of his men. Joseph Belknap and William Sawyer confirm that the incident was in self-defense. Captain Thomas requested additional soldiers to help handle the large crowd, which was getting out of control. However, his efforts were fruitless as the soldiers’ presence did not quell the chaos. In conclusion, the public, especially people of Boston, received the verdict on the massacre with relative calmness. Groups dissatisfied with the verdict channeled their expressions of outrage trough non-violent means such as local newspapers. There were no cases of public demonstrations or disorders related to the ruling.
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