Boston Massacre Trial

Late in the autumn of the same year of the Boston Massacre, 1770, when public excitement had subsided, Captain Preston and his soldiers were tried for murder before a court in Boston. Josiah Quincy, Jr., and John Adams were counsel for the prisoners. They were known as ardent patriots, yet their acceptance of the task of defending these prisoners offended many of their compatriots, and severely tried the strength of their popularity. They entered upon their duties as counsellors with humane motives, and they discharged them with fidelity to their clients, the law, and the testimony. Robert Treat Paine, afterward a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the counsel for the crown. Preston and six of the soldiers were declared not guilty by a Boston jury. The other two--the soldier who killed Attucks, and another who shot Maverick--were convicted of manslaughter only, and for that offence they were each branded in the hand with a hot iron, in open court, and discharged.

This trial was another triumph for the Americans. The advocates in Parliament for the revival of the long-slumbering statute of Henry the Eighth, providing for the trial in England of persons accused of crimes in the colonies, gave as a reason for such revival, that American juries could not be trusted in the case of a crown-officer being on trial. This verdict of a Boston jury, under the circumstances, set that slander at rest forever, and amazed the judges of the English courts. The jury had simply triumphed over prejudice and strong emotion, and given a verdict in accordance with the dictates of conscience and perceptions of truth.

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