Why did John Adams defend British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre?

John Adams was an American politician, founding father, attorney, diplomat, and writer. He served as the vice president and the second president of the United States from 1797-1801 AD.

Adams led the American Revolution before his presidency, achievingdependence from Great Britain.

He was dedicated to the right to counsel and the presumption of innocence and successfully defended British soldiers against murder charges in the Boston Massacre.

Besides, he was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress and later became a revolution leader.

In 1776, he assisted in recruiting the Declaration of Independence. He assisted in negotiating a peace treaty with Great Britain as a diplomat in Europe and secured significant governmental loans.

In 1780, he was the writer of the Massachusetts Constitution and the essay Thoughts on Government, both of which influenced the constitution of the United States.

Under President George Washington, Adams was elected as vice president two times. Later, he got elected as the second president of the United States in 1796 and was the only president elected under the Federalist Party.

He signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and built an army and navy in the undeclared Quasi-War with France. He was also the first president to live in the White House.

Why was John Adams still seen as a patriot despite defending the British soldiers?

Adams defended the Patriots’ belief in injPatriots’ile supporting the soldiers. This strengthened the colonists’ desire to acolonists’r wish to separate from Britain.

What role did John Adams play in the Boston Massacre Trial?

John Adams was the judge hearing the case. He represented the British soldiers.

Early Life

A portrait of the second president of the United States, John Adams
A portrait of the second president of the United States, John Adams

John Adams was born on October 30, 1735,  to his father, John Adams Sr., and his mother, Susanna Boylston, and had two younger brothers, Peter and Elihu.

His mother belonged to a leading medical family of Brookline, and his father was a deacon in Congregational Church, a farmer, and a lieutenant in the militia.

His great grandfather Henry Adams immigrated to Massachusetts in 1638 Ad from Braintree, Essex.

Adams felt compelled to live up to his family heritage as, from a family of Puritans, their family greatly affected their region’s culture, lawsregion’saditions.

As the eldest child, he was bound to obtain a formal education. His education included Latin, rhetoric, logic, and arithmetic.

He entered Harvard College in 1751 at the age of sixteen. He was a keen scholar, studying the works of ancient writers such as Plato, Cicero, Tacitus, and Thucydides.

Despite his father’s desire to becfather’snister, he temporarily taught in Worcester. Gradually, he began to seek prestige and crave “Honor of Reputation” and was “ocused on being “a “reat man.”

Adams, then, de”ided to purs”e his career as a lawyer, although his aspirations conflicted with his Puritanism and failed to share his fellow men’s happiness.

At the age omen’seteen, in 1754, as the French and Indian War began, he was confused with his responsibility in the conflict as many people from his age joined the War for money.

Boston Massacre

A portrait depicting a scene from Boston Massacre
A portrait depicting a scene from Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre was a conflict in Boston on March 5, 1770. British soldiers shot and killed many people, perceiving them as a mob, and leading patriots including Paul Revere and Samuel Adams heavily publicized the event.

Boston, the capital of the Massachusetts Bay,  was a significant shipping town and a center of resistance to unpopular taxation acts by the British Parliament in the 1760s.

The Townshend Acts was enforced in 1768 in the Thirteen Colonies, which put prices on various everyday items manufactured in Britain and imported in the colonies.

The colonists objected to the Acts, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives started a campaign against the Acts.

British troops were positioned in the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1768. They did this to support the crown’s crown’s officials and enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

During the tense situation between the soldiers and the civilians, a mob formed around a British soldier and verbally abused him. Eventually, seven soldiers led by Captain Thomas Preston came to his supporters, who were all hit by clubs, stones, and snowballs.

When things got out of hand, one soldier fired, leading the others to fire with him in the absence of an order by Preston. Instantly three people were killed by the firing, eight were wounded; two died.

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After the Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promised an inquiry, the crowd dispersed but later re-formed the next day, resulting in the drawback of the soldiers to Castle Island.

After that, eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested for the incident and were charged with murder. Later, they were defended by the future US President John Adams.

Six out of the eight soldiers were found guilt-free. However, two of them were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences to labeling charges on their hand.

Boston massacre trial

An image depicting one of the incident from Boston Massacre
An image depicting one of the incidents from the Boston Massacre

Following the Boston Massacre, Captain Thomas Preston, eight British soldiers, and five British civilians were charged for murder. They were exposed to the possibility of execution and could not find a defense team as they would have to defend them in the anti-British city of Boston.

John Adams realized that there was a lot at stake for colonial America, and it was important for the accused to have a fair trial. Other nations did not view America as peace with justice and respect for processes. It would also possibly prevent revenge from the British.

Along with this, Adams was also successful in creating a reputation as incorruptible. He believed that the people accused had the right to a fair trial, although he hated their cause. So, without hesitation, he defended the British soldiers.

John Adams’ role in the Boston Massacre trial

A portrait of John Adams
A portrait of John Adams

In the trial, Adams said that Captain Preston had never ordered his soldiers to fire. He also put forward that those who had shot into the crowd did so entirely for self-defense.

He called the people involved in the mob who provoked the soldiers “outlandish Jack tars.” H” persuaded and won th” case releasing Preston and six of his soldiers on all charges. How”ver, two soldiers wer” claimed guilty of manslaughter and were punished by having their thumbs branded.

Later in his life, he wrote a statement on the matter, saying, “The Part I took in Defen”e of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers procured me Anxiety and Obloquy enough.

It was, howe”er, one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.

Judgment of Death against those soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.

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As the Evidence was, the VerdicEvidence Jury was exactly right. This, however, is no reason why the town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favor of the Governor or Minister who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.”

Despite being a devout”patriot, John Adams agreed to risk his family’s livelihood to dfamily’se British troops a”d their commander in a Boston courtroom.

It was not just the ffamily’sine men at stake but also the relation between the motherland and her colonies on the day before the American Revolution.

He felt everyone was entitled to a defense. He also learned little about the case and thought there was a legitimate defense. The event did not seem as clear-cut as some patriots wanted to make them out to be, and he knew an attorney who tried to take the case as long as Adams was a part of the team.

Balancing Act of Adams to defend his clients without distancing his fellow Bostonians

A photo of old state house
A photo of an old statehouse

These days, criminal defense lawyers regularly take John Adams’s defense of the British soldiers to to represent specific clients. He did not blame the city for initiating the riot and focused on facts.

He also focused on what happened and who was involved, not making it an accusation of Sons of Liberty and who had supported violence against the British soldiers.

This case became so popular and exciting from a legal perspective because it had to be figured out from various perspectives. The British law had to be taken into consideration, and that the colonists wanted their system of law.

Reasonable doubt was used as a standard for the first time. The colonists were frustrated with the result, yet, they realized it had been a fair trial.


It is generally unsatisfying to get a mixed verdict in a case involving so much passion and emotion. However, these cases serve as a compelling example, and the Boston Massacre trial was among these trials.

The Boston massacre could have led to a revolution, but it did not, as people accepted it was a very controversial verdict.  For firing against the orders of Captain Preston, the jury could have convicted all the soldiers for the actions of a few of them.

However, that was not the case due to the lack of evidence of others involved in the shooting. ThisEvidences a beautiful demonstration of a fair verdict to the jurors of the day.

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