Boston Massacre Historical Society


Speech by John Adams at the Boston Massacre Trial

Young Mr. Davis swears, that he saw Gray that evening, a little before the firing, that he had a stick under his arm, and said he would go to the riot, "I am glad of it, (that is that there was a rumpus) I will go and have a slap at them, if I lose my life." And when he was upon the spot, some witnesses swear, he did not act that peaceable inoffensive part, which Langford thinks he did. They swear, they thought him in liquor-that he run about clapping several people on the shoulders saying, "Dont run away"-"they dare not fire." Langford goes on "I saw twenty or five and twenty boys about the Sentinal-and I spoke to him, and bid him not be afraid."-How came the Watchman Langford to tell him not to be afraid. Does not this circumstance prove, that he thought there was danger, or at least that the Sentinel in fact, was terrified and did think himself in danger. Langford goes on "I saw about twenty or five and twenty boys that is young shavers."-We have been entertained with a great variety of phrases, to avoid calling this sort of people a mob.-Some call them shavers, some call them genius's. -The plain English is gentlemen, most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues 226 and out landish jack tarrs.-And why we should scruple to call such a set of people a mob, I can't conceive, unless the name is too respectable for them: The sun is not about to stand still or go out, nor the rivers to dry up because there was a mob in Boston on the 5th of March that attacked a party of soldiers.-Such things are not new in the world, nor in the British dominions, though they are comparatively, rareties and novelties in this town. Carr a native of Ireland had often been concerned in such attacks, and indeed, from the nature of things, soldiers quartered in a populous town, will always occasion two mobs, where they prevent one.-They are wretched conservators of the peace!

Langford "heard the rattling against the guns, but saw nothing thrown." -This rattling must have been very remarkable, as so many witnesses heard it, who were not in a situation to see what caused it. These things which hit the guns made a noise, those which hit the soldiers persons, did not-But when so many things were thrown and so many hit their guns, to suppose that none struck their persons is incredible. Langford goes on "Gray struck me on the shoulder and asked me what is to pay? I answered, I don't know but I believe something will come of it, by and bye."-Whence could this apprehension of mischief arise, if Langford did not think the assault, the squabble, the affray was such as would provoke the soldiers to fire?-"a bayonet went through my great coat and jacket," yet the soldier did not step out of his place. This looks as if Langford was nearer to the party than became a watchman. Forty or fifty people round the soldiers, and more coming from Quaker-lane, as well as the other lanes. The soldiers heard all the bells ringing and saw people coming from every point of the compass to the assistance of those who were insulting, assaulting, beating and abusing of them-what had they to expect but destruction, if they had not thus early taken measures to defend themselves?

Brewer saw Killroy, &c. saw Dr. Young, &c. "he said the people had better go home." It was an excellent advice, happy for some of them had they followed it, but it seems all advice was lost on these persons, they would harken to none that was given them in Docksquare, Royal exchange-lane or King-street, they were bent on making this assault, and on their own destruction.

The next witness that knows any thing, was, James Bailey, he saw Carrol, Montgomery and White, he saw some round the Sentry, heaving pieces of ice, large and hard enough to hurt any man, as big as your fist: one question is whether the Sentinel was attacked or not.- If you want evidence of an attack upon him there is enough of it, here is a witness an inhabitant of the town, surely no friend to the soldiers, for he was engaged against them at the Rope-walks; he says he saw twenty or thirty round the Sentry, pelting with cakes of ice, as big as onexs fist; certainly cakes of ice of this size may kill a man, if they happen to hit some part of the head. So that, here was an attack on the Sentinel, the consequence of which he had reason to dread, and it was prudent in him to call for the Main-Guard: he retreated as far as he could, he attempted to get into the Custom-house, but could not; then he called to the Guard, and he had a good right to call for their assistance; "he did not know, he told the witness, what was the matter," "but he was afraid there would be mischief by and bye;" and well he might, with so many shavers and genius's round him-capable of throwing such dangerous things. Bailey swears, Montgomery fired the first gun, and that he stood at the right, "the next man to me, I stood behind him, &c." This witness certainly is not prejudiced in favour of the soldiers, he swears, he saw a man come up to Montgomery with a club, and knock him down before he fired, and that he not only fell himself, but his gun flew out of his hand, and as soon as he rose he took it up and fired. If he was knocked down on his station, had he not reason to think his life in danger, or did it not raise his passions and put him off his guard; so that it cannot be more than manslaughter.

When the multitude was shouting and huzzaing, and threatning life, the bells all ringing, the mob whistle screaming and rending like an Indian yell, the people from all quarters throwing every species of rubbish they could pick up in the street, and some who were quite on the other side of the street throwing clubs at the whole party, Montgomery in particular, smote with a club and knocked down, and as soon as he could rise and take up his firelock, another club from a far struck his breast or shoulder, what could he do? Do you expect he should behave like a Stoick Philosopher lost in Apathy? Patient as Epictatus while his master was breaking his leggs with a cudgel? 227 It is impossible you should find him guilty of murder. You must suppose him divested of all human passions, if you don't think him at the least provoked, thrown off his guard, and into the furor brevis, by such treatment as this.

Bailey "Saw the Molatto seven or eight minutes before the firing, at the head of twenty or thirty sailors in Corn-hill, and he had a large cordwood stick." So that this Attucks, by this testimony of Bailey compared with that of Andrew, and some others, appears to have undertaken to be the hero of the night; and to lead this army with banners, to form them in the first place in Dock square, and march them up to King-street, with their clubs; they passed through the mainstreet up to the Main-guard, in order to make the attack. If this was not an unlawful assembly, there never was one in the world. Attucks with his myrmidons comes round Jockson's [Jackson's] corner, and down to the party by the Sentry-box; when the soldiers pushed the people off, this man with his party cried, do not be afraid of them, they dare not fire, kill them! kill them! knock them over! And he tried to knock their brains out. It is plain the soldiers did not leave their station, but cried to the people, stand off: now to have this reinforcement coming down under the command of a stout Molatto fellow, whose very looks, was enough to terrify any person, what had not the soldiers then to fear? He had hardiness enough to fall in upon them, and with one hand took hold of a bayonet, and with the other knocked the man down: This was the behaviour of Attucks;-to whose mad behaviour, in all probability, the dreadful carnage of that night, is chiefly to be ascribed. And it is in this manner, this town has been often treated; a Carr from Ireland, and an Attucks from Framingham, happening to be here, shall sally out upon their thoughtless enterprizes, at the head of such a rabble of Negroes, &c. as they can collect together, and then there are not wanting, persons to ascribe all their doings to the good people of the town.

Mr. Adams proceeded to a minute consideration of every witness produced on the crown side; and endeavoured to shew, from the evidence on that side, which could not be contested by the council for the crown, that the assault upon the party, was sufficiently dangerous to justify the prisoners; at least, that it was sufficiently provoking, to reduce to manslaughter the crime, even of the two who were supposed to be proved to have killed. But it would swell this publication too much, to insert his observations at large, and there is the less necessity for it, as they will probably occur to every man who reads the evidence with attention. He then proceeded to consider the testimonies of the witnesses for the prisoners, which must also be omitted: And conc[l]uded, I will enlarge no more on 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; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter, in consideration of those passions in our nature, which cannot be eradicated. To your candour and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.

The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions, or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations, and wanton tempers of men. To use the words of a great and worthy man, a patriot, and an hero, and enlightned friend of mankind, and a martyr to liberty; I mean ALGERNON SIDNEY,who from his earliest infancy sought a tranquil retirement under the shadow of the tree of liberty, with his tongue, his pen, and his sword, "The law, (says he,) no passion can disturb. Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. 'Tis mens sine affectu; written reason; retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but without any regard to persons, commands that which is good, and punishes evil in all, whether rich, or poor, high or low,'Tis deaf, inexorable, inflexible. 228 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.

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