The Founding Fathers are famous for promoting the rights of Americans based on the laws of nature and nature’s God, but John Adams went further and defended the rights of all humanity. He made his case in writing, especially his work on the Canon and Feudal Laws, which put to shame civil and religious tyrants.
John Adams was a man of principle, and he stood for them through opposition. John Adams was no “Sunshine Patriot” when it came to truth and justice.
Here’s an example. The Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770, was blamed solely on British Captain Preston and his soldiers, and they were subsequently charged with murder. Governor Hutchinson and his imprisoned redcoats were universally despised, and anyone defending them would be equally hated. Under these circumstances, no lawyer could be found to take the case, except for John Adams.
This honorable man, believing the soldiers were unjustly accused, was willing to defend them even though they were considered enemies of his country. The British, to be sure, were at that time oppressing the Americans, but Mr. Adams knew it was wrong to take out British injustice on innocent men.
The people, as expected, hated Adams for taking the case, but their disapproval didn’t cause him to wander off the path of righteousness. Mr. Adams wisely postponed the trial until tempers cooled, because he knew a people carried away by a torrent of angry passions would make shipwreck of conscience.
The trial began on November 27, 1770. Mr. Adams demonstrated by his arguments that he was well acquainted with the laws of his country and humanity at large. He appealed to the jury impressing upon them that in this case, the law must govern their decision, not misguided anger. “Facts are stubborn things,” Mr. Adams said to the jury, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Those words hit home. Captain Preston and his men were acquitted.
During the trial, John Adams exhibited the qualities of firmness of mind, steadfastness of purpose, enlightened patriotism, and love for justice and humanity. He proved to Great Britain and the world that the citizens of Massachusetts would act justly toward these British soldiers even though Great Britain was at that very moment dealing unjustly with the colonies.
Many years later, Mr. Adams, looking back on his long career, said this case was one of the most import services he rendered to his country:
“The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety...enough. It was, however, 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. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.”
One man’s virtue can have international effects. John Adams demonstrated by his actions that he knew how to help form a republic founded on the principles of justice, and that is where his subsequent career would take him.