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Coming of the American Revolution: Document Viewer
Massachusetts Historical Society
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A Complicated Defense
John Adams and the defense team are facing a serious dilemma: they must not only defend the soldiers, but the town of Boston as well. Captain Thomas Preston has been found not guilty, and so it cannot be said that the soldiers fired on his orders. If the lawyers argue that they fired in self-defense, however, Boston stands accused of harboring murderous ruffians. On 27 November 1770, the trial of eight soldiers -- Corporal Williams Wemms, James Hartigan, William McCauley, Hugh White, Mathew Kilroy, William Warren, John Carroll, and Hugh Montgomery -- begins. In his closing arguments, Adams concedes that while some of the soldiers may be guilty of murder, they cannot be distinguished from the innocent; they must, therefore, acquit all of the soldiers so that no one is wrongly convicted. The jury delivers its verdict to the court on 5 December.

Questions to Consider

1. What is the verdict reached by the jury in the soldiers' trial?

2. Which two soldiers are punished for their participation in the tumult on King Street? What is their punishment?

Further Exploration

3. Do you agree with John Adams that it is more important to protect all of the soldiers (even if some of them are guilty) than to falsely punish even one innocent soldier? Why or why not?

4. Imagine that you are living in Boston in 1770. How do you feel about the verdict in the soldiers' trial?