John Adams took an unpopular stand before the American Revolution.
He sided with the rule of law rather than mob rule or the rule of man.
Before he was a Founding Father, Adams stood for the idea of American representation in Britain. Barring that, he believed in American independence from Great Britain.
Still, he did not foment violence or mob rule.
And when a mob pushed back against British forces, Adams stood by the law. Even though such an act could have caused him and his family social, financial and physical harm.
On March 5, 1770, several Boston residents taunted a British soldier.
The Bostonians grew to a crowd of several hundred people. Eight musket-wielding British soldiers joined their besieged comrade. The mob surged. The soldiers fired their muskets. Five colonists died.
The incident is known as the Boston Massacre.
A young Boston attorney, a colonist himself, John Adams took the thankless job of defending the British soldiers.
Even his cousin, Samuel Adams, referred to the incident as “bloody butchery.” Pamphlets described the incident as the murder of innocents. Though an unpopular position, John Adams felt compelled to defend the British soldiers.
His reason: No man in a free country should be denied a fair trial.
Adams vigorously defended the soldiers. The captain was acquitted of ordering the men to shoot. Six British soldiers were acquitted. Two received a manslaughter conviction.
John Adams reportedly lost half of his Boston law practice.
Nonetheless, Adams became known as the “Atlas” of the American Revolution.
He presented George Washington to be commander of the American forces.
He encouraged Thomas Jefferson to pen the Declaration of Independence.
Adams gave the speech calling for American independence.
He served as the first American vice president under Washington. Adams was the second President.
He set the precedent of peacefully handing over the reins of power when he lost his presidential reelection bid to political rival Thomas Jefferson.
Still, for all of the things he accomplished in his life, for all of the service he gave his country, John Adams would say as an old man, defending the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre was “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.”
Adams stood up for what he believed America could be and should be, before there even was a nation. A nation of laws. Not a nation backed by the rule of one man. Not a nation ruled by the anger and passions of a mob, even though such a mob could have harmed him in the tumultuous atmosphere of 1770s Boston.
No wonder he recalled standing by the rule of law as his best moment.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.