On March 5, 1770, colonists in the town of Boston decided that they wanted no more of the British soldiers on their street corners and doorsteps, and they took action (John Adams, Architect of American Government). What started that day as the seemingly harmless throwing of snowballs and calling of names resulted in anger building and, ultimately, in the fatal shooting of five colonists (Wallenfeldt). What caused this event that is remembered in this country even today, over two hundred years later? The Townshend Acts and the presence of the British soldiers there to enforce the new taxes resulting from those Acts gave way to violence that rang through the streets of Boston on that cold March day (bostonmassacre.net).
Following the French and Indian War, England needed a way to regain the money they had spent, and they saw the Townshend Acts as a way to do just that (Wallenfeldt). The Townshend Acts imposed direct revenue dutiesthat is, duties aimed not merely at regulating trade but at putting money into the British treasury. These were payable at colonial ports and fell on lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea (Wallenfeldt). Colonists found it difficult to support themselves along with paying for England’s war with France, and these taxes made them angry (bostonmassacre.net). It was the second time in the history of the colonies that a tax had been levied solely for the purpose of raising revenue (Wallenfeldt). After the Townshend Acts was passed, the colonists refused to buy any taxed products (Wallenfeldt). They started trying to make the British soldiers miserable by calling them names and destroying their property (Wallenfeldt). The soldiers felt that they needed protection from the colonists (Wallenfeldt).
Parliament answered British colonial authorities’ request for protection by dispatching the14th and 29th regiments of the British army to Boston, where they arrived in October 1768. The presence of those troops, however, heightened the tension in an already anxious environment (Wallenfeldt). On the evening of March 5, following a dispute between a British sentry and a colonist, an unruly crowd of colonists confronted eight British soldiers and their captain. The volatile crowd refused to obey orders to disperse and threw oyster shells, chunks of ice, and other objects at the soldiers (Wallenfeldt). In the confusion, one of the soldiers, who were then trapped by the patriot mob near the Customs House, was jostled and, in fear, discharged his musket. Other soldiers, thinking they had heard the command to fire, followed suit (Wallenfeldt). Five colonists, including Crispus Attucks, died (John Adams, Architect of American Government). Crispus Attucks was a black sailor who likely was a former slave (Wallenfeldt).
Hoping to prevent further violence, Lieut. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, who had been summoned to the scene and arrived shortly after the shooting had taken place, ordered Preston and his contingent back to their barracks, where other troops had their guns trained on the crowd (Wallenfeldt). Hutchinson then made his way to the balcony of the Old State House, from which he ordered the other troops back into the barracks and promised the crowd that justice would be done, calming the growing mob and bringing an uneasy peace to the city (Wallenfeldt).
By the next morning Preston and the seven soldiers that he led were under arrest as was the sentry whom they had sought to rescue. A town meeting produced a demand for the removal of all the troops, and by March 11 both the 14th and 29th regiments had decamped to Castle William in Boston Harbour (Wallenfeldt). Ninety-six people said they were eyewitnesses to the murder of the colonists by the British soldiers (Wallenfeldt). James Forrest, a British sympathizer, approached lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., to represent Forrest’s friend Preston and the other British defendants. Quincy and another colonial lawyer, Robert Auchmuty, Jr., agreed to take the case only if John Adams were part of the defense team (Wallenfeldt). A loyalist merchant came to Adams’s law office and asked that he defend Captain Preston and the soldiers against charges of murder. Although committed to freedom from British tyranny, Adams agreed. He believed that every person accused of a crime should have counsel and a fair trial (John Adams, Architect of American Government).
Nobody could have predicted the effect that the Townshend Acts and British occupation of the American colonies would have had. The British must have thought that it was their right to impose taxes on their own citizens. The colonists were probably thinking that moving to the colonies and separating from British rule was their right as people. As is common when humans think only from their own point of view, and not that of others, the effect of these opinions led to anger and frustration. That anger and frustration led to attacks on both opposing sides. Those attacks in turn led to violent acts resulting in death. Much can be learned from the mistakes of these two peoples. If we learn to respect others’ rights and treat others the way we would like to be treated, lives can be spared, respect can be earned, and peace can be attained.
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