Wednesday, March 05, 2014
The Right To Defense
If, by supporting the Rights of Mankind, and of invincible Truth, I shall contribute to save from the Agonies of Death one unfortunate Victim of Tyranny, or of Ignorance, equally fatal; his Blessing and Tears of Transport, will be a sufficient Consolation to me, for the Contempt of all Mankind.
- John Adams, quoting Cesare, Marchese di Beccaria in his diary (June 28, 1770)
So today's the Boston Massacre anniversary. John Adams recalled years later:
Endeavors had been systematically pursued for many months, by certain busy characters, to excite quarrels, rencounters, and combats, single or compound, in the night, between the inhabitants of the lower class and the soldiers, and at all risks to enkindle an immortal hatred between them. I suspected that this was the explosion which had been intentionally wrought up by designing men, who knew what they were aiming at better than the instruments employed.
If these poor tools should be prosecuted for any of their illegal conduct, they must be punished. If the soldiers in self-defence should kill any of them, they must be tried, and, if truth was respected and the law prevailed, must be acquitted. To depend upon the perversion of law, and the corruption or partiality of juries, would insensibly disgrace the jurisprudence of the country and corrupt the morals of the people. It would be better for the whole people to rise in their majesty, and insist on the removal of the army, and take upon themselves the consequences, than to excite such passions between the people and the soldiers as would expose both to continual prosecution, civil or criminal, and keep the town boiling in a continual fermentation. The real and full intentions of the British government and nation were not yet developed; and we knew not whether the town would be supported by the country; whether the Province would be supported by even our neighboring States of New England; nor whether New England would be supported by the continent. These were my meditations in the night.
I'm sure he at least had the case of Ebenezer Richardson in the back of his mind when writing that first graf. And perhaps that's part of the reason why Adams took on the defense of British soldiers.
His co-counsel, Josiah Quincy, Jr, argued on December 3, 1770 (from which the HBO miniseries appears to have taken Adams' court speeches):
[T]he law has planted fences and barriers around every individual; it is a castle round every man's person, as well as his house. As the love of God and our neighbor comprehends the whole duty of man, so self-love and social comprehend all the duties we owe to mankind, and the first branch is self-love, which is not only our indisputable right, but our clearest duty; by the laws of nature, this is interwoven in the heart of every individual; God Almighty, whose laws we cannot alter, has implanted it there, and we can annihilate ourselves, as easily as root out this affection for ourselves. It is the first and strongest principle in our nature; Blackstone calls it "the primary canon in the law of nature."
That precept of our holy religion, which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, doth not command us to love our neighbor better than ourselves, or so well; no christian divine hath given this interpretation. The precept enjoins, that our benevolence to our fellow men should be as real and sincere as our affections to ourselves, not that it should be as great in degree.
A man is authorized, therefore, by common sense, and the laws of England, as well as those of nature, to love himself better than his fellow subject; if two persons are cast away at sea, and get on a plank (a case put by Sir Francis Bacon), and the plank is insufficient to hold them both, the one hath a right to push the other off to save himself. The rules of the common law, therefore, which authorize a man to preserve his own life at the expense of another's are not contradicted by any divine or moral law.
We talk of liberty and property, but, if we cut up the law of self-defense, we cut up the foundation of both, and if we give up this, the rest is of very little value; and, therefore, this principle must be strictly attended to, for whatsoever the law pronounces in the case of these eight soldiers will be the law to other persons and after ages. It would have been better if all the persons that have slain mankind in this country, from the beginning to this day, had been acquitted, than that a wrong rule and precedent should be established.
An Englishmans dwelling House is his Castle. The Law has erected a Fortification round it—and as every Man is Party to the Law, i.e. the Law is a Covenant of every Member of society with every other Member, therefore every Member of Society has entered into a solemn Covenant with every other that he shall enjoy in his own dwelling House as compleat a security, safety and Peace and Tranquility as if it was surrounded with Walls of Brass, with Ramparts and Palisadoes and defended with a Garrison and Artillery.—This covenant has been broken in a most outragious manner. We are all bound then to make good to the Plaintiff his Damages.Every English[man] values himself exceedingly, he takes a Pride and he glories justly in that strong Protection, that sweet Security, that delightfull Tranquillity which the Laws have thus secured to him in his own House, especially in the Night. Now to deprive a Man of this Protection, this quiet and Security in the dead of Night, when himself and Family confiding in it are asleep, is treat[ing] him not like an Englishman not like a Freeman but like a Slave—like a miserable Turk, or Tartar. Is not this a base Affront? No Man who has a Soul, who has the Spirit of a Man in him can ever after during his whole Life, ever forget such an Indignity, tho he may forgive it. He can never think of it without Pain of Mind, without Impatience, Anger, Resentment, Shame and Grief.
Anyway, back to the Massacre. Adams wrote of a commemoration on March 5, 1773:
Heard an oration, at Mr. Hunt’s meeting-house, by Dr. Benjamin Church, in commemoration of the massacre in King Street three years ago. That large church was filled and crowded in every pew, seat, alley, and gallery, by an audience of several thousands of people, of all ages and characters, and of both sexes.
I have reason to remember that fatal night. The part I took in defence of Captain Preston and the soldiers procured me anxiety and obloquy 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.
This, however, is no reason why the town should not call the action of that night a massacre; nor is it any argument in favor of the Governor or Minister who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest of proofs of the danger of standing armies.
Naturally, they held these events annually as reminders of British perfidy and rally the People. The scene when the powder keg was really ready to explode, just weeks before Lexington and Concord:
On the morning of March 6, 1775, Joseph Warren, a physician-turned-revolutionary leader, stopped his one-chair carriage in front of Boston's Old South Church. Warren climbed down from the carriage, followed by a servant holding a small bundle. The two men crossed the street and entered an apothecary's shop. When Warren came out of the store he wore a Roman toga. He now crossed the street once more and burst into the swarming Old South to deliver the fourth annual Boston Massacre oration.
Revolutionary oratory was about much more than spoken words; it was also about a delicately formulated theatrical apparatus whose purpose was to transform mere speech into moving performance. For if there was one thing Revolutionary orators knew, it was that if you wanted to move people to action, you had to touch something deep within them. Taking their cues from the tradition of great Roman orators such as Cicero, they thus deployed a range of imagery designed to excite listeners' passions. Only in doing so, these orators came to believe, could the disagreement with Britain be transformed from a legal and constitutional matter to a matter for the passions—a matter of injustice, of dishonor, and of familial disgrace. As the reception of his oration suggests, Warren was a master of these techniques.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to know just what Warren's oratorical arsenal consisted of. Even though thousands attended the massacre oration, and we have several accounts of Warren's performance, reconstructing the event remains difficult. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned about Boston's mobilization for revolution from the events surrounding this singular act of public speaking.
"This day," the Boston Evening Post informed its readers on March 6, 1775, "an Oration will be delivered by Joseph Warren Esq., in commemoration of the bloody tragedy on the 5th of March 1770." But observant Bostonians recognized that this would not be just another commemorative address. The British forces now stationed in the city, Samuel Adams noted, were likely to resent any insinuation that their actions had been barbaric and would surely "take the occasion to beat up a Breeze." A later account reported that there was a "threat uttered by some of the British officers, that they would take the life of any man who should dare to speak of the massacre on that anniversary."
In his diary, Massachusetts royal governor Thomas Hutchinson recalled a larger assassination plot during Warren's oration. An English officer, according to Hutchinson, reported that if during the meeting Warren would say "anything against the King, etc., an officer was prepared, who stood near with an egg, to have thrown in his face; and that it was to have been a signal to draw swords; and that they would have massacred Hancock, Adams, and hundreds more." The Virginia Gazette, reprinting a report in a London newspaper, elaborated on the awkward egg episode, claiming that "this scheme was rendered abortive in the most whimsical manner, for he who was deputed to throw the egg fell in going to church . . . and broke the egg." Tensions clearly ran high as March 6 approached.
The presence of a large crowd, including British soldiers, seems one of the few undisputed facts regarding the oration's unfolding. A nineteenth-century biographer of Warren recalled that "many people came to town from the country to take part in the commemoration," and Frederick MacKenzie, a British officer, reported at the time that an "immense concourse of people" assembled at the Old South building for the occasion. Both patriots and loyalists acknowledged the presence of redcoats in the crowd, and both confirmed the obvious point that for them this was a most offensive and most disrespectful occasion. Samuel Adams claimed to treat the "many . . . officers present" with civility as he showed them to their seats, so "that they might have no pretence to behave ill."
The Boston Gazette, a radical patriot publication, labeled the "party of soldiers" at the Old South "perpetrators," claiming they came to harass the congregating Bostonians. Frederick MacKenzie claimed that "the troops conceived it was a great insult under the present circumstances, to deliver an oration on the occasion." Thus "a great number of officers," which Hutchinson estimated at three hundred, "assembled in the church and seemed determined to take notice of, and resent any expressions made use of by the Orator, reflecting on the Military." The hall was overcrowded, the audience filling the aisles, while the soldiers occupied the stairs, perhaps hoping to scare Warren into silence. Whether they were "many," a "party," or "a great number," as different accounts claimed, the presence of fuming British redcoats among the packed patriot crowd must have added an ominous sense to the impending drama.
But Warren would not be intimidated. In fact, if contemporary accounts are correct, his chosen attire—the plain white Roman toga—established a dramatic contrast between the speaker and his redcoat antagonists. It was almost as if Warren knew they would be there and chose the garment precisely to antagonize them. As they sat stiffly in their heavy red wool coats—the sartorial definition of Britishness—he would hold forth, in the flowing freedom of his billowing white garment—the sartorial definition of ancient, primordial virtue. Of course the garment's color was not its only distinctive quality. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find clothing more unlike that of these British soldiers.
So you see, "politicizing tragedy" is a long-standing tradition. As is self-defense, and the right of everybody to have legal representation. Liberty can be messy.
March 5, 2014 | Permalink
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Also, Turks have no souls.
Posted by: dirk gently, sociopathetic | Mar 5, 2014 10:28:58 AM