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American Political and Social History I

Readings

Watch these portions of the John Adams HBO miniseries:

  1. The Boston Massacre

  2. The Trial

This is a Map Overlay of a hand-drawn map of the massacre site over current-day Boston.  Zoom out to see where the massacre took place in modern Boston, and use the sliders to fade the map in and out of visibility.  Use the buttons on the left side to get more detail about the map.  Where did the incident take place in relationship to other landmarks in Boston?  What is difficult to understand about the incident if we rely only on this map?

This image is an engraving made after the incident by Paul Revere.  How are the British and the Americans portrayed?  What is Revere's position on the incident, and how can we tell from this image?  Who was the intended audience for this image and what was its purpose?  (This painting gives a clearer portrayal of the square where the massacre took place)

Thomas Preston, the commander of the British unit, and six of the British soldiers involved were found not guilty, while two were found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter and were punished with a brand on the thumb.  John Adams, revolutionary leader and second President, successfully argued the defense that no one had heard Preston give the order to fire.  

Adams later said of the trial that “The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. 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.”

Do you think Preston and the British soldiers were rightfully aquitted?  Read through Day One and Day Two of the trial for evidence to support your position.  In class on Friday you will be asked to argue your position to convict or acquit Preston and the British soldiers.

Readings