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John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father's Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre Murder Trial Hardcover – Illustrated, March 3, 2020
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“This engrossing account of 18th century legal procedure and the colorful individuals involved in the colonies’ most celebrated trial delivers another boost to John Adams’s rising reputation.” -HistoryNet
"Abrams and Fisher mine details about court proceedings from the era as well as incidents enflaming the raucous, rebellious mood in Boston." -Valdosta Daily Times
“Those interested in trial case or the Revolutionary War time period will enjoy this look into history and at a trial that hasn’t been covered much before.” -Parkersburg News & Sentinel
"The authors do a remarkable job of spinning the court transcripts into a fascinating tale of intrigue and underscoring the men and the issues at play." -Fredericksburg Book Review
“A marvelous narrative. … John Adams Under Fire fills an important void in the life of Massachusetts’ most beloved patriot.” —Virginia Gazette
- Publisher : Hanover Square Press; Original edition (March 3, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1335015922
- ISBN-13 : 978-1335015921
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.26 x 1.06 x 9.23 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #134,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Adams was a thirty-four-year-old Boston attorney when he agreed to defend the British soldiers who either committed an unprovoked massacre of peaceful Boston citizens, or were defending themselves from a mob. The officer in charge was tried separately from the rest of the soldiers. By sheer good fortune a transcript still exists from the second trial.
Dan Abrams, the author of this book, also wrote a fabulous book to which I gave a glowing review, called “Lincoln’s Last Trial.” It was a trial in which Abraham Lincoln was the defense attorney, and a transcript in shorthand still existed from it. How Abrams finds these marvelous documents is beyond me, but I am super-grateful that he does because the books he writes are fascinating.
I enjoyed this book very much. Some people apparently thought that the details of the trials were tedious; I must be a legal nerd, I thought they were interesting. I was interested in the effects of the trials on the local citizenry, as well as on American jurisprudence. I admit, my husband and son-in-law are lawyers, so I may be inured to legal talk!
I can happily recommend this book to anyone interested in American history (or British history, come to that), or American jurisprudence, or anyone interested in reading a true account of a well-known but little understood pivotal moment in the run-up to the American War for Independence. I hope that the author has another historical work in mind.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC. The opinions are my own.
The book proceeds chronologically. First there is an introductory discussion of the Boston colony and the massacre. Why were 2,000 British troops there in the first place? Then a couple of chapters are devoted to Adams, his practice and writings, and his involvement in opposing British rule. Nonetheless, the authors probe why he took on the defense of Captain Preston and his seven soldiers in two separate trials even though this might severely damage his practice. Since revenge rather than justice was what Boston seemed to be demanding.
The authors first discuss the trial of Captain Preston. There was no official transcript kept of this trial (or many other trials), so the description is less detailed than the second trial account. One of the interesting things to me was how the lawyers tried to educate the jurors as to legal concepts. Writers on English law such as Blackstone, were relied upon. Having a defense lawyer conducting a trial was a rare event at this time. In fact the Adams defensive team was comprised of three lawyers; in addition there we four judges presiding. What was to come in the second trial was strongly suggested here: much testimony with a lot of conflicts. Adams was able to convince the jury that the prosecution never proved that Preston gave the order for his troops to "fire." He was acquitted.
The second trial is the core of the book. The authors are fortunate because someone had paid a private wordsmith to create some manner of transcript for this trial. This book is somewhat unique in that the author's discuss the testimony given by a very large number of witnesses--not just a summary. There was little physical evidence, so the testimony was the key thing. This can get a bit numbing for the reader since there are many discrepancies in the testimony which the authors identify. Key issues come up again and again: who shot whom, when, did the mob threaten the soldiers sufficiently to justify self defense, did the mob heave a great deal of material at the soldiers before they fired, and was the mob made up of local citizens (a point Adams wisely stayed away from) or was it composed of "rabble" and armed sailors looking for trouble Though making one's way through all this testimony can be daunting, it shows you the challenges Adams faced in defending these troops.
I was surprised in the scholarly arguments Adams made. He read frequently out of leading English legal works and threw quite a lot of complex legal issues at the jurors. But going into these issues in depth, and Adams is quoted extensively, gives the reader a much better grasp of the issues. It was also interesting to see the four judges charge the jurors, in the typical English fashion of the day by discussing substantive issues of fact or hinting at what parts of the evidence they found convincing. Only two soldiers were convicted, not of murder but of manslaughter. These two argued for "benefit of clergy" since they could read, and got off with being branded on their thumbs.Adams therefore prevailed, but as the authors explain, so too did the rule of law at this early point in American history. My only criticism of the book is that it lacks any notes, though a solid bibliography is attached.
The trial parts in particular simply overwhelmed me. I could never have sat on either of these juries. This book found me dozing and I finally gave up on it. I did find out that both the British officer in charge and the British soldiers were both found not guilty.
Simply put, this book overwhelmed me. I'm being generous with two stars based solely on my interest level and not due to any lack of scholarship on the author's part.