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Page 2

John Adams

1735-1826


 

Beginning of Legal Carreer

In 1758 he was admitted to the bar, and commenced business in Braintree. He is understood to have made his first considerable effort, or to have obtained his most signal success, at Plymouth, in a jury trial, and criminal cause. In 1765, Mr. Adams laid before the public his "Essay on the Canon and Feudal Law," a work distinguished for its power and eloquence. The object of this work was to show, that our New-England ancestors, in consenting to excile themselves from their native land, were actuated mainly by the desire of delivering themselves from the power of the hierarchy, and from the monarchical, aristocratical, and political system of their continent; and to make this truth bear with effect on the politics of the times. Its tone is uncommonly bold and animated for that period. He calls on the people not only to defend, but to study and understand their rights and privileges; and urges earnestly the necessity of diffusing general knowledge.
   In conclusion, He exclaims, "let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thraldom[sic] to our consciences, from ignorance, extreme poverty and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us, the true map of man -- let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God! that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God, as it is derogatory from our own honour, or interest, of happiness; and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good will to man.
   "Let the bar proclaim the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power delivered down from remote antiquity; inform the world of the mighty struggles and numberless sacrifices made by our ancestors in the defence of freedom. Let it be known that the British liberties are not the grants of princes of parliaments, but original rights, conditions of original contracts, coequal with prerogative, and coeval with government. That many of our rights are inherent and essential, agreed on as maxims and established as preliminaries even before a parliament existed. Let them search for the foundation of British laws and government in the frame of human nature, in the constitution of the intellectual and moral world. There let us see that truth, liberty, justice, and benevolence, are its everlasting basis; and if these could be removed, the superstructure is overthrown of course.
   "Let the colleges join their harmony in the same delightful concert. Let every declamation turn upon the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity, turpitude, and malignity of slavery and vice. Let the public disputations become researches into the grounds, nature, and ends of government, and the means of preserving the good and demolishing the evil. Let the dialogues and all the exercises become the instruments of impressing on the tender mind, and of spreading and distributing far and wide the ideas of right, and the sensations of freedom."
   In 1766, Mr. Adams removed his residence to Boston, still continuing his attendance on the neighboring circuits, and was often called to remote parts of the province.
 
The Boston Massacre
   In 1770 occurred, as has already been noticed, the "Boston massacre." Mr. Adams was solicited by the British officers and soldiers to undertake their defence, on the indictment found against them, for their share in that tragical scene. This was a severe test of his professional firmness. He was well aware of the popular indignation against these prisoners, and he was at that time a representative of Boston in the general court, an office which depended entirely upon popular favour. But he knew that is was due to his profession, and to himself, to undertake their defence, and to hazard the consequences. "The trial was well managed. The captain was severed in his trial from the soldiers, who were tried first, and their defence rested in part upon the orders, real or supposed, given by the officer to his men to fire. This was in a good measure successful. On the trial of Capt. Preston, no such order to fire could be proved. The result was, as it should have been, an acquittal. It was a glorious thing that the counsel and jury had nerve sufficient to breast the torrent of public feeling. It showed Britain that she had not a mere mob to deal with, but resolute and determined men, who could restrain themselves. Such men are dangerous to arbitrary power."
   The event proved, that as he judged well for his own reputation, so he judged well for the interest and permanent fame of his country. The same year he was elected one of the representatives in the general assembly, and honor to which the people would not have called him, had he lost their confidence and affection.
   In the year 1773, and 1774, he was chosen a counsellor by the members of the general court; but was rejected by Governor Hutchinson, in the former of these years, and by Governor Gage, in the latter.
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Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified July 21, 2008