A lawyer looks at a jury and takes a deep breath. He is going to finish his closing argument in a mass murder trial: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defense.” The lawyer and his clients are worried during deliberations. After all, the eight are accused of killing five people. A city rioted because of what they did. The jury comes back with a verdict of not guilty for six of the lawyer’s clients, and manslaughter for the remaining two.
On that frigid afternoon in Boston, December 4, 1770, the scene unfolded. John Adams, a diminutive figure, directs his gaze toward his clients, garbed in the distinctive crimson coats symbolizing their service to the British Empire. As he shifts his attention to the courtroom gallery, he confronts the seething countenances of the numerous Sons of Liberty and the grieving families of those whose lives his clients extinguished. Within him, an apprehensive unease grows, anticipating the conversation that awaits him with his cousin, Sam Adams, the brewer and revered founder of the Sons of Liberty, an organization often credited with igniting the flames of the American Revolutionary War. John Adams already knows precisely what he will say, “I have a duty to uphold the law, whatever the consequences.”