In 1770 John Adams had upheld the English system of law by defending Captain Preston, who had been in command of the British Troops during the Boston Massacre. He and his legal team had built a strong case around Captain Preston’s and the soldiers’ natural right of self-defense in English law. The witnesses for the defense of the British officer were very different from the stories on the street, in the newspaper, or from the prosecution that had 94 depositions from people claiming to have witnessed the “murdering” of the citizens, viciously and without cause.
John Adams won the case based on the dying words of Patrick Carr to his doctor, John Jeffries. Jeffries testified that Carr told him he was: “”a native of Ireland, that he had frequently seen mobs, and soldiers called upon to quell them…he had seen soldiers often fire on the people in Ireland, but had never seen them bear half so much before they fired in his life” as the British soldiers had in Boston. Carr believed Preston and his soldiers acted in self-defense.
John Adams said, “We talk much of liberty and property, but if we cut up the law of self-defense, we cut away the foundation of both.” In summation he said, “Facts are stubborn things. And whatever may be our wishes, our inclination or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. Nor is the law less stable than the fact. The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady, undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations and wanton tempers of men. The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved””
When news of the Boston Tea Party reached London in early 1774, members of Parliament were enraged and determined to coerce the Americans into submission and promptly passed four “laws” which, had they applied to a foreign nation, would have been considered acts of war. Those four acts were known as the “Coercive Acts” and the first of them closed the port of harbor “until restitution was made to the Dutch East India Company for the tea.”
Other bills included the Massachusetts Government Act that limited town meetings in the colony to one a year; the Administration of Justice Act that set up a Royal Appointment Council, appointed by the King, to take the place of the Massachusetts councils elected by the people of the colony. The fourth bill was the Quartering Act that was passed to force the people within town limits in Massachusetts to house the British soldiers, instead of them being housed in garrisons. There would be no popular meetings or freedom of the press allowed. The colonists were to be ruled with unelected, crown appointed rulers that had dictatorial powers and an army, housed within the homes of Massachusetts citizens, to enforce the dictator chosen thousands of miles away by a king who had never set foot in the colonies.
By then a small group of elected leaders in the various colonies had begun communication with one another through a Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry that had been formed by a small group of Virginians under Thomas Jefferson. When that committee learned what had happened in Massachusetts, the Virginia House of Burgess put aside all other business and discussed the Crown’s treatment of Massachusetts and then passed a resolution setting apart the first day of June for a day of “fasting and prayer.”
The purpose of those prayers would be to “ask for divine intervention to avert the heavy calamity threatening destruction of our rights and all the evils of civil war; and to give the people one heart and one mind in firmly opposing every injury to American liberties.”
The day after the Virginia Resolution was passed, Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s Royal Governor, dissolved the elected House of Burgess. That action prompted other colonies to follow Virginia and Massachusetts’ lead and for George Washington to write to his friend, George William Fairfax:
“Members convened themselves at the Raleigh Tavern and created an association to take some vigorous and effectual measures to obtain that justice which is denied to our Petitions and Remonstrances and Prayers; in short the Ministry may rely on it that Americans will never be taxed without their own consent and despotic measures in respect to Boston will not be tolerated.”
Washington did not approve of the destruction of the tea, but on the other hand he also was “not prepared to be sacrificed by piece meal with a cruel and blood thirsty enemy upon our backs, the Indians, between whom and our frontier inhabitants many skirmishes have happened and with whom a general war is inevitable whilst those from whom we have a right to see protection are endeavoring by every piece of art and despotism to fix the shackles of slavery upon us.”