VINDEX – January 21, 1771


[Boston Gazette, January 21, 1771.]


As the lives of five of his Majesty’s subjects were unfairly lost on the evening of the 5th of March last, it follows that some persons must have been in fault:

The unhappy sufferers, for ought that has ever appeared, were in the peace of God and the King; let theirmemories then, so far at least as respects this matter, remain unreproach’d. It appeared by the evidence incourt, that all the prisoners were present in king street; that they all discharg’d their musquets but one, and his flush’d in the pan; and that the deceas’d were all kill’d by musquet balls. Six of the prisoners were acquitted by the jury, and two were found guilty of manslaughter. In ordinary cases, the publick ought to rest satisfied, with the verdict of a jury; a method of trial, which an Englishman glories in as his greatest security: It is a method peculiar to the English; and as a great writer observes, has been a probable means of their having supported their liberties thro’ so many ages past: Among the most substantial advantages arising from trials by juries, there is this incidental one, in this province especially; that by our laws, no man being oblig’d to serve as a juryman more than once in three years, it falls upon the freemen as it were by rotation; by this means, the people in general are in their turns called to that important trust; by attending in courts of law and justice, it is to be presum’d that their minds are there impress’d with a sense of justice; and that they gain that general idea of right or law, which it is necessary that all men in a free country should have. “It is an admirable institution, by which every citizen may be plac’d in a situation, that enables him to contribute to the great end of society, the distributing justice; and it every where diffuses a spirit of true patriotism, which is zealously employed for the publick welfare.” I am not about to arraign the late jurors before the bar of the publick: They are accountable to God and their own consciences, and in their day of trial, may God send them good deliverance. But in times when politicks run high, we find by the experience of past ages, it is difficult to ascertain the truth even in a court of law: At such times, witnesses will appear to contradict each other in the most essential points of fact; and a cool conscientious spectator is apt to shudder for fear of perjury: If the jurors are strangers to the characters of the several witnesses, it may be too late for them to make the enquiry, when they are upon their seats: The credibility of a witness perhaps cannot be impeac’d in court, unless he has been convicted of perjury: But an immoral man, for instance one who will commonly prophane the name of his maker, certainly cannot be esteemed of equal credit by a jury, with one who fears to take that sacred name in vain: It is impossible he should in the mind of any man: Therefore, when witnesses substantially differ in their relation of the same facts, unless the jury are acquainted with their different characters, they must be left to meer chance to determine which to believe; the consequence of which, may be fatal to the life of the prisoner, or to the justice of the cause, or perhaps both. It was for this reason, that I was concern’d, when the council for the crown objected the notoriety of the immoral character of a witness, that he was stopped by one of the council on the other side. In a court of justice, it is beneath any character to aim at victory and triumph: Truth, and truth alone is to be sought after.

While the soldiers were passing from the main guard to the custom- house, it did not appear by any of the witnesses, that they were molested by the people; if we except what was mention’d, as having been said by Mr. Car, one of the deceased persons: His doctor testified, that he told him, the “people pelted them as they went along”. – The declaration of a dying man commonly carries much weight, and oftentimes, possibly more than it ought: This man’s declaration was not made upon oath, nor in the presence of a magistrate: The doctor had a curiosity, as most had, to know how matters were, and enquired of his patient who he thought could inform him; it may be, not expecting to be called to relate it before a court, nine months afterwards, when he might have nothing but memory to recur to: No one disputes the doctor’s understanding or integrity: I have before said, that others were ready to testify, that Car gave them a very different account from that which he gave to his doctor: It ought to be remembered, that the unhappy man was laboring under the pains and anxiety occasioned by a mortal wound; and might not be able at all times to attend duly to such questions as were asked him: What makes it highly probable that he must have been mistaken, is, that among the many witnesses, not one on either side, mention’d their seeing the least ill usage offer’d to the soldiers as they pass’d from the main guard; not even Mr. Gridley, whose declared intention was, at the request of some gentlemen, with whom he had been in company, to

It is agreed by the witnesses for the prisoners, who mention’d their seeing the soldiers upon their first coming down, that they loaded their guns, levelled them at the people & began to insult & abuse them, (as indeed they did upon their march); before any just provocation had been offer’d to them. – Mr. Hinckley saw the party come down – they loaded – push’d their bayonets and pricked the people – Mr. Wilkinson also saw the party come down; did not see anything thrown at them, tho’ he stood at two or three yards distance – Mr. Murray said they came down and cried make way – Andrew declared, that the party planted themselves at the custom- house – the people gave three cheers – he heard one of the soldiers say, damn you stand back – one of them had like to have prick’d a man as he was passing by, and swore by God he would stab him – several persons were talking with the captain, and a number pressing on to hear what they said; one of the persons talking with the officer said “he is going to fire”; the people shouted and said, he dare not fire; and then they began to throw snow balls. Even by Andrews account, the people were rather curious to know what the soldiers design’d to do, than intent upon doing them any hurt, untill they were assaulted by them; which I am apt to think is true; because Newtown Prince, another Negro, of whom for my own part I conceive a better opinion than of Andrew, declared, that the Soldiers planted themselves in a circle – their guns breast high -and, the people crowded on, to speak with Capt. Preston – and further, several of the witnesses swore that they themselves talked with the Captain, and one of them caution’d him against firing – Capt. Preston himself also in his printed state of his case says, that he reasoned with “some well behav’d persons”: To show that “as he was advanced before the muzzels of their pieces, he must fall a sacrifice if they fired ” -and that his ordering them to fire “upon the half cock and charged bayonets would prove him no officer”; all which might be true, and yet in my humble opinion not quite so “satisfactory” as the answer which he afterwards gave to the Lieutenant Governor; for he might, I suppose, in an instant shift his station, and the soldiers, by a proper word of Command, might discharge their musquets without his falling a sacrifice or forfeiting the character of a soldier – Such a manner of reasoning upon their question, whether he intended to order the men to fire, was evasive; and may serve to show Captain Preston’s opinion, that however well behav’d these gentlemen were, they were no Soldiers.

I shall now take notice of what the witnesses for the crown testified concerning the behavior of the Soldiers, upon their first arrival at the custom-house. Mr. Austin saw the party come down; the captain was with them; McCauley, one of the prisoners, loaded his gun, push’d at him with his bayonet and damn’d him – He did not observe the people press on – Mr. Bridgham declared, that about a dozen surrounded the Soldiers and struck their guns with their sticks: But he also said the Soldiers were loading at the same time – He further added, that he did not apprehend himself or the Soldiers in any danger by any thing he saw, from whence it may be suppos’d, that as the people struck their guns only, when they might as easily have have knocked them down, their intention was not to hurt them, but rather to prevent their loading – Mr. Brewer saw the party come down – told Captain Preston that every body was about dispersing; in which he agreed with another witness, who was of the opinion that the people would have dispers’d if the Soldiers had not come down; Mr. Brewer added, that Killroi, one of the prisoners, struck him with his bayonet before they formed, and that he saw no blows and nothing thrown before the firing – Mr. Bailey testified, that when the party came down, Carrol one of the prisoners put his bayonet to his breast. Mr. Wilkinson stood at about two yards distance from the Soldiers all the while they were there – He saw no ice nor snow balls thrown; in which he agreed with Mr. Austin – Mr. Fosdick testified, that he was push’d as the party came down – that afterwards they wounded him in the breast – two different bayonets were thrust into his arm – all this while there had been no blows that he saw, nor did he know the cause of their firing – Mr. Palmes saw Capt. Preston at the head of the Soldiers who were drawn up with their guns breast high and their bayonets fixed; and Preston told him they were loaded with powder and ball – I think I have mentioned all the witnesses, who testified in court to what they saw upon the first arrival of the party at the customhouse: And by their testimonies the reader will judge, whether the Soldiers had just provocation to fire upon the people; or whether they were in danger of their lives or had any reason to think they were: On the contrary, whether they did not themselves first assault the people as they were coming from the main guard; and afterwards, by levelling their guns loaded with ball in an exasperating manner at the people; pushing their bayonets at some of them, wounding others and threatning all, even before any injury had been offer’d to them.

I shall conclude what I have to say upon this interesting subject in my next. In the mean time let me assure Philanthrop, that I am fully of his mind, that a true patriot “will not from private views, or by any ways or means foment and cherish groundless fears and jealousies”: But perhaps we may not be so well agreed inour determination, when the fears and jealousies of our fellow citizens are groundless – It is I believe the general opinion of judicious men, that at present there are good grounds to apprehend a settled design to enslave and ruin the colonies; and that some men of figure and station in America, have adopted the plan, and would gladly lull the people to sleep, the easier to put it in execution: But I believe Philanthrop would be far from acknowledging that he is of that opinion. The fears and jealousies of the people are not always groundless: And when they become general, it is not to be presum’d that they are; for the people in general seldom complain, without some good reason. The inhabitants of this continent are not to be dup’d “by an artful use of the words liberty and slavery, in an application to their passions,” as Philanthrop would have us think they are; like the miserable Italians, who are cheated with the names ” Excommunication, Bulls, Crusades,” &c. They can distinguish between “realities and sounds”; and by a proper use “of that reason which Heaven has given them “, they can judge, as well as their betters, when there is danger of slavery. They have as high a regard for George the III. as others have, & yet can suppose it possible they may be made slaves, without “enslaving themselves by their own folly and madness”; They can believe, that men who “are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, born and bred among us,” may, like Achan, for a wedge of gold, detach themselves from the common interest, and embark in another bottom; in hopes that they, “with their wives and children” will one day stand and see, and enjoy, and triumph, in the ruins of their country: Such instances there have been frequently in times past; and I dare not say, we have not at present, reason enough for “exclaiming with the roman patriot, 0 tempora, 0 mores “. The true patriot therefore, will enquire into the causes of the fears and jealousies of his countrymen; and if he finds they are not groundless, he will be far from endeavoring to allay or stifle them: On the contrary, constrain’d by the Amor Patrae, and from public views, he will by all proper means in his power foment and cherish them: He will, as far as he is able, keep the attention of his fellow citizens awake to their grievances; and not suffer them to be at rest, till the causes of their just complaints are removed. – At such a time Philanthrop’s Patriot may be “very cautious of charging the want of ability or integrity to those with whom any of the powers of government are entrusted”: But the true patriot, will constantly be jealous of those very men: Knowing that power, especially in times of corruption, makes men wanton; that it intoxicates the mind; and unless those with whom it is entrusted, are carefully watched, such is the weakness or the perverseness of human nature, they will be apt to domineer over the people, instead of governing them, according to the known laws of the state, to which alone they have submitted. If he finds, upon the best enquiry, the want of ability or integrity; that is, an ignorance of, or a disposition to depart from, the constitution, which is the measure and rule of government & submission, he will point them out, and loudly proclaim them: He will stir up the people,incessantly to complain of such men, till they are either reform’d, or remov’d from that sacred trust, which it is dangerous for them any longer to hold. -Philanthrop may tell us of the hazard “of disturbing and inflaming the minds of the multitude whose passions know no bounds”: A traitor to the constitution alone can dread this: The multitude I am speaking of, is the body of the people – no contemptible multitude – for whose sake government is instituted; or rather, who have themselves erected it, solely for their own good – to whom even kings and all in subordination to them, are strictly speaking, servants and not masters. “The constitution and its laws are the basis of the public tranquility – the firmest support of the public authority, and the pledge of the liberty of the citizens: But the constitution is a vain Phantom, and the best laws are useless, if they are not religiously observed. The nation ought then to watch, and the true patriot will watch very attentively, in order to render them equally respected, by those who govern, and the people destin’d to obey ” – To violate the laws of the state is a capital crime; and if those guilty of it, are invested with authority, they add to this crime, a perfidious abuse of the power with which they are entrusted: “The nation therefore, the people, ought to suppress those abuses with their utmost care & vigilance” – This is the language of a very celebrated author, whom I dare say, Philanthrop is well acquainted with, and will acknowledge to be an authority.

Philanthrop, I think, speaks somewhat unintelligibly, when he tells us that the well being and happiness of the whole depends upon subordination; as if mankind submitted to government, for the sake of being subordinate: In the state of nature there was subordination: The weaker was by force made to bow down to the more powerful. This is still the unhappy lot of a great part of the world, under government: So among the brutal herd, the strongest horns are the strongest laws. Mankind have entered into political societies, rather for the sake of restoring equality; the want of which, in the state of nature, rendered existence uncomfortable and even dangerous. I am not of levelling principles: But I am apt to think, that constitution of civil government which admits equality in the most extensive degree, consistent with the true design of government, is the best; and I am of this opinion, because I agree with Philanthrop and many others, that man is a social animal. Subordination is necessary to promote the purposes of government; the grand design of which is, that men might enjoy a greater share of the blessings resulting from that social nature, and those rational powers, with which indulgent Heaven has endow’d us, than they could in the state of nature: But there is a degree of subordination, which will for ever be abhorrent to the generous mind; when it is extended to the very borders, if not within the bounds of slavery: A subordination, which is so far from conducing “to the welfare and happiness of the whole”, that it necessarily involves the idea of that worst of all the evils of this life, a tyranny: An abject servility, which instead of “being essential to our existence as a people,” disgraces the human nature, and sinks it to that of the most despicable brute.

I cannot help thinking, that the reader must have observed in Philanthrop’s last performance, that a foundation is there laid for a dangerous superstructure: and that from his principles, might easily be delineated a plan of despotism, which however uncommon it may be, for the laws and constitution of the state to be openly and boldly oppos’d, our enemies have long threatened to establish by violence. If Philanthrop upon retrospection shall think so, he will, like a prudent physician, administer an antidote for the poison: If not, I hope the attention of others will be awakened to that excellent maxim, “no less essential in politicks than in morals”, principiis obsta. It is impolitick to make the first attempt to enslave mankind by force: This strikes the imagination, and is alarming: “Important changes insensibly happen: It is against silent & slow attacks that a nation ought to be particularly on its guard.”


Jan. 15th.

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