It's the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, which took place on a cold and snowy night in 1770. British soldiers had occupied Boston for 18 months to protect the tax collectors for the king of England. There had been several street fights between soldiers and townsmen since the beginning of the month, so tensions were already high on the evening of March 5th. The "massacre" itself was touched off by an argument between a young barber's apprentice and a British officer about payment for a haircut. The barber's apprentice claimed that the officer had not paid, and the soldier reportedly knocked the kid down in the street.
A crowd of young men gathered and soldiers came out into the street. The growing crowd taunted the soldiers, and threw ice and oysters at them. When the soldiers brandished their weapons, the crowd dared them to shoot, and they did. When the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying — Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, and Christopher Monk — and three more were injured. It was hardly a massacre, but the revolutionary members of the colonies played it up as much as they could.
A town committee wrote a pamphlet called A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,and Paul Revere made an engraving of the incident, showing the British soldiers lining up like an organized army to suppress the colonist uprising. Printed under the engraving were verses that described the soldiers as "fierce barbarians grinning over their prey."
The soldiers were put on trial, and the man chosen to represent them was the American patriot John Adams. He didn't support the British, but he was told that no one else would take the case, and he believed that all men deserve a good defense under the law.
He struggled to come up with a way of defending the soldiers without defending the crown, and on the day of the trial he argued that neither the British soldiers nor the mob of people were to blame for the violence. Instead, he claimed it was the British policy of using soldiers to keep the peace in Boston that was to blame. He said: "Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one. They are wretched conservators of the peace."
Adams managed to get most of the soldiers acquitted. Only two were convicted of manslaughter. Adams's reputation suffered a little in the aftermath. He lost many of his clients. But there were no riots in the days following the verdict, and eventually the case became a famous example of Adams's extraordinary fairness and good judgment.