On the evening of March 5, 1770, a crowd of Bostonian citizens gathered and began taunting a British soldier. Reinforcements under the command of Captain Thomas Preston arrived to support the soldier. In the ensuing confrontation the British soldiers opened fire, killing five of the colonists. This event became known in American history as "the Boston massacre."
The citizens of Boston were outraged by what they perceived to be outrageous conduct by the British soldiers and Captain Preston and his soldiers were indicted for murder. The anti-British feeling was so high that no lawyer would defend the soldiers. John Adams, a vocal critic of the British occupation and later President of the United States, recognizing a lawyer's duty to provide an adequate defense for even the most despised of defendants, came forward and represented the soldiers in the ensuing trial. At the conclusion of the trial all but two of the soldiers were acquitted. The two soldiers who were convicted were founds guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
Adams wrote in his diary, "The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently."