Thoughts from two of Boston’s greatest figures in the enduring struggle for justice and liberty. The first is a set of lines from John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem on the Boston Massacre of March, 1770. He reminds us of the meaning of the sacrifice: “streams of severed races in the well of a nation meet!” Among them Irishman Patrick Carr and the best-known victim, African-American Crispus Attucks.
The second is John Adams’s reflections on the meaning of justice and the importance of a broad view of justice — social and procedural — for the City and the nation then just in conception.
John Boyle O’Reilly:
“WHERE shall we seek for a hero, and where shall we find a story?
Our laurels are wreathed for conquest, our songs for completed glory.
But we honor a shrine unfinished, a column uncapped with pride,
If we sing the deed that was sown like seed when Crispus Attucks died.
Shall we take for a sign this Negro slave with unfamiliar name—
With his poor companions, nameless too, till their lives leaped forth in flame?
Yea, surely, the verdict is not for us, to render or deny;
We can only interpret the symbol; God chose these men to die—
As teachers and types, that to humble lives may chief award be made;
That from lowly ones, and rejected stones, the temple’s base is laid!
When the bullets leaped from the British guns, no chance decreed their aim;
Men see what the royal hirelings saw—a multitude and a flame;
But beyond the flame, a mystery; five dying men in the street,
While the streams of severed races in the well of a nation meet!”
John Adams, on the third anniversary of the Massacre
“The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. 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. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.
This however is no Reason why the Town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favour of the Governor or Minister, who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.”