Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Founding

The Right to Defense?

Cesar Conda does a nice job noting that it is quite a stretch to compare John Adams' defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre with contemporary attorneys who volunteered to defend the prisoners at Guantanamo:

The John Adams analogy that Ken Starr and the other lawyers cite in their statement is ludicrous: At the time of the Boston Massacre we were not at war and the British soldiers he defended were in court facing a criminal charge of murder. Adams was not representing prisoners of war, enemies of the nation, trying to get them released in the middle of a war. And Adams wasn't embarrassed about what he did -- if what the terrorists' lawyers did was so noble, why is the DOJ refusing to tell us what they work on now?

Once the war started, Adams did not think the redcoats deserved jury trials when they were captured.  In this case, the issue is also that some of those same lawyers are now working on the same issue for the U.S. government.  As I understand it, legal ethics usualy suggest that such lawyers recuse themselves in that situation.

Meanwhile, perhaps we should remember what Adams was arguing at the trial. The soldiers, he noted, were exercising their right of self-defense from attack by a mob.  They were exercising their rights under law.  They were not engaging in war.  Under English law, which followed the law of nature, he noted:

"The injured party may repell force with force in defence of his person, habitation, or property, against one who manifestly tendeth and endeavoureth with violence, or surprise, to commit a known felony upon either."  Furthermore, he noted: "In these cases he is not obliged to retreat, but may pursue his adversary, till he findeth himself out of danger, and if in a conflict between them he happeneth to kill, such killing is justifiable."

Wonder what Adams thought about the right to bear arms?

Categories > The Founding

Discussions - 1 Comment

Wonderful post. But this business about justifiable killing can't sit well with many in the Obama Administration. I guess it's not the killing they mind so much but having to speak up for it.

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