On this date in 1770, the Boston Massacre took place, in which British soldiers opened fire on an unruly crowd outside the Boston Custom House, killing five.
The event, driven partly by discontent over the large presence of British troops in the city, proved a catalyst to the American Revolution.
The government was determined to give the soldiers a fair trial so there could be no grounds for retaliation from the British and so that Colonial moderates would not be alienated from the Patriot cause.
However, no Boston-area lawyer wanted to defend the soldiers for fear of jeopardizing their career. Captain Preston sent a desperate request to John Adams, despite the fact that Adams was already a leading Patriot and contemplating a run for public office.
Nevertheless, he agreed to help in the interest of ensuring a fair trial. Working with him were Robert Auchmuty, a prominent loyalist, and Josiah Quincy Jr., an ardent patriot and brother of the court-appointed prosecutor, Samuel Quincy.
Unusual for the period, the trial was delayed for months, to let cooler heads prevail, while the jury was chosen from towns outside Boston.
Preston was tried on his own in late October 1770 and acquitted after the jury was not convinced that he had ordered the troops to fire.
The soldiers’s trial opened the following month. Adams argued that if the soldiers were endangered by the mob they had the legal right to fight back, and therefore were innocent. If they were provoked but not endangered, he argued, they were at most guilty of manslaughter.
The jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, while two were convicted of manslaughter and branded on their thumbs.
Initial reaction to Adams’ role in the case was hostile. His law practice dropped by more than half. In the long run, Adams’ willingness to represent the British soldiers only enhanced his growing reputation.
He later played a key role in the Revolution and succeeded George Washington as second president of the United States.
“Despite the high tensions of the period, most patriots applauded the trial as evidence that the colonists remained wedded to the rule of law, and that the right of trial by jury should not be abandoned,” according to the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties.
First Financial Holdings Inc., one of South Carolina’s largest financial services companies, has not had a happy 2009.
The Charleston-based company has seen its share price drop from a high of $22.49 on Jan. 6 to $5.13 less than two months later. The $5.13 closing Tuesday is just 13 cents off its 52-week low. FFCH has traded as high as $30 a share over the past year.
Last month, First Financial cut its quarterly dividend from 25.5 cents a share to 5 cents a share.
“Our board of directors takes very seriously the level of our dividend and knows that many of our shareholders are dependent on the dividend for income,” Chief executive Thomas Hood said in a press release last month.
“This was a difficult decision, but given the continuing weakness in the economy in our markets, and the critical need to preserve our strong capital base through the recession, we believe it is the prudent action to take at this time,” he added. “The nation’s rapid economic decline and the lack of clarity surrounding the future of the economy dictated that we take a conservative approach.”
First Financial lost $6.5 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared to net income of $2.9 million for the same period in 2007.
“In my 34 years in this industry, these are the most difficult times I have experienced,” Hood said. “Our results reflect the impact that the current recession has had on our markets.”