The Lawyer, the Judge, the Historian: Shaping the Meaning of the Boston Massacre, American Revolution, and Popular Opinion from 1770 to the Present Day
- William Pencak
- … show all 1 hide
Rent the article at a discountRent now
* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.Get Access
Both the Kevelson Seminar topic, ‘Lawyers as Makers of Meaning,’ and the appearance of a highly-publicized television series in the United States dedicated to the life of President John Adams (1735–1826) invite inquiry into Adams’ role as a lawyer who shaped the meaning of the American Revolution (and his role in bringing it about). Three trials from Adams’ early legal career illustrate that he presented both himself and fellow resistance leader James Otis, Jr., as heroic loners struggling for the rights of Americans against British injustice. Although he did not call it that, in 1970 lawyer and future Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Hiller Zobel, in his book The Boston Massacre, undertook what we would consider a semiotic approach that investigated the relevant codes and contexts—both the legal complexities and the audiences, other lawyers, judges, and posterity about which Adams spoke, simplifying and minimizing their roles as he maximized his own (and Otis’s). Zobel’s own relationship with Adams’ legal career appeared in his own tenure on the bench, especially in the famous ‘Nanny’ (discussed by Denis Brion, in this issue) case in which he explicitly presented the Boston Massacre Trials as a relevant precedent. Despite Adams’ willingness to subordinate his clients’ welfare to the patriot cause early in his career, it can be argued that HBO television and historian David McCullough, by presenting him to the public only flawed by his outspoken, stubborn honesty, have nevertheless performed a public service. Their version of Adams offers Americans in the twenty-first century an alternative role model to the dishonest, ill-informed politicians who use public opinion polls rather than political theory, moral philosophy, and historical knowledge as the basis of their decisions.
- Hooper, Tom (director). 2008. John Adams. PBS, Television Series.
- Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKitrick. 1993. The age of federalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Adams, John. 1965. Legal papers. Ed. L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller Zobel. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University.
- Pencak, William. 2006. Chief Justice Peter Oliver. Massachusetts Legal History 1–25.
- Zobel, Hiller. 1970. The Boston Massacre. New York: Knopf.
- Reid, John Phillip. 1974. A lawyer acquitted: John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trials. American Journal of Legal History 18: 189–207. CrossRef
- McCullough, David. 2001. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- Zobel, Hiller. 1968. Newer Light on the Boston Massacre. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 78: 119–128.
- Ellsworth, John. 1965. John Adams: The American Revolution as a change of heart? The Huntington Library Quarterly 28: 293–300.
- Lax, John, and William Pencak. 1976. The Knowles Riot and the Crisis of the 1740s in Massachusetts. Perspectives in American History 10: 163–214.
- Hutchinson, Thomas. 1936. History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay. Ed. Lawrence S. Mayo. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University. Originally published and written in 1760–1779.
- Adams, John. 1850–1856. Works. Ed. Charles Francis Adams. 10 vols. Boston, Little, Brown.
- Clark, Dora Mae. 1931. The Impressment of Seamen in the American Colonies, in Essays Presented to Charles McLean Andrews by His Students, 198–224. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Pencak, William. 1982. America’s Burke: The Mind of Thomas Hutchinson. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- Frese, Joseph R. 1957. James Otis and Writs of Assistance. New England Quarterly 30: 496–508. CrossRef
- Adams, John. 1819. Novanglus or Massachusettensis. Boston: Hews and Goss. Several online editions. Originally published 1775.
- Boorstin, Daniel. 1941. The mysterious science of the law. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Carson, Clayborne. 1993. Editing Martin Luther King, Jr.: Political and Scholarly Issues. In Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities, ed. George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams, 305–316. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Zobel, Hiller. 1997. Memorandum and Order, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Louise Woodward, Superior Court, Middlesex County. Criminal No. 97–0433, www.courttv.com/trials/woodward/zobel.html.
- Maytal, Anat. 2003. Two-decade Veteran of the Middlesex Courthouse gains a reputation for independence and immortality on ‘The Practice’. Harvard Crimson, June 2.
- Zobel, Hiller. 2001. Why we love to hate judges. American Heritage 52.3: 74–82.
- Pencak, William. 2000. John Adams. American National Biography Online http://www.anb.org/articles/01/01-00007.html.
- Biddle, Alexander. 1892. Old Family Letters. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
- The Lawyer, the Judge, the Historian: Shaping the Meaning of the Boston Massacre, American Revolution, and Popular Opinion from 1770 to the Present Day
International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique
Volume 22, Issue 1 , pp 69-82
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Springer Netherlands
- Additional Links
- Industry Sectors
- William Pencak (1)
- Author Affiliations
- 1. History and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA