The redcoats probably did not point their toes daintily, and they certainly did not fire into a harmless and peaceful crowd in the notorious Boston Massacre.

Not only were the Bostonians insulting a small squadron of redcoats, they were threatening them -- and not only were the Bostonians threatening the redcoats, but the order to "FIRE" shouted in the chaos seems to have come from the American side.

Sam Adams needed a simple, damning symbol of British contempt, one so shocking in its bald purity that no argument could be constructed against it.  Shooting unarmed civilians filled the bill nicely.

And he had a long history of organizing Boston mobs to do his bidding, so raising one in response to a trivial argument between a redcoat and a local was the work of only a few hurried whispers.

But the fact that the Massacre was an American provocation, even construction, remained a decidedly uncomfortable detail when it came time to try the redcoats for murder.

Embarrassing information might come out -- information that could render the symbolic importance of the whole affair impotent.  Possibly the easiest thing to do would have been to condemn the redcoats as quickly as possible.  And if doing so courted nasty reprisals from England, all the better.

And yet, the inner circle of the Boston Sons of Liberty knew very well that the redcoats, as individual men, genuinely were not guilty of murder.  They were in quite plausible fear for their lives, and they certainly did hear an order to fire, which they did not, and could not, realize had not come from their commanding officer.

Sam Adams's cousin John volunteered for the unenviable task of defending the redcoats.  And he made sure that they were acquitted of all charges...without actually revealing any awkward facts, but rather by pushing a rather delicate argument that doubt remained about too many critical details.

No more sacrifices than were necessary would be placed upon the pyre.

And besides, as rebels and revolutionaries, what we wanted was a war, not a criminal case.

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