The Events and Social Effects of the Boston Massacre

In response to the Boston Massacre of 1770, one of many acts that brought on the American Revolution, Samuel Adams stated, “while the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader”. Some people believe that the importance of the Boston Massacre was overstated; some believe that it could have been avoided, and some believe that the actual events of the Boston Massacre are simply misunderstood.

I believe that the Boston Massacre is historically important when it comes to the American Revolution, but was this violence necessary to create desired change? Throughout this essay I will discuss events leading up to the Boston Massacre, as well as the short-term and long-term effects of the Boston Massacre, and whether or not this act caused the changes desired by the colonists.

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts due to high tension between the British government and the American colonists.

This tension began when King George III created unpopular Parliamentary laws called the Townshend Acts requiring taxes to be placed on numerous British goods in America. Due to the colonists refusing to follow these laws, King George III sent British troops to be stationed in Boston. Colonists verbally and physically harassed these troops, eventually leading to unwarranted shots fired by the soldiers killing five colonists. Although the crowd dispersed awhile after this devastating incident, they reappeared the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the British troops.

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Eight soldiers, one officer and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder, and due to the John Adam’s defense of the soldiers’ actions, six of them were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of manslaughter. This was just the beginning, however of a budding revolution, and due to the propaganda, numerous depictions, reports, and Paul Revere’s colored engraving, friction throughout the Thirteen Colonies was heightened.

There were many events leading up to the Boston Massacre and subsequently the American Revolution. These events included the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War, the Proclamation of 1763, the Sugar, Stamp, and Quartering Acts, the Virginia Resolution, and the Declaratory and Townshend Acts. It goes without saying that the Boston Massacre was one of the more violent acts involving the British soldiers and the colonists. Violence has a large presence throughout history, and not without reason. “Violence as a political language can be manifested not only in acts, but in speeches, writings, and even in the arts. Moreover, discussing political violence in history reveals both the capacity and, in many ways, its incapacity to produce the desired change” (Jackson). In the case of the Boston Massacre along with many other cases throughout history, political violence committed by oppressed or marginalized people can thus be seen as an expression of a deep, unmet need. The colonists most likely felt imprisoned by these new laws being imposed upon them, and after civilly protesting against taxation without representation, they felt that this violence was necessary in order to declare liberty.

I personally believe that violent events like the Boston Massacre did not need to happen in order to result in a successful revolution. Throughout history, one nonviolent revolution that sticks out to me is India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. The leading figure throughout this event, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was able to implement passive resistance throughout the entire revolution. Ghandi taught the concept of satyagraha, “truth and firmness”, or passive resistance, as a way of non-cooperation with authorities. These beliefs stemmed from his choice to live a life of poverty in order to let go of all negative feelings such as anger and pride. With a brilliant and peaceful leader like Ghandi, a non-violent revolution was possible, but the leaders of the American Revolution were mostly military oriented. Another mostly peaceful revolution was lead by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who constantly employed the importance of nonviolent tactics and strategies when it came to the African American Civil Rights Movement. King actually won a Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. King and Ghandi show us that non-violent revolution is possible, but unfortunately this is not true in the case of the American Revolution. The most serious effect “of the colonies was the number and the force of the influences which were impelling large classes to violence…accustoming them to an unrestrained exercise of power and breaking down among them salutary respect for authority” (Lecky).

Just because people supported this movement did not mean that they supported the violence. Quakers and other religious members as well as some merchants, farmers and frontiersmen in the South opposed the use of violence and favored discussion and compromise as the proper solution. Violence increased when it became clear that King George III had no intention of making concessions. After more than ten years of fighting verbally and ideologically over the rights of the British subjects in the colonies, the British and Americans resorted to using arms because they became convinced that “force alone could decide the issues that divided the empire” (Miller). The Boston Massacre is considered an extremely important event leading up to the American Revolution because it was one of the first violent events where blood was shed.

This martyrdom evoked the spirit of American patriotism all over the colonies. John Hancockstated, “Let this sad tale of death never be told without a tear; let not the heaving bosom cease to burn with a manly indignation at the barbarous story…” during his oration of the massacre on March 5, 1770, and I agree that the Boston Massacre is a barbarous story that could have been avoided.

Propositions for democracy before and during the American Revolution were mostly accomplished nonviolently as colonists came together to discuss alternatives to laws previously mandated by the British Parliament, but when violent acts such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party occurred, this propelled the King and Parliament into a violent rage, solidifying opposition to the revolution throughout the rest of the British Empire. The most important element that the U.S. government has always wanted to protect is liberty, and the U.S. usually carries out this protection through violence, which, in most circumstances, I believe could be avoided through discussion and compromise. John Adams, a very important leader of the Revolution and the second President of the United States said, “the revolution as in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities commenced”. In my past, I have experienced episodes of extreme rage towards other people and their actions, and I admit I have engaged in violence, but as I grow older I have come to be embarrassed by my violent actions, actions which I strongly believe were barbaric. I have learned that non-violence is way more effective when it comes to working out an argument, and that the pen is most definitely mightier than the sword.

Throughout history, violence has been extremely relevant when it comes to regime change. Political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan decided that because of this fact, they wanted to analyze 323 attempts at regime change between 1900 and 2006 to see the comparative success of violent and nonviolent campaigns. “They found that violent campaigns succeeded 26 percent of the time, and that nonviolent campaigns succeeded 53 percent of the time” (Lakey). Like myself, many movements throughout history started out using violence, found out they were ineffective, switched over to nonviolent resistance, and won. I believe that the provoked violence that ensued during the Boston Massacre causing the loss of five colonists should have ignited a fear within the colonists’ and British peoples’ souls causing them to rethink their wants and needs for America. I feel as if compromise could have been made in order for the colonists to eventually get what they wanted. The original idea of a modern democracy (this isn’t counting Classical Greece) was to be a continual nonviolent revolution, where if you have grievances with one regime you vote a replacement regime into power. With the addition of all this violence, the original idea of democracy has been tarnished, and I don’t believe this is a good thing in any way.

In conclusion, I believe that the Boston Massacre is historically important when it comes to the American Revolution, but I do not believe the violence that ensued was necessary to create desired change. After a large amount of research on the topic, I can proudly say that two very well known movements were successful without the use of violence thanks to Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. there is scientific evidence backing up the idea that nonviolence is more effective when it comes to revolutions, movements, and regime change, and the original tactics of democracy strongly depended on non-violence. I don’t believe that the colonists should have resorted to verbally and physically harassing the British soldiers leading up to the Boston Massacre. Instead they should have reached for peaceful alternatives such as protest or compromise, and I also think that it was a very impulsive and bad move on the soldiers’ part to shoot at the colonists rather than peacefully retreating and attempting to compromise. All in all, it seems as if violence is necessary for successful revolution, but through research and scientific evidence, I have come to hold strongly to my belief that non-violence is a better alternative.

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The Events and Social Effects of the Boston Massacre. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

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