John Adams on False Accusers
“We find in the rules laid down by the greatest English judges, who have been the brightest of mankind: We are to look upon it as more beneficial that many guilty persons should escape unpunished than one innocent should suffer. The reason is, because it is of more importance to the community that innocence should be protected than it is that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner that it is not of much consequence to the public whether they are punished or not. But when innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim,’It is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such sentiment as this should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security whatsoever. . . . And I shall take it for granted, as a first principle, that the eight prisoners at the bar had better be all acquitted, though we should admit them all to be guilty, than that any one of them should, by your verdict, be found guilty, being innocent.”
John Adams, “The Boston Massacre” Orations from Homer to William McKinley. Mayo W. Hazeltine, A.M., editor (New York: P.F. Collier and Son, MCMII) p. 2569.
“First day’s speech in defence in the British soldiers accused of murdering Attucks, Gray and others, in the Boston riot of 1770.”