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A Nation of Laws

July 28, 2013

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

That is what 35-year-old John Adams told the jury when he defended the British soldiers who had been accused of murder in 1770.  Although he did not support the British presence that led to the Boston Massacre, he did not blame the eight soldiers who had acted in self-defense against a mob.

Ninety-six years later not yet 35-year-old James Garfield spoke before the United States Supreme Court in defense of Indiana Copperheads who had been tried in a military court for conspiring to aid the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Although Garfield had been a Union general who despised slavery, he firmly believed that, even during wartime, so long as the regular courts are open, the military courts have no jurisdiction over civilians.

Adams won freedom for six of his eight defendants.

Garfield won his case but never received any remuneration from his ungrateful clients.

Both Adams and Garfield would eventually become President of the United States.

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