A Saint, A President & A Massacre
Updated: Feb 19
This article will discuss three significant days in a three-week period. There are two holidays in the month of February that may not have much in common, but certainly have significance. The first, February 14, is Valentine’s Day. The second, celebrated on the third Monday in February, is President’s Day. Finally, the third is March 5, which is the 250th Anniversary (2020) of the Boston Massacre (Boston massacre site: The Freedom Trail, 2018).
Valentine’s Day gets its name and traditions from a third century priest from Rome. Most of Valentine's life is a mystery. It is possible that the name Valentine may be that of two or three men with that name who were in or around Rome in the third and fourth centuries (Catholic Online, 2020).
On President’s Day, we remember those Presidents who made a significant impact on the United States. This article will focus on a well-known founder and revolutionary who became the second President of the United States. However, his presidency became somewhat overlooked due to his following of George Washington and his failure at re-election after one term.
The focus of Adams in this article will be his involvement in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, in which British soldiers opened fire on American colonists, killing five (Boston massacre site: The Freedom Trail, 2018).
Similar to Adams, Valentine was a revolutionary. He lived during a time when Paganism was the “state” religion of Rome and most Christian practices happened in secret.
During the short reign of Emperor Claudius II Gothicus in the mid-third century and following the discovery of Valentine’s Christian activities, Claudius brought Valentine before him to explain Valentine’s religion and “the truth.” In the inquiry of Claudius to Valentine, the Roman priest in his answers tried to convince the Emperor to convert to Christianity by speaking of Jesus Christ, his followers, and the many signs or miracles associated with Christian belief. While Claudius listened, was intrigued and while Valentine could have persuaded him, many of Claudius' advisors persuaded him in the other direction (Pearse, 2019).
As an aside, perhaps this discourse between Claudius and Valentine was instrumental in putting the wheels in motion for the legalization of Christianity. In the year 313 A.D. (about 44 years after the death of Valentine), Christianity became legal under the reign of Roman Emperors Constantine the Great (Constantine I) and Licinius when they issued the Edict of Milan (Edict of Milan, 1998).
After the discussion between Claudius and Valentine, Valentine departed with a trusted nobleman, who was a Pagan. While with this nobleman (Asterius), Valentine may have persuaded Asterius and his associates to convert to Christianity. Upon hearing this, Claudius - still committed to Paganism and the idea that Christianity was a threat to the Roman Empire - ordered exile and torture for Asterius and the associates. For Valentine, he went to prison, the Romans tortured him, and he was beheaded on the Via Flaminia in Rome on February 14 in the year 269 (Pearse, 2019).
In the fourth century, there was a basilica built over the tomb of the Saint. The basilica is no longer in existence, but there is a catacomb of Saint Valentine at the site that may be the location of the ancient basilica. Moreover, the skull of Saint Valentine allegedly resides in a reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin). As a side note, this Basilica is also the home of the famous Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità) (St. Valentine OF Terni, 14 February).
The date of February 14 is also significant because it is around the time of the Roman festival of Lupercalia. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius I proclaimed the 14th of February in honor of Saint Valentine. Lupercalia is a celebration of the fertility god, Lupercus and also honors the she-wolf who, legend says, provided care for the abandoned Romulus and Remus. Romulus is the traditional founder of the City of Rome (St. Valentine of Terni, 14 February). As we see throughout history, the Christian Church established holidays and celebrations around traditional Roman and Pagan holidays. Mid-February is also important because it is a sign of the coming of Spring. Days are getting longer, and Winter is on its way out. Spring is also a sign of fertility, which is a product of love between two people. Obviously, you can see the tie to Ancient Rome and why we celebrate Valentine’s Day the way that we do.
While Valentine’s Day has Christian origins, in the present day it is a more secular holiday for couples celebrating their love for each other by exchanging cards, gifts, flowers, and going to nice dinners. Schoolchildren also exchange “Valentines.” While the Roman Catholic Church still recognizes Valentine as a saint, it no longer celebrates the 14th day of February in honor of him. (Hanes, 2013).
John Adams and the Boston Massacre
The second President and first Vice President of the United States, John Adams, was also a “Founding Father,” revolutionary, attorney, delegate to the Continental Congress, and Minister to the United Kingdom and Holland (Freidel & Sidey, 2006).
The aspect of John Adams that I will focus on is his ability to make persuasive arguments during his defense of the British soldiers (yes, I said British) in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre.
In the 1760s and 1770s, King George III of England imposed several Acts or taxes on the American Colonies. Consequently, there was a social upheaval in the colonies, especially in Boston (an important port city) where the impact was significant due to the city’s involvement with customs, as well as taking in imports and sending exported goods from the colonies. As a response to this social unrest, the King sent about 2,000 soldiers in a city of about 16,000 to quell the unrest (Boston massacre site: The Freedom Trail, 2018)
March 5, 2020, marked 250 years since the culmination of the unrest took place outside of the Old State House. In other words, March 5, 1770, was the day that the Boston Massacre took place. Many arguments exist today as to who started the conflict. Some argue harassment of the soldiers by the American colonists. Others argue that it was the King who instigated the unrest through his taxes and overreached by having so many soldiers in Boston at that time.
The tragedy of the Boston Massacre is that British soldiers fired shots and American colonists died, including an African American, Crispus Attucks. Later accounts suggest that Attucks and the other Americans at the site of the Old State House were harassing the soldiers by throwing snowballs and sticks at them. Although, some accounts have Attucks as a mere bystander (Crispus Attucks role in the Boston Massacre, 2012).
John Adams was a prominent attorney in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he was born and raised. The events of the Old State House outraged famous Bostonians, such as Sam Adams (cousin to John), Paul Revere, John Hancock and Joseph Warren. Conversely, John Adams defended the eight British soldiers, indicted on murder charges and facing the death penalty. The four people mentioned above wrote a scathing account of the Boston Massacre that squarely placed the blame on the British soldiers. Popular opinion was also against these soldiers (The Boston Massacre Trials, 2013).
Through his research, arguments, articulation, and questioning of witnesses on both sides, John Adams persuaded a jury at a time when tensions and hostilities were very high against the British, to acquit the British soldiers who killed the three American colonists. John Adams took a huge gamble by representing these soldiers. First, the soldiers had a very hard time finding attorneys to represent them. Had they not found any (let alone good) attorneys, a finding of guilt and capital punishment would have been the result, in addition to the absence of justice. Second, if Adams lost the case, then the Bostonians would have chastised him for representing the British soldiers, in addition to embarrassment and exile from the city. Finally, John Adams, by representing the soldiers, could have faced danger from his fellow Bostonians (The Boston Massacre Trials, 2013).
There were two separate trials in which Adams represented the accused. The first was the trial against Captain Thomas Preston. Preston allegedly ordered the British soldiers to fire their guns. The witnesses called by the defense testified to provocation of the British soldiers by the crowd into the soldiers firing their weapons. Consequently, the jury found Preston not guilty (The Boston Massacre Trials, 2013).
The second trial was against the other soldiers. Similar to the first trial, Adams, and the defense focused on the crowd, and their provocation as opposed to the soldiers who ordered that the British fire their weapons versus those who had fired the weapons. He also argued about the bigger picture, that is, the occupation of British soldiers - sent by the King - in Boston. One of the victims’ testimony, prior to his death, was that the soldiers went into the situation by the crowd's coaxing and acted in self-defense. The victim did not place blame on the soldiers. Witnesses to the prosecution testified on cross-examination that the American crowd was throwing objects and provoked the British soldiers to react. Consequently, John Adams and his defense attorneys were able to persuade an American jury in Boston to acquit occupying British soldiers from the death penalty or long-term imprisonment. In fact, two of the soldiers incurred guilty verdicts of manslaughter and served a short prison term (The Boston Massacre Trials, 2013).
Adams masterfully used the situation to exploit the British Monarch by blaming it for having soldiers in the colonies in the first place. In other words, Adams argued that had the King not sent soldiers to the colonies, the Boston Massacre would not have occurred. Adams, now a respected figure, went on to be a prominent founder, became ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, was the first Vice President of the United States and the second President of the United States. Adams died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. Coincidentally, he died on the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and on the same day as his rival, friend, and author of the Declaration and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (Freidel & Sidey, 2006).
Valentine and Adams are similar in the sense that they were trying to persuade an authoritative figure (Emperor) or body (jury) of something first based on a belief or little information. Valentine tried to persuade Claudius into converting to a faith that Valentine truly believed in. Whether you agree with him or not, Valentine thought that Christianity was the one true religion and path to salvation. He studied it, lived it, made a vocation of it and died for it. His goal was conversion and influence and was not afraid of the consequences for trying to persuade. Adams tried to persuade a jury to do what was not popular, but what was right and ethical in his mind. He stood on principle in his belief that the British soldiers on trial were not in the wrong and were innocent men. Like Valentine, Adams was brave in his actions.
Persuasion hinges on a few aspects consisting of belief or theory, facts, strategy, effective communication and follow up. Persuasion also has many advantages. While some try their best in whatever endeavor to persuade others, in the end the desired outcome may not occur, but the effort was worth the fight.
For Valentine, while he did not persuade Claudius into his belief system, he did persuade the trusted nobleman and the associates into Christian conversion. Valentine was probably very pleased with this accomplishment. Also, because of his persuasive actions of converting the nobleman and others, Valentine went to prison and experienced martyrdom. While in prison he may have written a letter to the nobleman, Asterius' daughter (he may have also cured her of blindness) stating “from your Valentine” (Catholic Online, 2020). Another legend explains that Saint Valentine of Terni (some say this person is the same person as Saint Valentine of Rome) secretly (out of fear of the Romans) performed Christian marriage ceremonies for couples whom he persuaded to believe in Christianity (St. Valentine OF Terni, 14 February). If not for the turn of events of Valentine's failure to persuade the emperor, but his success in persuading others we probably would not have Valentine’s Day today.
For Adams, he used his conscience, knowledge and great communication skills to persuade a jury to acquit occupying British soldiers on the eve of a Revolution against the British. Adams knew his actions and participation would not be popular, yet he went ahead, and the outcome was probably not pleasing to his family, friends or neighbors. Following the acquittal, Adams turned his sights to a much more significant target for American colonist aggression - the King. The outcome of the trials and way of addressing the bigger picture resulted in great respect for Adams as he later became a very powerful and prolific founder, as well as an important figure in early United States politics that shaped how we live in this country today. The power of persuasion with moral and ethical purpose may have positive effects, relevance and provide a legacy for the immediate and distant futures, as we saw with Saint Valentine and John Adams.
Saint Valentine and John Adams lived in very different times, but they are famous today because of their courage, steadfastness, lack of fear, and persuasive actions. The most important attribute for both of them is that they were champions for justice and truth. The world may have been very different without these two men, but because of them, you now know who they were and the impact they had on modern day society.
Boston massacre site: The Freedom Trail. (2018). Retrieved February 19, 2020-, from https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/trail-sites/boston-massacre-site
The Boston Massacre Trials. (2013, January 24). Retrieved February 19, 2020, from http://www.john-adams-heritage.com/boston-massacre-trials/
Catholic Online. (2020). St. Valentine - Saints & angels. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159
Crispus Attucks role in the Boston Massacre. (2012, October 11). Retrieved February 19, 2020, from http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/crispus-attucks-role-in-the-boston-massacre/
Edict of Milan. (1998, July 20). Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Edict-of-Milan
Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2006). John Adams. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/john-adams/
Hanes, E. (2013, February 14). 6 surprising facts about St. Valentine. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/6-surprising-facts-about-st-valentine
Pearse, R. (2019, July 15). Valentine of Rome (BHL 8465) – extracts from the Passiones Of Marius, MARTHA, AUDIFAX and Abacuc (bhl 5543). Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2019/07/15/valentine-of-rome-bhl-8465-extracts-from-the-passiones-of-marius-martha-audifax-and-abacuc-bhl-5543/
St. Valentine of Terni, 14 February. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.italyheritage.com/traditions/calendar/february/14-san-valentino.htm