The Boston Massacre was controversial in a way that sounds familiar today. British soldiers, sent to enforce new taxes on the colonists, fired on an angry crowd in Boston. The soldiers were put on trial and successfully defended by John Adams, to the anger of his compatriots and his agitator brother, Sam. It was found that the British soldiers were struck with roping clubs and had no choice but to defend themselves.
The outcome of the trial didn’t matter, other than being an interesting footnote in history. Civil unrest continued everywhere in the colonies. What was remarkable, and instructive, is that the colonists followed each riot by getting more organized.
The unrest following the Stamp Act resulted in the Stamp Act Congress and the Sons of Liberty. The anger against the Townshend Acts resulted in Committees of Correspondence, allowing ideas to circulate and uniting the colonies (and so avoiding the divide and conquer strategy of the British). The Coercive Acts gave rise to the First Continental Congress. According to John Adams, the revolution was won before it was fought because these organizations did so much to change the “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people.”
There has been plenty of civil unrest in the past twenty years, but not much of an organized follow-through. The L.A. Riots, the protests over the War on Terror, and Occupy Wall Street produced oceans of ink but few leaders, organizations, or actual change. The protesters in Ferguson would do well to study our founding fathers: a group of rebels who channeled the anger from riots to the foundation of the greatest nation in the world.