The Roots of the First American Revolution
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!” –Samuel Adams (1776)
On April 19th, we honor the anniversary of Patriots’ Day and the legacy of Liberty launched that day, which is our inspiration to this day. In doing so, we mark the opening salvo of the first American Revolution in 1775, and the first step toward the establishment of an eternal declaration of human Liberty, subordinating the rule of men to Creator-inspired Rule of Law.
A quick search of the White House website under the current administration reveals not a single reference to this most notable date in the history of our nation. Undoubtedly the statist regime currently occupying the Executive Branch prefers to ignore this formative event, as the historic call to arms ultimately turned back a growing tide of tyranny.
I invite you to share this brief treatise on the roots of the First American Revolution.
On December 16th, 1773, “rebels” from Boston, members of a secret organization of American Patriots called the Sons of Liberty, boarded three East India Company ships and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This iconic event, in protest of oppressive taxation and tyrannical rule, is immortalized as “The Boston Tea Party.”
Resistance to the British Crown had been mounting over enforcement of the 1764 Sugar Act, 1765 Stamp Act and 1767 Townshend Act, which led to the Boston Massacre and gave rise to the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”
But it was the 1773 Tea Act, under which the Crown collected a three pence tax on each pound of tea imported to the Colonies, which instigated the first Tea Party protest and seeded the American Revolution. Indeed, as James Madison noted in an 1823 reflection, “The people of the U.S. owe their Independence and their liberty, to the wisdom of descrying in the minute tax of 3 pence on tea, the magnitude of the evil comprised in the precedent.”
The Tea Party uprising galvanized the Colonial movement opposing British parliamentary acts, as such acts were a violation of the natural, charter and constitutional rights of the British colonists.
In response to the Colonial rebellion, the British enacted additional punitive measures, labeled the “Intolerable Acts,” in hopes of suppressing the burgeoning insurrection. Far from accomplishing their desired outcome, however, the Crown’s countermeasures led colonists to convene the First Continental Congress on September 5th, 1774, in Philadelphia.
By the spring of 1775, civil discontent was at a tipping point, and American Patriots in Massachusetts and other colonies prepared to cast off their masters.
On the eve of April 18th, 1775, General Thomas Gage, Royal military governor of Massachusetts, dispatched a force of 700 British Army regulars, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, with secret orders to arrest Tea Party leader Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Provincial Congress president John Hancock and merchant fleet owner Jeremiah Lee, and to capture and destroy arms and supplies stored by the Massachusetts militia in the town of Concord. Indeed, the first shots of the eight-year struggle for American independence were in response to the government’s attempt to disarm the people.
Patriot militiamen under leadership of the Sons of Liberty anticipated Gage’s preemptive raid, and the resulting confrontation between militia and British regulars en route to Concord ignited the fuse of the American Revolution.
Near midnight on April 18th, Paul Revere, who arranged for advance signal from Boston’s Old North Church of British movements, departed Charlestown (near Boston) for Lexington and Concord in order to warn Adams, Hancock, Lee, and other Sons of Liberty, that the British Army was marching with orders to arrest them and seize militia weapon caches.
Revere’s Ride was immortalized by noted poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere… Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch… One if by land, two if by sea… Through the gloom and the light, The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight.”
After meeting with Hancock and Adams in Lexington, Revere was captured, but his Patriot ally Samuel Prescott made it to Concord and warned militiamen along the way.
In the early dawn of April 19th, the first Patriots’ Day, 77 militiamen under the command of Captain John Parker assembled on the town green at Lexington, where they soon faced Smith’s overwhelming force of British regulars. Parker did not expect shots to be exchanged, but his orders were: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” A few links away from the militia column, the British Major John Pitcairn swung his sword and said, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!”
Not willing to sacrifice his small band of Patriots on the Green, as Parker later wrote in sworn deposition, “I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse, and not to fire.” But the Patriots did not lay down their arms as ordered, and as Parker noted, “Immediately said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon, and killed eight of our Party without receiving any Provocation therefor from us.”
The British continued to Concord, where they divided and searched for armament stores. Later in the day, the second confrontation between regulars and militiamen occurred as British light infantry companies faced rapidly growing ranks of militia and Minutemen at Concord’s Old North Bridge. From depositions on both sides, the British fired first on the militia, killing two and wounding four.
This time, however, the militia commander, Major John Buttrick, yelled the order, “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” Fire they did, commencing with “the shot heard round the world,” as immortalized by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. With that shot, farmers and laborers, landowners and statesmen alike, were bringing upon themselves the sentence of death for treason. In the ensuing firefight, the British took heavy casualties and in discord retreated to Concord village for reinforcements, and then retreated back toward Lexington.
In retreat to Lexington, British regulars took additional casualties, including those suffered in an ambush by the reassembled ranks of John Parker’s militia – “Parker’s Revenge” as it became known. The English were reinforced with 1,000 troops in Lexington, but the King’s men were no match for the militiamen, who inflicted heavy casualties upon the Redcoats along their 20-mile tactical retreat to Boston.
Thus began the great campaign to reject tyranny and embrace the difficult toils of securing individual Liberty. “[T]he People alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it,” wrote Samuel Adams.
Two months after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress, under President John Hancock, declared, June 12, 1775: “Congress…considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state…do earnestly recommend, that Thursday, the 12th of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this Continent, as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, that we may with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins and offer up our joint supplications to the All-wise, Omnipotent and merciful Disposer of all Events, humbly beseeching Him to forgive our iniquities… It is recommended to Christians of all denominations to assemble for public worship and to abstain from servile labor and recreations of said day.”
Why would the first generation of American Patriots forgo, in the inimitable words of Sam Adams, “the tranquility of servitude” for “the animating contest of freedom”?
The answer to that question – Liberty or Death – defined the spirit of American Patriotism then, as it defines the spirit of American Patriots today. The ideological descendants of those who once pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor “today pledge to support and defend” Liberty as enshrined in our United States Constitution.
In 1776, George Washingtonwrote in his General Orders, “The time is now near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”
Of that resolve, President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation…”
Indeed, the time is always at hand when American Patriots must reaffirm whether we are to be freemen or slaves. This November’s midterm elections may seem trivial in comparison to the challenges faced by our Founders, but the results are critical to the future of Liberty.
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Pro Deo et Constitutione – Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis