The Shot [Still] Heard 'Round the World!
The fight for American Liberty originated in defiance of government confiscation of income and firearms.
“The ultimate authority … resides in the people alone. … [T]he advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any…” —James Madison (1788)
Today, April 19th, we honor the 242nd Patriots’ Day and the legacy of Liberty originating with the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. The events of that fateful day in 1775 were rooted in defiance of government confiscation of income and firearms, and they are irrevocably linked to Liberty and Rule of Law.
“No taxation without representation.”
On December 16th, 1773, “radicals” in Boston, members of a secret organization of American Patriots called Sons of Liberty, boarded three East India Company ships and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This iconic event, which foretold the revolution to come against oppressive taxation and tyrannical rule, is immortalized as “The Boston Tea Party.”
Resistance to the British Crown had been mounting for years due to other taxes, among them the 1764 Sugar Act, 1765 Stamp Act and 1767 Townshend Act. The last of these acts 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, that instigated many Tea Party protests and seeded the American Revolution. Indeed, as James Madison noted in reflection in 1823, “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.”
With tensions rising between colonists and the Crown, in April 1775, Patriots would fire the first shots in defense of American Liberty — Patriots’ Day!
On the eve of April 18th, 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 Boston Tea Party leader Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Provincial Congress President John Hancock, and merchant fleet owner Jeremiah Lee.
But what directly tied Gage’s orders to the later enumeration of the Second Amendment in our Constitution was the primary mission of his Redcoats: A preemptive raid to confiscate arms and ammunition stored by the Massachusetts Patriots in the town of Concord. The citizen minutemen understood that their right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.
Patriot militia and minutemen, under the leadership of the Sons of Liberty, anticipated this raid, and the confrontations between militia and British regulars at Lexington and Concord was the spark that ignited the American Revolution.
Near midnight on April 18th, Paul Revere, who had arranged for advance warning of British movements, departed Charlestown (near Boston) for Lexington and Concord in order to warn John Hancock, Samuel Adams and other Sons of Liberty that the British Army was marching to arrest them and seize their weapon caches. After meeting with Hancock and Adams in Lexington, Revere was captured, but his Patriot ally Samuel Prescott continued to Concord and warned militiamen along the way.
“Stand your ground!”
The Patriots at Lexington and Concord, as with other militia units in New England, were bound by “minit men” oaths to “stand at a minits warning with arms and ammunition.” The oath of the Lexington militia read thus: “We trust in God that, Should the state of our affairs require it, We shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, Yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause.”
In the early dawn of April 19th, their oaths would be tested with blood. Under the command of Captain John Parker, 77 militiamen 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, 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.
“Fire, for God’s sake!”
This time, however, militia commander Major John Buttrick yelled the order: “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!”
And 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, brought upon themselves the sentence of death for treason. In the ensuing firefight, the British suffered heavy casualties and in discord retreated to Concord village for reinforcements, and then back toward Lexington.
During that retreat, 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.
“What a glorious morning this is!” declared Sam Adams upon hearing those first shots had been fired.
Indeed, the first shots of the eight-year struggle for American independence were in response to the government’s attempt to disarm the people.
Thus began the American Revolution — a revolution in support of Liberty not just for the people of Massachusetts but for “all people.” As Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”
Indeed, such rights are not temporal, they are eternal.
And these rights are not granted by the written words of brilliant men. As Alexander Hamilton noted, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
The oaths of the Lexington and Concord minutemen were the earliest American pledges to defend Liberty. The spirit of their oaths is vibrantly alive today as honored by millions of Americans who have taken similar oaths, and whose “obligations to our country,” in the words of John Adams, “never cease but with our lives.”
However, American Patriots of all generations have understood that, while our obligations may end, our mission is one that we must extend to the next generation. As a wise colleague once advised, “If your primary mission in life can be accomplished in your lifetime, then your mission is much too small.”
I have never been under the illusion that the full endowment of Liberty was something to be achieved during my lifetime, or that of my children and beyond. No, that endowment is a continuing process, and the singular blessing that we must, as Patrick Henry warned, “guard with jealous attention” for all of human history.
Like many of you reading these words, I have devoted my adult life to the fulfillment of my own solemn oath “to support and defend” our Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” From the day I first took that oath at age 19, my obligation to abide by and fulfill it has never ceased.
Of course, you need not have sworn that oath in order to fulfill it!
In 1776, George Washington wrote in his General Orders, “The time is now near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves. … We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”
Of that resolve, President Ronald Reagan asserted, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Please help us extend Liberty to the next generation.
The Patriot Post has been an effective and reliable touchstone for Liberty since our inception. It has also been a force multiplier for the growing ranks of American Patriots across our nation — and an effective recruiting tool for new Patriots of all ages.
Thank you for your steadfast devotion to Liberty, especially over the last eight years, which were among the most challenging in our lifetime (to date) in terms of “enemies domestic.”
“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.” —Thomas Jefferson (1775)
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776