Battles of Lexington & Concord: Patriots and Self-Defense
“A people that legislate for themselves ought to be in the habit of protecting themselves.”
The sun never set on the British Empire. It was the largest empire in world history.
Out of nearly 200 countries in the world, only 22 were never controlled, invaded or attacked by Britain.
In April of 1775, the British Royal Military Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, sent 800 British Army Regulars, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, on a preemptive raid to seize guns from American patriots at Lexington and Concord.
George Mason of Virginia stated:
“To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
A warning was sent from Boston’s Old North Church that the British were coming, as recounted in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”:
“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the 18th of April, in 75;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light …
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be, Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm …
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.”
Paul Revere was captured along the way, but William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott continued the midnight ride.
“About 10 o'clock, Dr. Warren sent in great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock & Adams were …
I got a horse of Deacon Larkin … (and) set off … It was then about 11 o'clock … After I had passed Charlestown Neck … I saw two men on horseback … When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers.
One tried to get a head of me, and the other to take me. I turned my horse very quick, and galloped … to Medford Road.
The one who chased me, endeavoring to cut me off, got into a clay pond, near where the new tavern is now built. I got clear of him …
I went through Medford, over the bridge, and up to Menotomy … I alarmed almost every house, till I got to Lexington …”
“I … mentioned, that we had better alarm all the inhabitants till we got to Concord; the young Doctor much approved of it …
We had got nearly half way.
Mr Dawes and the Doctor stopped to alarm the people of a house: I was about one hundred rods a head, when I saw two men … in an instant I was surrounded by four …
The Doctor being foremost, he came up; and we tried to get past them; but they being armed with pistols and swords, they forced us in to the pasture; -the Doctor jumped his horse over a low stone wall, and got to Concord …
Six officers, on horseback … ordered me to dismount … He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the affirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston …
Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, clapped his pistol to my head … and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.”
In a related story, four months earlier, on December 13, 1774, two British warships set sail for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to seize gunpowder and weapons patriots had taken from Fort William and Mary.
Riding all night to warn the citizens of Portsmouth that the British were coming were Paul Revere and 29-year-old African American Wentworth Cheswell.
Cheswell was constable of Newmarket, New Hampshire, being considered the first African American elected to public office in U.S. history.
Paul Revere also described a spy, Dr. Benjamin Church, who leaked patriot plans to British General Gates before the Battle of Lexington:
“Dr. Church … appeared to be a high son of Liberty. He frequented all the places where they met …
I came across Deacon Caleb Davis. … He told me, that the morning Dr. Church went into Boston … General Gage and Dr. Church came out of a room, discoursing together, like persons who had been long acquainted.
He appeared to be quite surprised at seeing Deacon Davis there …
I was told by another person … that he saw Church go in to General Gage’s House … that he got out of the carriage and went up the steps more like a man that was acquainted …
He did not doubt that Church was in the interest of the British; and that it was he who informed Gen. Gage … that a short time before the Battle of Lexington … Church had no money … (and) all at once, he had several hundred New British Guineas.”
On April 19th, “Patriots’ Day,” the British continued their march to Lexington and Concord intent on seizing arms and arresting Tea Party leader Samuel Adams and Massachusetts Provincial Congress president John Hancock.
On the way, the British passed through Arlington, Massachusetts.
They stormed the inn where lodged the patriots Elbridge Gerry, Azor Orne and Jeremiah Lee, who was America’s largest colonial ship owner and the wealthiest man in Massachusetts.
Jeremiah Lee was using his ships to smuggle in supplies to the patriots.
When the British stormed the inn, Gerry, Orne and Lee fled wearing only their night clothes and hid, laying on the cold ground in a wet cornfield for hours.
Jeremiah Lee caught a pneumonia and died a few weeks later.
John Hancock had previously experienced British tax collectors confiscating his merchant ship Liberty in 1768
Hancock had declared to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, April 15, 1775:
“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect that, whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgments …
(a day) … be set apart as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer … to confess their sins … to implore the Forgiveness of all our Transgression.”
Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, whom Washington called ‘the first of the patriots’, was the only colonial governor at the start of the Revolution to support the patriot cause.
Trumbull proclaimed a Day of Fasting, April 19, 1775, that:
“God would graciously pour out His Holy Spirit on us to bring us to a thorough repentance and effectual reformation that our iniquities may not be our ruin;
that He would restore, preserve and secure the liberties of this and all the other British American colonies, and make the land a mountain of Holiness, and habitation of righteousness forever.”
As the sun rose, April 19, 1775, there were 800 British regulars approaching Lexington’s town green.
To their surprise, they were met by Lexington’s militia, comprised of 77 men who were mostly members of the Church of Christ, pastored by Rev. Jonas Clark, whose wife was a cousin of John Hancock.
Patriot captain John Parker told the militia:
“Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have War, let it begin here!”
It is disputed who fired first, but the British opened fire and killed or wounded eighteen of Captain Parker’s men.
In his sermon preached a year later, April 19, 1776, Pastor Jonas Clark described:
“Under cover of the darkness, a brigade of these instruments of violence and tyranny, made their approach …
They enter this town … like murders and cut-throats … without provocation, without warning, when no war was proclaimed, they draw the sword of violence, upon the inhabitants of this town,
and with a cruelty and barbarity, which would have made the most hardened savage blush, they shed INNOCENT BLOOD! …”
Pastor Clark continued:
“And the names of Munroe, Parker, and others, that fell victims to the rage of blood-thirsty oppressors, on that gloomy morning …
And from the nineteenth of April, 1775, we may venture to predict, will be dated, in future history, THE LIBERTY or SLAVERY of the AMERICAN WORLD, according as a sovereign God shall see fit to smile, or frown upon the interesting cause, in which we are engaged.”
The American militia retreated, growing to number 400, and took a stand at Concord’s Old North Bridge.
The British fired first, wounding four and killing two.
Militia commander John Buttrick yelled:
“Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!”
Taking many casualties, the British began a hasty retreat 20 miles back to Boston, being ambushed along the way by John Parker’s militia in “Parker’s Revenge.”
Tragically, in the anger of their retreat, the British shot or bayoneted almost everyone in the town of Menotomy.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow continued his poem:
“You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.”
“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”
Though it took eight long years, Americans won their independence.
A century later, on April 19, 1875, at that same Old North Bridge, patriots were honored by the dedication of the “Minute Man Statue” designed by Daniel Chester French.
On the statue’s base is a stanza of the poem The Concord Hymn, written Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 19, 1860:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And time the ruined bridge has swept,
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
O Thou who made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare,
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.”
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 … a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer,
that we may with united hearts … 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.”
The Revolutionary War began with an attempt by government officials to seize citizens’ guns.
Patriots had prepared for this with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, October 26, 1774, organizing their defenses with one-third of their regiments being “Minutemen,” men who were ready to fight at a minute’s notice.
This idea came from the Bible, where in Ancient Israel every man was armed and ready to defend his family and community:
David B. Kopel wrote in “Ancient Hebrew Militia Law” (Denver University Law Review, July 15, 2013):
“New Englanders intensely self-identified with ancient Israel … Thus, ancient Hebrew militia law is part of the intellectual background of the American militia system, and of the Second Amendment …
Every male ‘from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms’ … were obliged to fight, to go forth ‘armed to battle.’
Men who failed this duty ‘sinned against the Lord.’”
E.C. Wines wrote in Commentaries on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews (NY: Geo. P. Putnam & Co., 1853):
“Moses’ constitution made no provision for a standing army …
The whole body of citizens … formed a national guard.”
— “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side” (Exodus 32:27);
— “They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh” (Song of Solomon 3:8);
— “Every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
James Madison wrote (Letters & Writings of James Madison, 1865, p. 406):
"The advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … forms a barrier against the enterprise of ambition …
Kingdoms of Europe … are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Noah Webster wrote in An Examination into the leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, October 10, 1787:
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe.
The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword because the whole body of the people are armed.”
Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote in Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 2nd Edition, 1833, p. 125):
“The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium (safeguard) of the liberties of a Republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers.”
Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (trans. L. Ricci, 1952, p. 73, 81):
“An armed republic submits less easily to the rule of one of its citizens.”
Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Cooley wrote in The General Principles of Constitutional Law (2nd Ed., 1891, p. 282):
“The Second Amendment … was meant to be a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers …
The people … shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose.”
Patrick Henry wrote (Elliott, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions, 1836, 1941, p. 378):
“Let him candidly tell me, where and when did freedom exist when the sword and the purse were given up from the people?
No nation ever retained its liberty after the loss of the sword and the purse …
The great object is, that every man be armed … Everyone who is able may have a gun.”
Joel Barlow wrote in Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, Resulting from the Necessity and Propriety of a General Revolution in the Principle of Government (1792, 1956, p. 46):
“The foundation of everything is … that the people will form an equal representative government … that the people will be universally armed …
A people that legislate for themselves ought to be in the habit of protecting themselves.”
Jeffrey R. Snyder, esq., wrote in “A Nation of Cowards” (The Public Interest, 1993, no. 113):
“Classical republican philosophy has long recognized the critical relationship between personal liberty and the possession of arms by a people ready and willing to use them.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote (Cicero, Selected Political Speeches, trans. M. Grant, 1969, p. 222):
“There exists a law … inborn in our hearts … that if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.”
Montesquieu wrote in The Spirit of the Laws (trans. T. Nugent, 1899, p. 64):
“It is unreasonable … to oblige a man not to attempt the defense of his own life.”
Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (trans. L. Ricci, 1952, p. 73, 81):
“It is not reasonable to suppose that one who is armed will obey willing one who is unarmed.”
Cesare Beccaria wrote in On Crimes and Punishment (trans. H. Paolucci, 1963, p. 87-88):
“False is the idea … that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it …
The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature.
They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.
Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most scared laws of humanity, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity …
Such laws … serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
Thomas Paine wrote (Writings of Thomas Paine, Conway, ed., 1894, p. 56):
“The peaceable part of mankind will be continually overrun by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self defense.
The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order.”
Aristotle wrote in Parts of Animals (trans. A. Peck, 1961, p. 373):
“Animals have just one method of defense and cannot change it for another …
For man, on the other hand, many means of defense are available, and he can change them at any time …
Take the hand: this is as good as a talon, or a claw, or a horn, or again, a spear, or a sword, or any other weapon or tool it can be all of these.”
Aristotle wrote in Politics (trans. T. Sinclair, 1962, p. 274):
“Those who possess and can wield arms are in a position to decide whether the constitution is to continue or not.”
Thomas More wrote in Utopia (trans. R.M. Adams, 1975, p. 71):
“Men and women alike … assiduously exercise themselves in military training … to protect their own territory or to drive an invading enemy out of their friends’ land or, in pity for a people oppressed by tyranny, to deliver them by force of arms from the yoke and slavery of the tyrant.”
Roman historian Livy wrote (trans. B. Foster, 1919, p. 148):
“Formerly (in the reign of Rome’s 6th king, Servius Tullius, 578-535 BC) the right to bear arms had belonged solely to the patricians (ruling class).
Now plebeians (common citizens) were given a place in the army …
All the citizens capable of bearing arms were required to provide their own swords, spears, and other armor.”
Machiavelli wrote in On the Art of War (trans. E. Farnsworth, 1965, p. 30):
“Citizens, when legally armed … did the least mischief to any state …
Rome remained free for four hundred years and Sparta eight hundred, although their citizens were armed all that time, but many other states that have been disarmed have lost their liberty in less than forty years.”
Machiavelli wrote in Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius (trans. L. Walker, 1965, p. 492):
“If any city be armed … as Rome was … all its citizens, alike in their private and official capacity … it will be found they will be of the same mind …
But, when they are not familiar with arms and merely trust to the whim of fortune … they will change with the changes of fortune.”
Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations (ed., Cannan, p. 309):
“Men of republican principles have been jealous of a standing army as dangerous of liberty …
The standing army of Caesar destroyed the Roman Republic.
The standing army of Cromwell turned the Long Parliament out of doors.”
Earl Warren wrote in The Bill of Rights and the Military (37N.Y.U. L. Rev. 181, 1962):
“Our War of the Revolution was, in good measure, fought as a protest against standing armies …
Thus we find in the Bill of Rights, Amendment 2 … specifically authorizing a decentralized militia, guaranteeing the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Jeffrey R. Snyder, esq., wrote in “A Nation of Cowards” (The Public Interest, 1993, no. 113):
“Political theorists as dissimilar as Niccolo Machiavelli, Sir Thomas More, James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau all shared the view that the possession of arms is vital for resisting tyranny, and that to be disarmed by one’s government is tantamount to being enslaved by it.”
The Texas Declaration of Independence, March 2, 1836, stated:
“The late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers, as the cruel alternative, either abandon our homes acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny …
It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defense - the rightful property of freemen – and formidable only to tyrannical governments.”
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in An Autobiography of the Story of My Experiments with the Truth (trans. M. Desai, 1927):
“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”
Islamic sharia law forbids non-Muslims from possessing arms, swords or weapons of any kind.
Adolph Hitler acted similarly with his Edict of March 18, 1938:
“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjected people to carry arms;
history shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjected people to carry arms have prepared their own fall.”
German Firearm Act of 1937 stated:
“Firearm licenses will not be granted to Jews.”
Richard Munday reported in “The Monopoly of Power,” presented to the American Society of Criminology, 1991, the Nazi order regarding arms, SA Ober Führer of Bad Tolz:
“SA (Storm Troopers), SS (para-military Gestapo), and Stahlhelm … Anyone who does not belong to one of the above-named organizations and who unjustifiably keeps his weapon … must be regarded as an enemy of the national government and will be brought to account without compunction and with the utmost severity.”
Democrat Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was quoted by David T. Hardy in The Second Amendment as a Restraint on State and Federal Firearms Restrictions (Kates, ed., Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, 1979):
“The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”
Jefferson wrote to George Washington, 1796 (The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, John P. Foley, ed., New York & London, Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1900, No. 2138, iv, 143; Paul Leicester Ford, ed., vii. 84):
“One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them.”
Similar to the midnight ride of Paul Revere, when Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, British Colonel Tarleton led his cavalry to Charlottesville to capture him.
Jefferson barely escaped, June 3, 1781, thanks to 27-year-old Jack Jouett, Jr., the “Paul Revere of the South,” who rode all night to warn to warn him.
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, July 1775:
“We … most solemnly, before God and the world declare
that … the arms we have been compelled to assume we will use with perseverance, exerting to their utmost energies all those powers which our Creator hath given us, to preserve that liberty which He committed to us in sacred deposit.”
Start a conversation using these share links: