Today we remember the battles at Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775.
Growing up, some of my greatest heroes were the men who fought during the Revolutionary War.
When I was a child, however, many of the details and the reasons why the war was fought were beyond my understanding, or not taught in school.
As I look back on the events that led up to that pivotal, world changing day, I feel such overwhelming awe and gratitude to those who stood and fought. Knowing more about the historical context makes for a much more profound appreciation of what those brave men did.
Starting in 1764, Great Britain had begun to increase restrictions on American Colonists and to impose increasingly burdensome taxes. American Colonists demonstrated their world renowned stubbornness and independent spirit by resisting these efforts, notably by demonstrations such as the Boston Tea Party.
Incensed by such acts of resistance, the British Parliament in 1774 declared Massachusetts to be in a state of “open rebellion”. On September 1st 1774, the British, under General Thomas Gage, attempted to disarm and disperse the Colonial militia by seizing hundreds of barrels of gunpowder at Charlestown, Massachusetts.
In response, militia from all over New England began to gather in anticipation of possible armed conflict. While no battle was fought that day, the groundwork for our war for independence had been laid. It was becoming increasingly clear that the Colonists would not long put up with further restrictions imposed on their commerce, property, and rights.
Subsequently, in various assemblies, including the Worcester Convention, the Suffolk Assembly and the First Continental Congress, the Colonists codified their resolve to resist British imposition of laws that they viewed as unjust.
In response, General Gage directed warrantless search of Colonial homes and the seizure of arms and ammunition. This only increased the Colonists’ resistance. They took measures to organize and empower the militia; including authorizing a new Committee of Safety with powers to call forth the militia in defense of Massachusetts.
Over the next months, the British Parliament and the nascent independent Colonial government were increasingly at odds. One of their most fundamental divides stemmed from the Colonists belief that their right to self defense and to bear arms was inalienable, rather than having been granted by British authority.
Some months later, with tensions between Great Britain and the Colonies only increasing, British high command ordered approximately 700 soldiers to march north from Boston to Lexington to seize militia weapons at the town’s armory.
Alerted by a party of dispatch riders sent to warn the town (the most famous of which was Paul Revere) 77 militia members met the British forces on the town green at Lexington. After being ordered to surrender their arms in face of far superior numbers, the militia began to disperse. Just then, a single shot was heard, prompting an active engagement. During the fight, eight militia members were killed, and another 9 wounded. Only one British soldier was wounded.
British forces, continuing on to Concord to search for additional arms, met with more substantial resistance. Encountering a larger force of militia, British troops retreated towards Boston. By then, militia forces, travelling from surrounding towns, now numbered over two thousand men.
Engaging in several attacks on the retreating British, they were able to drive them back to Charlestown.
The events of that day represented a defining moment in our country’s history. By their actions and sacrifice, the militia stood their ground and fought against an attack on one of their most fundamental inalienable rights…the right to bear arms. By doing this they stood up for all of us. For this we are eternally in their debt.
Every generation since then has been tasked with preserving these hard won rights, whether through battle against foreign nations that threatened our country, or by standing up against legislative and judicial attacks on these same rights.
Today, as we remember the events of that April day so many years ago, we must look to those who stood and fought before us as examples we must follow. While today, instead of taking up arms, we battle legislation and court rulings that infringe on our rights, we are fighting for the same cause.
To those brave militia men who took the first stand against oppression, to those Sons of Liberty, we are eternally grateful.
(This article originally appeared in April of 2018)
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