On this day 256 years ago, what we have come to know as “the shot heard round the world” was fired and began the 8-year-long struggle for this nation’s independence, the Revolutionary War.
It was a spring day. Tensions were already high in what was then the Colonies. Events had already taken place: the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre. The desire was for independence from England, which had been born out of the continued imposition of excessive taxation on the colonies from across the sea, with no representation, by a Parliament that saw the colonies only as a source for building the English treasury and a deeply felt lack of respect for the people of the colonies.
This lack of respect for the colonies and their citizens and the growing anger that resulted from it had reached the boiling point. Something had to happen, and the murmurings of war were everywhere.
General Gage, the British commander, was fully aware of these tensions, and he thought that he would nip them in the bud, so to speak, by finding and capturing some of the colonial ring leaders, like John Adams of Massachusetts and others, and put a stop to all of this talk and foment for independence.
He formed a force of some 800 troops with artillery in Boston to go after these patriots and to capture their rumored weapons caches in Concord. An advanced force of some 200 British troops arrived in Lexington in the morning. There they were met by a group of some 70-odd Minutemen who had heard of the British advance and had gathered at a tavern on the Lexington green.
When the British force arrived, they faced these Minutemen, whose intent was just to show that they were not going to be pushed about. Their commander, Capt. John Parker, was fully aware that he was badly outnumbered and told his Minutemen to “Stand your ground. Do not fire unless fired upon. If they want war, they shall have it.”
Parker ordered his men to leave the field, but a shot was suddenly fired. It was not clear who shot it, but the British opened up with a volley on the Minutemen. The Minutemen returned a volley and retreated. In those few moments, 17 Minutemen fell, either wounded or dead. Eight died in that first brief opening battle. They retreated toward Concord to help defend the weapons cache there. Minutemen from surrounding towns began to form up and when they saw smoke rising from fires the British had set to some homes in the direction of Concord. All headed there.
It was there, at the Old North Bridge over the Concord River, within sight of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Manse, that the two opposing forces faced each other. This time, it was the British who were outnumbered. The British had advanced to the bridge and over it toward the barn up on the hill above it where the arms cache was stored.
A group of Minutemen advanced on the British troops, and a volley was fired, and several of the Minutemen fell, including their leader. With that, the Americans opened up with a massive volley, and the British panicked and started falling back across the Old North Bridge.
That volley is what became known as “the shot heard round the world,” because of a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “Concord Hymn.” Below is the first stanza:
“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 peace and beauty of that April day were ripped apart at this momentous skirmish. Cherry trees were in bloom along the road leading up to the Old North Bridge. The fields next to the Emerson Manse were ready to be prepared for planting. On that morning, all of the pent-up emotions and all the remembered slights that the colonists had endured from their English overlord burst forth in the spring morning silence with rifle volleys, cannon fire, and angry shouts from the emboldened patriots.
The British went into full retreat to get back to Boston. But by this time, thousands of Minutemen and patriots had come to the battle. They harassed the British troops, ambushing them from the woods and from behind the rock walls of farms along the way. By the end of the retreat, 70 British troops had been killed and 40 colonials.
The war for independence had begun and would go on for 8 long years. Because of what happened there at Lexington and Concord, the forces for independence were emboldened, and the “idea” of freedom and independence gathered momentum and became a force that would not be stopped.
The Founding Fathers would make their intent official some three months later with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia.
Today, let us remember and reflect upon the events and the struggle that went into the ultimate independence of this nation. Let us reflect upon the writings of the Founding Fathers and recognize the empowerment of the citizenry, the courage, the maturity, the commitment to the common good that they articulated and gave birth to for the first time in human history.
Let us never forget that freedom isn’t free and that the freedoms that our Founding Fathers codified in the Constitution of the United States some six years after the end of the Revolutionary War was won are fragile and must be honored, guarded, and lived out in every generation.
The faith, the wisdom, and the moral maturity of our Founding Fathers were born out of a sense of human liberty that was rooted in reason and that recognized a mutual duty of all citizens to promote the common good. The form of government they conceived, its formation and its strength, can only thrive and continue through a citizenry that is mature enough to recognize their duty to govern themselves with maturity and an educated awareness of their role as citizens rooted solidly in a full-grown adult sense of common interest and common duty.
President John F. Kennedy understood this when he quoted from the Gospel of St. Luke: 12:48, “For to those whom much has been given, much is required.” Our duties are not founded on ideologies of any stripe. As the Founding Fathers understood so clearly, they are born out of a mature awareness of universal truths, like those articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
These are the universal truths that were true then, before then, to this very day, and for as long as the Earth remains, because they come from the Creator, not the government. They have not changed, and they never will. ALL are Equal. All are endowed by their Creator with Certain Unalienable Rights. Therefore, those Rights must be honored with equal dedication, passion, and courage today as they were on April 19, 1775, and on July 4, 1776.
May we never forget that our duty as citizens is always for the other, for the common good, not just that of the individual. E Pluribus Unum.Whizzco