SAN JOSE, CA In the year 1775,between April 18 and 19, American history reveals that a single shot ignited the American War for Independence. It was a long and hard fought war and many people lost their lives. The generation of the Founders understood that freedom came at great cost. Such a concept is not too prevalent today — that notion that freedom should cost anything. It is certainly lost on the younger generations. However, the Founders realized that people’s freedom had never been free. It was much more black and white in their day.
America was born when good, common people were willing to lay down their lives for the freedom of their children and the future generations. Good, common people were willing to lay down their lives for the freedom of people whom they would never know. This is truly the deep and bloodstained reality of the birth of the Land of the Free. Between the very late hours of April 18th and the morning of 19th, Massachusetts men and boys got out of their beds with an intent to face a deadly enemy. They gathered their powder horns, and muskets, and shot and went out to Lexington Green. There they waited for the dreaded British troops who marched methodically toward Lexington. British colonial governor, Gen. Thomas Gage, had dispatched a contingent of approximately 700 British regulars to arrest two men. These troops had marched from Boston and were sent to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington. A reported cache of gunpowder, ammunition, and weapons near Concord was also to be seized.
The Americans, however, had made contingency plans that had been implemented and fulfilled. On the weekend prior to April 18th, Paul Revere had organized a plan to use lighted lanterns hung in the tower of the Old North Church as critical signals. Many riders had been organized to warn colonists the British troops would be marching and taking a land route or one by water. Revere was not certain he would be able to leave Boston with the British curfew in effect. Yet, he was able to slip away in the night and had arranged for compatriots to row him across the Charles River to get a decent head start to warn the two leaders in Lexington.
A unique American response to the British military’s harassment of the people in their homes had been organized. In reality, several volunteer riders rode to warn Adams and Hancock and the rural folk and call the able-bodied to arms. On that April evening, Paul Revere, Dr. Samuel Prescott, William Dawes, and other riders alerted fellow citizens that British regulars were marching. . As the cries of alarm spread “through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country folk to be up in arms,” as Longfellow reminded Americans in 1860, ordinary people responded. They rose out of their beds and braced themselves to face a formidable foe.
About midnight, William Dawes, who had ridden on a different route, arrived in Lexington shortly after Revere. While Revere and Dawes made it to Lexington, neither of them made it to Concord. Though Prescott rode with the two, all three were captured by a British patrol along the road to Concord. Dawes and Prescott got away, but Dawes’ horse threw him. Eventually only Prescott made it to Concord. The cache of weapons was saved as contingency plans proved invaluable.
The primary plans, directives from the primitive Continental Congress to prepare local militias to meet the British threat, also worked. But, the shot heard ’round the world sparked warfare. A rag-tag band of men and boys made their way to Lexington Green to wait in the dark of a cool April morning. They would have been uncertain of what would happen next because it had never happened before. Certainly, these brave souls had not read a British military manual instructing them that it was futile to resist. They stood their ground, waiting. Some may have been wondering if they would get back home to their beds that day. Approximately, 38 – 77 citizens (accounts vary) stood their ground — against 700 feared Redcoats.
The point of this history? The soldiers of the English King represented a government determined to dominate its people. Firing live ammunition at the king’s troops was akin to firing at the King of England directly. And, he considered the incident an act of rebellion. The historic showdown that occurred involved regular, everyday people pitted against a professional army of well-armed and well-trained representatives of a repressive regime. Can we relate this historical moment to other showdowns between those people who yearn to be free from control of a government over their personal lives? History is filled with such showdowns. But, this particular showdown clearly represents one of the most dramatic confrontations in history.
Ironically, the very “first shot” Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to in his famous poem “The Concord Hymn,” was fired at Lexington and not at Concord. Granted, a much larger skirmish occurred lin Concord later in the day of the 19th. Nevertheless, Emerson’s poem immortalized this moment in human history. The “shot heard ‘round the world” initiated a new movement for freedom that would once again transform the world in a most powerful manner. The battles at Lexington and Concord began a sequence of events leading to the vote by the American Colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain. That, in turn, led to their formal Declaration of Independence. That manifesto for human freedom, in turn, led to the American War for Independence. That in turn, led to the United States of America.
In 2020, it is quite important to note that the “shot” Emerson immortalized in his famous poem, was truly not a shot that ignited Independence. That particular showdown pitted less than a hundred boys and men of Lexington against a fearsome fighting machine of 700 troops. Those brave boys and men had to leave their sleep, left their beds, their comfort zones. Those brave boys and men had to face the cold chill of an April morning in New England. Those brave boys and men had to face their fears of death. It was not the shot that ignited the quest for freedom in America. These brave souls stood their ground against all odds in the appointed time. Those few brave individuals stood for freedom, and knew full well they could lose their lives to their noble cause.
Secular historians may not agree on the much deeper significance of this moment, but those few brave individuals were willing to lay their lives down for freedom on that day. As Emerson clearly stated: “To die, and leave their children free…” Those brave souls stood their ground.
They faced down fear. Those brave souls understood that freedom comes at a great cost. This was the spark that ignited the American War for Independence. America represented at that time in history a new beginning for people to stand up to tyranny. It represented a blood-stained
beginning of a long dramatic struggle for freedom, not just for the nation, but for the entire world. The birth of the United States of America came at a great cost: the cost of many lives.
The point of this reflection on actions from long, long ago? Today America still stands, but if the flame of the passion for freedom dies with America, where will freedom reside? It is doubtful that most wise people would disagree that freedom comes at a great cost. But, now there is another historic showdown upon the horizon. Another formidable enemy lies across another ocean. A real threat to freedom exists in the world from other representatives of a repressive regime. Today, can we as Americans hold on to the spirit of courage and passion for freedom that sparked our quest for freedom all those years ago?
The planet is poised in this time for a new movement toward freedom in every corner of the world. Another historic showdown may loom on the horizon, but is there still a passion for freedom in America? In America today, is there a genuine passion for freedom for the desperate peoples of the world — in China? — in Iran? — in North Korea? — in Venezuela? Are the people in those countries not crushed under governments determined to dominate their people? When the showdown shows up, will there be people of courage in America who will support the move
toward the freedom of the peoples of the world? Or, will our advocacy of freedom only be empty words and false promises? Our history shows the world one thing, but in the time of the coming showdown between freedom and tyranny, will Americans still stand for freedom for the rest of the world?
Lead Image: By William Barns Wollen, 1910. – https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1959-11-302-1, Public Domain,