“Liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization [beset in every age by its] natural enemies, by ignorance and superstition, by lust of conquest and love of ease, by the strong man’s craving for power, and the poor man’s craving for food…Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.….that dreary and heartbreaking course by which men have passed to freedom, is the story of the deliverance of man from the power of man.”
—Lord Acton from The History of Freedom and Other Essays
Lord Acton, considered to be one of the greatest classical historians of all time, asserts in his writings that the American Revolution was founded on only one idea.
What was that idea? FREEDOM.
At 10 p.m. on April the 18, 1775, British soldiers left Boston to confiscate and destroy illegal weapons stored by the Colonists. These were not just hunting rifles, but cannons, rifles and gunpowder to kill the King’s soldiers. Paul Revere and others set out to warn the Colonists of the opponents’ intentions.
At this point, on the Old Concord Road, ended the midnight ride of Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott. They covered the distance of 25 miles from Boston to Concord in a few hours, alerting all they could along the way.
“The British are coming!”
They alerted many. By 2 a.m. they were met at this bend in the road by a British patrol where they were taken as prisoners to Lexington and released the next morning after which they joined John Hancock and John Adams.
The Minutemen of Acton, Concord, Lincoln, and Bedford
These were men who had been rehearsing and practicing the art of war many months prior to the outbreak of the conflict. At any moment the bells of the church would ring and they would be warned to gather and prepare for battle.
First Parish Church in Lexington
The Minute Man Statue
Captain Isaac Davis indicated of that time, “I haven’t a man that’s afraid to go.” Captain Davis would be one of the first that day to lay down his life for freedom on the first day of the revolution.
The Minuteman National Historical Park marks the starting place of the American Revolution, which began April 19, 1775. Here the resolve of citizens willing to risk their lives for the ideals of liberty and self-determination was instrumental in the formation of the American identity.
Lexington Green is where Colonial militiamen and British soldiers clashed. A force of 700 British Regulars left Boston to seize military supplies stockpiled in Concord. Alarm riders like Paul Revere alerted the countryside and that is how the men were present and prepared to stop the British at 5 a.m. In area towns, militia companies assembled, ready to defend their communities and their liberties if necessary.
The Battle of Lexington—April 19, 1775 by William Barnes Wollen
Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington
Later that day at the North Bridge at 9:30 a.m., 400 minutemen and militia gathered.
Farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers, and even a few enslaved men accompanying their owners made up this company. They watched and waited as British troops searched the town center. Ninety-six British regulars held the bridge between the center of town and the hillside.
With the sight of smoke rising from the center of town, Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer cried out, “Will you let them burn the town down?” The officers then advanced the men to the bridge to save the town.
As they arrived to cross the bridge, they met some light resistance. Then came the first order to fire by Colonists upon British troops which killed two British soldiers, with a third mortally wounded.
1836 Battle Monument
As the British soldiers marched back toward Boston, Colonial militia companies poured in. Fighting erupted along the “Battle Road” all the way back to Boston from 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. as nearly 4,000 colonists unleashed fire upon the British Regulars.
At the end of the day, the Colonists surrounded and laid siege to Boston.
“Here began the separation of two kindred nations now happily long united in peace.” —Allen French
Three companies of British Regulars (about 96 men) guarding the North Bridge opened fire upon 400 Colonists advancing from the opposite side. Major John Buttrick of Concord then issued the fateful command. “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God’s sake fire!”
For the first time, Colonists were ordered to fire upon the army of their King, and, for the first time, they killed British soldiers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson immortalized this event in his 1837 poem “The Concord Hymn.”
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 which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson House, Concord
There is a small memorial at the site for the British soldiers saying: “They came three thousand miles, and died, To keep the Past upon its throne: Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, Their English mother made her moan.”
The Grave of British Soldiers at the North Bridge
What were these ideals?
While the Declaration of Independence would not come until 15 months later in Philadelphia the ideals that would buoy it were present from the start.
John Adams expressed his sentiments and thinking of the time this way in a letter to Hezekiah Niles February 13, 1818.
“But what do We mean by the American Revolution? Do We mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People…..But when they Saw those Powers renouncing all the Principles of Authority, and bent up on the destruction of all the Securities of their Lives, Liberties and Properties, they thought it their Duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen State Congresses, &c.”
In the name of liberty—meaning their traditional liberties as Englishmen—they were willing to go to war against the tyranny of the English Parliamentary government which denied them their right to self-govern, self-defense, and self-determination as they had become accustomed. Community and Colonial unity also informed and animated this cause of action.
The movement toward liberty benefited from superb leadership in John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Warren, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington—who took command of the militia and army July 3rd, 1775. These men could articulate the vision. They possessed a bedrock of natural rights and political principles. They held a strong moral compass and sense of justice. They then build a consensus to support the vision.
Sacred to Liberty and the Rights of mankind!!! The Freedom & Independence of America. Sealed and defended with the blood of her sons. The Monument is erected By the inhabitants of Lexington, Under the patronage & at the expense of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, To the memory of heir Fellow Citizens, Ensign Robert Munroe, Mess’s Jonas Parker, Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington Jun., Isaac Muzzy, Caleb Harrington and John Brown of Lexington, & Asahel Porter of Woburn, Who fell on this field, the first Victims to the Sword of British Tyranny & Oppression. On the morning of the ever memorable Nineteenth of April. An. Dom. 1775 The Die was cast!!! The blood of these martyrs. In the cause of God & their Country. Was the Cement of the Union of these States, then Colonies; & gave the spring to the spirit. Firmness And resolution of their Fellow Citizens. They rose as one man, to revenge their brethren’s Blood and at the point of the sword to asset & Defend their native Rights. The nobly dar’d to be free!! The contest was long, bloody & affecting Righteous Heaven approved the solemn appeal; Victory crowned their arms; and The Peace, Liberty & Independence of the United States of America, was their glorious reward. Built in the year 1799.
—Inscription on the Lexington Revolutionary War Monument
To commemorate this day, this flag is now flown on The Lexington Green by law for 24 hours a day 7 days a week—one of the few flags in the United States mandated to do so.
These monuments to “the shot heard round the world” ask us an important question today: do we possess the character, courage and understanding of liberty and freedom to merit them and the price it costs to obtain, retain and defend them?
What a solemn and sobering experience to walk these parks and read these monuments. Remember and reflect on this sacred trust we now hold.