On April 19, 1775, the War for American Independence began when skirmishes broke out between British troops (aka Redcoats) and colonial militiamen known as Minutemen. The first skirmish occurred in Lexington, Massachusetts, where eight Minutemen were killed and one Redcoat was wounded.
From Lexington, about 100 Redcoats marched to Concord, Massachusetts, where they met approximately 400 Minutemen. The rebels fired on the Redcoats on the orders of their commander, marking the first time an American military made a coordinated attack on an enemy. The Redcoats, being outnumbered, retreated towards their base camp in Boston.
Records indicate that the shots at Concord were actually fired at the Old North Bridge, which was subsequently torn down and rebuilt after the end of the war. In 1956 a replica of the Old North Bridge was built in the same place where the original one once stood (pictured) The bridge and surrounding land are all part of Minute Man National Historical Park and is a tourist destination.
All told, 49 rebels and 73 Redcoats were killed between the two battles. American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described the battles at Lexington and Concord as “the shot heard ’round the world” in his 1837 work “Concord Hymn,” made specifically to commemorate the battle. In case that was all much too dry, here’s the Schoolhouse Rock version of events:
History in Action
Of course, Lexington and Concord were just the beginning of war, not of revolution in general. Tensions between Britain and the colonies had been simmering for some time due to excessive taxes being levied against the colonists despite them not having representation in Parliament. There had been many smaller incidents of insurrection leading up to Lexington and Concord from now famous names such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, and Patrick Henry.
After Lexington and Concord, war was officially on. Over the next eight and a half years, thousands of Americans would lose their lives in the fight for liberty. In fact, while only about 6,800 Americans died in battle, it’s estimated that an additional 17,000 died of disease and exposure, many of them as prisoners of war of the British. And, of course, in July 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed and circulated. After the war, the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution set about a government that persist to this day.
In fact, from the chaos and death came what would literally be the model of government for developing nations over the next 170 or so years. The idea of a representative republic in which the heads of state were held accountable to a governing document known as the Constitution was indeed the most revolutionary idea of the time. France used this model almost immediately after the Americans did. The Germanic states used this as a model when they unified Germany in the late 19th century. And it has been used in countless other nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The legacy of the Revolution can still be seen today. Americans are, by and large, independently-minded people who like having autonomy free from too much global influence. While this, like any form of patriotism, can lead to difficult diplomatic situations on the world stage, it is also nice to know that the United States will continue to be a world leader and a self-contained government.
And sure, if the leaders of the Revolution could see us today, they would be disappointed. To wit: the partisan politics, the career politicians, the bureaucratic hurdles to doing something as simple as repairing a backyard fence, the expanse and power of the executive branch of government, the number of countries in which the USA has military bases, the amount of American tax dollars that are spent on items and things that have no real benefit for American taxpayers, the fiat currency, and the realpolitik of corporate welfare. They would be disappointed (as they should be) at those things.
But then again, we have also expanded freedoms to minorities and women (though, admittedly, both took an embarrassingly long time and are still in process in many ways), we have emerged as a world leader, we have built that “special relationship” with Great Britain that has served both peoples well, we have used an economy of free enterprise to help shape the cutting edge of medical, military, digital, and manufacturing technology, and we have managed, by and large, to avoid enemy attacks on American soil, with Pearl Harbor and the War of 1812 being the notable exceptions.
So take some time today to be thankful that those brave men fought at Lexington and Concord. Without them the world would be a much, much different place than it is. And the world has, generally speaking, been more peaceful since then. Sure, there are many, many instances of death and destruction. Both World Wars, the Civil War, Vietnam, the Boer War, Desert Storm, 9/11, Operation Iraqi Freedom, church bombs, crazed shooters…but statistically speaking, there has been no more peaceful time in the documented history of the world. Republican forms of government, spreading the idea of representative democracy, have literally saved the world in many ways. Let’s hope it continues to do so, whatever the existential threats may be.