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Ch. 14: The Shot Heard Round The World

Franklin was sixty-seven years of age at this time; no man was then alive
more worthy than he of honor and veneration. For twenty years he had
guarded the interests of America in England; and while he had been
unswerving in his wise solicitude for the colonies, he had ever been
heedful to avoid all needless offense to England. The best men there were
the men who held Franklin in highest esteem as a politician, a
philosopher, and a man; and in France he was regarded as a superior being.
No other man could have filled his place as agent of the colonies: no
other had his sagacity, his experience, his wisdom, his address. He was
not of that class of diplomatists who surround every subject they handle
with a tissue of illusion or falsehood; Franklin was always honest and
undisguised in his transactions; so that what was long afterward said of a
lesser man was true of him: "Whatever record spring to light, he never
will be shamed." No service rendered by him to his country was more useful
than the exposure of Hutchinson; none was more incumbent on him, as
protector of colonial affairs. But in the rage which possessed the English
ministry upon learning how Massachusetts had parried the attack made upon
her liberties, some immediate victim was indispensable; and as Franklin
was there present, they fell upon him. A fluent and foul-mouthed young
barrister, Alexander Wedderburn by name, had by corrupt influence secured
the post of solicitor-general; and he made use of the occasion of
Franklin's submitting the petition for the removal of Hutchinson and
Oliver, to make a personal attack upon him, which was half falsehood and
half ribaldry. He pretended that the Hutchinson letters had been
dishonorably acquired, and that their publication was an outrage on
private ownership. Incidentally, he painted Hutchinson as a true patriot
and savior of his country; and called Franklin an incendiary, a traitor, a
hypocrite, who should find a fitting termination of his career on the
gallows. This billingsgate was heaped upon him before an unusually full
meeting of the lords of the privy council, the highest court of appeal;
and they laughed and cheered, while the venerable envoy of the colonies
stood "conspicuously erect," facing them with a steady countenance. Such,
and of such temper, were the aristocratic rulers of England and of America
(if she would be ruled) at this epoch.

America's friends in England were still stanch; but the ministry found no
difficulty in giving events a color which irritated the English people at
large against the colonies, and against Boston in particular; and they had
little trouble in securing the passage of the Boston Port Bill, the effect
of which was to close the largest and busiest port in the colonies against
all commerce whatsoever. Fuller said that it could not be put in execution
but by a military force; to which Lord North answered, "I shall not
hesitate to enforce a due obedience to the laws of this country." Another
added, "You will never meet with proper obedience until you have destroyed
that nest of locusts." Lord George Germain, speaking of revoking the
Massachusetts charter, said, "Whoever wishes to preserve such charters, I
wish him no worse than to govern such subjects." The act passed both
houses without a division, and Gage was appointed military governor, in
place of Hutchinson, who was recalled; and four regiments were quartered
in Boston. The wharfs were empty and deserted; the streets were dull, the
shops were closed; but the British Coffee House in King Street was gay
once more; and King George in London, felt that he was having his revenge,
though he was paying a round price for it. But Boston, having shown that
she could do without tea, and without commerce, was now about to show that
she could also do without George.

Nobody but Americans could govern America. The people were too
intelligent, too active, too various-minded, too full of native quality
and genius to be ruled from abroad. If they were to fall under foreign
subjection, they would become a dead weight in the world, instead of a
source of life; as Adams said, every increase in population would be but
an increase of slaves. And that they preferred death to slavery was every
day becoming increasingly manifest. They felt that the future was in them,
and that they must have space and freedom to bring it forth; and it is one
of the paradoxes of history that England, to whom they stood in
blood-relationship, from whom they derived the instinct for liberty,
should have attempted to reduce them to the most absolute bondage anywhere
known, except in the colonies of Spain. She was actuated partly by the
pride of authority, centered in George III., and from him percolating into
his creatures in the ministry and Parliament; and partly by the horde of
office-seekers and holders whose aim was sheer pecuniary gain at any cost
of honor and principle. The mercantile class had borne their share in
oppression at first; but when it became evident that tyranny applied to
America would kill her productiveness, the merchants were no longer on the
side of the tyrants. It was then too late to change the policy of the
country, however; George would have his way to the bitter end; the blind
lust to thrash the colonies into abject submission had the upper hand in
England; reason could not get a hearing; and such criticisms as the
opposition could offer served only to make still more rigid and medieval
the determination of the king.

It was the policy of the English government to regard Boston as the
head-center of revolt, and to concentrate all severities against her. It
was thought that in this way she could be isolated from the other
colonies, who would say to themselves that her troubles were none of
their affair, and that so long as they were treated with decency they
would not antagonize all-powerful England. Arguing from the average
selfishness of human nature, this policy did not seem unwise; but the fact
was that in this case human nature manifested an exceptional generosity
and enlightenment. Although the colonies, being on the coast, must depend
largely for their prosperity on commerce, and commerce is notoriously
self-seeking, nevertheless all the American settlements without exception
made the cause of Boston their own, sent her supplies to tide over her
evil days, and passed resolutions looking to union and common action
against oppression. South Carolina had every selfish ground for siding
with England; her internal affairs were in a prosperous condition, and her
traffic with England was profitable, and not likely to be interfered with;
yet none of the colonies was more outspoken and thoroughgoing than she in
denouncing England's action and befriending Boston. The great commonwealth
of Virginia was not less altruistic in her conduct, and did more than any
of her sister provinces to enforce the doctrine of union and independence.
New York, a colony in which aristocracy held a dominant place, owing to
the tenure of large estates by the patroons, and which necessarily was a
commercial center, yet spoke with no uncertain voice, in spite of the fact
that there were there two parties, representing the lower and the upper
social class, whose differences were marked, and later led to the
formation of two political parties throughout the colonies. In
Pennsylvania, the combination of non-fighting Quakers and careful traders
deadened energy in the cause, and the preachings of Dickinson, the
venerable "Farmer," were interpreted as favoring a policy of conciliation;
but this hesitation was only temporary. The new-made city of Baltimore was
conspicuous in patriotism; and the lesser colonies, and many
out-of-the-way hamlets and villages, were magnificent in their devotion
and liberality. The demand for a congress was general, and Boston was made
to feel that her sacrifices were understood and appreciated. She had but
to pay for the tea which had been thrown overboard, and her port would
have been reopened and her business restored; but she staked her existence
upon a principle and did not weaken. There were, in all parts of the
colonies, a strong minority of loyalists, as they called themselves,
traitors, as they were termed by extremists on the other side, or tories,
as they came to be known later on, who did and said what they could to
induce submission to England, with all which that implied. But the
practical assistance they were able to give to England was never
considerable, and, on the other hand, they sharpened the senses of the
patriots and kept them from slackening their efforts or modifying their

Gage, a weak and irresolute man, as well as a stupid one, was making a
great bluster in Boston. His powers were despotic. Soldiers and frigates
were his in abundance; he talked about arresting the patriots for treason,
to be tried in England; and Parliament had passed an act relieving him and
his men from all responsibility for killings or other outrages done upon
the colonists. He transferred the legislature from Boston to Salem; and
urged in season and out of season the doctrine that resistance to England
was hopeless. Upon the whole, his threats were more terrible than his
deeds, though these were bad enough. Meanwhile Hutchinson in England had
been encouraging and at the same time misleading the king, by assurances
that the colonies would not unite, and that Boston must succumb. At the
same time, Washington was declaring that nothing was to be expected from
petitioning, and that he was ready to raise a thousand men and subsist
them at his own expense, and march at their head for the relief of Boston;
Thomson Mason was saying that he did not wish to survive the liberties of
his country a single moment; Prescott of New Hampshire was affirming that
"a glorious death in defense of our liberties is better than a short and
infamous life"; Israel Putnam of Connecticut announced himself ready to
treat the army and navy of England as enemies; and thousands of citizens
in Massachusetts were compelling royal councilors to resign their places,
and answering those who threatened them with the charge of treason and
death with--"No consequences are so dreadful to a free people as that of
being made slaves." Jay's suggestion to form a union under the auspices of
the king was disapproved: "We must stand undisguised on one side or the
other." Gage's orders were ignored; judges appointed by royal decree were
forced to retire; and "if British troops should march to Worcester, they
would be opposed by at least twenty thousand men from Hampshire County and
Connecticut." Gage, finding himself confronted by a population, could
think of no remedy but more troops. He wrote to England that "the people
are numerous, waked up to a fury, and not a Boston rabble, but the
freeholders of the county. A check would be fatal, and the first stroke
will decide a great deal. We should therefore be strong before anything
decisive is urged." He had, on the 1st of September, 1774, captured two
hundred and fifty half-barrels of provincial powder, stored at Quarry
Hill, near Medford. Forty thousand militia, from various parts of the
country, took up arms and prepared to march on Boston; and though word was
sent to them that the time had not yet come, their rising was an object
lesson to those who had been asserting that the colonies would submit.
Gage had ten regiments at his disposal, but was trying to raise a force of
Canadians and Indians in addition, and was asking for still more
re-enforcements from England. The employment of Indians was a new thing in
English policy, and was a needless barbarism which can never be excused or
palliated. Gage fortified Boston Neck, thus putting all within the lines
at the mercy of his army; yet the starving carpenters of the town refused
to erect barracks for the British troops. Outside of Boston, the towns
threw off the English yoke. Hawley said he would resist the whole power of
England with the forces of the four New England colonies alone; and every
man between sixteen and seventy years of age was enrolled under the name
of "minute-men," ready to march and fight at a minute's warning.

On the 5th of September, the first American Congress met in Philadelphia.
Almost all the eminent men of the country were present--Gadsden of South
Carolina, Washington, Dickinson, Patrick Henry, Lee, the Adamses, and many
more. They agreed to vote by colonies. Their business was to consider a
constitution, to protest against the regulating act in force at Boston,
which left no liberty to the citizens; to frame a declaration of rights,
and to make a statement to the king of their attitude and demands. The
session was long, for the delegates had to make one another's
acquaintance, and to discover a middle course between what was desired by
separate colonies and what was agreeable to all. Great differences of
opinion and policy were developed, and there were not wanting men like
Galloway, the Speaker, who aimed at paralyzing all resistance to England.
But the longer they debated and voted, the more clearly and unanimously
did they oppose the tyrannous acts of Parliament and the extension of the
royal prerogative, and the more firmly did they demand liberty and
equality. Separation they did not demand, but a free union with the mother
country, to the mutual enrichment and advantage of both. By a concession,
they admitted the right of Parliament to lay external duties and to
regulate trade; but they strongly indorsed the resistance of
Massachusetts, and declared that if her oppression were persisted in, it
would be the duty of all America to come to her aid. With the hope of
influencing the merchants of England to reflect upon the injustice of the
present trade restrictions, they voted to cease all imports into England,
and to refuse all exports therefrom, though the loss and inconvenience to
themselves from this resolve must be immeasurably greater than to the
older country, which had other sources of supply and markets for goods. In
all that they did, they were ruled by the consideration that they
possessed no power of enforcing their decrees upon their own
fellow-countrymen, and must therefore so frame them that the natural
instinct for right and justice should induce to obedience to them. Their
moderation, their desire for conciliation, was marked throughout; and when
a message was received from Boston, reciting the iniquitous proceedings of
Gage, and proposing, if the Congress agreed, that the citizens of the
wealthiest community in the new world should abandon their homes and
possessions and retire to a life of log huts and cornfields in the
wilderness--when this heroic suggestion was made, the Congress resisted
the fiery counsel of Gadsden to march forthwith on Boston and drive Gage
and his army into the sea; and bade the people of Boston to be patient yet
a while, and await the issue of the message to England. But although they
were conscientious in adopting every measure that could honorably be
employed to induce England to reconsider her behavior, they had little
hope of a favorable issue. "After all, we must fight," said Hawley; and
Washington, when he heard it, raised his hand, and called God to witness
as he cried out, "I am of that man's mind!"

Their final utterance to England was noble and full of dignity. "To your
justice we appeal. You have been told that we are impatient of government
and desirous of independence. These are calumnies. Permit us to be as free
as yourselves, and we shall ever esteem a union with you to be our
greatest glory and our greatest happiness. But if you are determined that
your ministers shall wantonly sport with the rights of mankind: if neither
the voice of justice, the dictates of law, the principles of the
constitution, or the suggestions of humanity, can restrain your hands from
shedding human blood in such an impious cause, we must then tell you that
we will never submit to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for any
ministry or nation in the world."

In order to cripple America, the new province of Quebec was enlarged, so
as to cut off the western extension of several of the older colonies. At
the same time discrimination against the Catholics was relaxed, and the
Canadians were given to understand that they would be treated with favor.
The Americans, however, were not blind to the value of Canadian
friendship, and sent emissaries among them to secure their good will. "If
you throw in your lot with us," they were told, "you will have been
conquered into liberty." In Virginia, Lord Dunmore had been appointed
governor, and in order to gratify his passion for wealth, he broke the
injunction of the king, and allowed the extension of the province
westward; but this was the result of his personal greed, and did not
prevent his hostility to all plans for colonial liberty. Nevertheless, his
conduct gained him temporary popularity in Virginia; and still more did
his management of the war against the Shawnees, brought on by their
attacks upon the frontiersmen who had pushed their little settlements as
far as the Mississippi. These backwoodsmen were always on the borders of
peril, and aided in hastening the spread of population westward.

The proceedings of the American Congress produced a sensation in England;
they were more moderate in tone and able in quality than had been
anticipated. They could not divert the king from his purpose, but they
aroused sympathy in England among the People, and from Lord Chatham the
remark that the annals of Greece and Rome yielded nothing so lofty and
just in sentiment as their remonstrance. The non-representative character
of Parliament at this juncture is illustrated by the fact that
three-fourths of the English population were estimated to be opposed to
the war with America. It was also pointed out that it would be difficult
to find men to fill the regiments, inasmuch as all the ablebodied men in
England were needed to carry on the industries of the country; there were
no general officers of reputation, and many of those holding commissions
were mere boys, or incompetent for service. There were three million
people in America, and they would be fighting for their own homes, and
amid them, with the whole vastness of the continent to retire into. On the
other hand, it was asserted that the Americans were all cowards, and
incapable of discipline; that five thousand English soldiers were more
than a match for fifty thousand provincials. They had no navy, no army, no
forts, no organization. They would collapse at the first real threat of
force. The English ministry and their followers vied with one another in
heaping contempt and abuse upon the colonists. It was in reply to them
that Burke made one of his greatest speeches. Burke was an artist in
sentiments, and cannot be regarded as a statesman of settled and profound
convictions; his voice regarding America had not been consistent or wise;
but ever and anon he threw forth some worthy and noble thought. "I do not
know the method," he said in his speech, "of drawing up an indictment
against a whole people." Franklin, in March, after listening to one of
Lord Sandwich's shallow and frothy vilifications of America, "turned on
his heel" and left England. With him vanished the last hope of
reconciliation. "Had I been in power," exclaimed Hutchinson, "I would not
have suffered him to embark."

The colonists everywhere were collecting arms and ammunition, storing
powder, and diligently drilling. Whatever the leaders might say, or
refrain from saying, the mass of the people believed in the immediate
probability of war with England. In every village you could see the
farmers shouldering arms and marching to and fro on the green, while an
old man played the fife and a boy beat the drum. They did not concern
themselves about "regimentals" or any of the pomp and glory of battle; but
they knew how to cast bullets, and how to shoot them into the bull's-eye.
In their homespun small-clothes, home-knit stockings, home-made shirts and
cowhide shoes, they could march to the cannon's mouth as well as in the
finest scarlet broadcloth and gold epaulets. Their intelligence, their
good cause, their sore extremity, made them learn to be soldiers more
quickly than seemed possible to English officers who knew the sturdy
stupidity of the English peasant of whom the British regiments were
composed. And while the Yankees (as they began to be called) were learning
how to march and countermarch, and do whatever else the system of the
British regulars called for, they also knew, by inheritance, if not by
actual experience, the tactics of the Indians; they could make a fortress
of a rock or a tree or a rail fence, and could shoot and vanish, or fall,
as it seemed, from the empty air into the midst of the unsuspecting foe.
They were effective not only in bodies, but individually; and in the heart
of each, as he faced the foe, would be not only the resolve to conquer,
but the holy thought of wife and children, and of liberty. They were as
fit to be led by Washington as was he to lead them. Professing to despise
them, Gage nevertheless protested against taking the field with less than
twenty thousand men; upon which David Hume scornfully observed, "If fifty
thousand men and twenty millions of money were intrusted to such a
lukewarm coward, they never could produce any effect." It was resolved to
supersede him.

The men of Portsmouth had seized a quantity of powder and arms, which
belonged to them, but had been sequestered in the fort. The British, as a
set-off, marched to Salem to capture some stores there; they did not find
them, and proceeded toward Danvers. A river, spanned by a drawbridge,
intervened, and when they arrived, the draw was up. There stood Colonel
Timothy Pickering, with forty provincials, asking what Captain Leslie with
his two hundred red-coated regulars wanted. The captain blustered and
threatened; but the draw remained up, and the provincials all had guns in
their hands, and looked able and willing to use them, if occasion
demanded. But the captain did not think it best to give the signal for
combat, and meanwhile time was passing, and no soothsayer was needed to
reveal that the stores were being removed to a place of safety. After an
hour or so, Colonel Pickering relented so far as to permit the captain and
his regulars to cross the bridge and advance thirty yards beyond it; after
which he must face about and return to Boston. This he did; and thus ended
the first collision between the colonies and England. Nobody was hurt; but
in less than two months blood was to be shed on both sides. "The two
characteristics of this people, religion and humanity, are strongly marked
in all their proceedings," John Adams had said. "Resistance by arms
against usurpation and lawless violence is not rebellion by the law of God
or the land. If there is no possible medium between absolute independence
and subjection to the authority of Parliament, all North America are
convinced of their independence, and determined to defend it at all
hazards." The British answer to utterances like these was to seize a
farmer from the country, who had come to town to buy a firelock, tar and
feather him, stick a placard on his back, "American liberty, or a specimen
of democracy," and conduct him through the streets amid a mob of soldiers
and officers, to the strains of "Yankee Doodle."

As the last moments before the irrevocable outbreak passed away, there
was both a strong yearning for peace, and a stern perception that peace
must be impossible. "If Americans would be free, they must fight," said
Patrick Henry in Virginia. One after another, with singular unanimity, the
colonies fell in with this view. New York was regarded by the British as
most likely to be loyal; New England, and especially Massachusetts, were
expected to be the scene of the first hostilities. Sir William Howe,
brother of the Howe who died bravely in the Old French War, was appointed
commander-in-chief in place of Gage. The latter was directed to adopt the
most rigorous and summary measures toward the Boston people, whose
congress was pronounced by Thurlow and Wedderburn to be a treasonable
body, deserving of condign punishment. Orders were given to raise
regiments of French Papists in Canada; and the signal that should let
loose the red men for their work of tomahawking women and children was in
suspense. It was now the middle of April.

The winter season had been exceptionally mild. In the country neighboring
Boston the leaves were budding a month earlier than usual, and the grass
was deep and green as in English meadows. The delicate and fragrant
blossoms of the mayflower made the wooded hillsides sweet, and birds were
singing and building their nests in the mild breezes, under the
cloud-flecked sky. The farmers were sowing their fields and caring for
their cattle; their wives were feeding their poultry and milking their
cows; New England seemed to have put off her sternness, and to be wearing
her most inviting and peaceful aspect. Innocence and love breathed in the
air and murmured in the woods, and warbled in the liquid flowing of the
brooks. In such a time and place, Adam and Eve might have begun the life
of humanity on earth, and found in the loveliness and beauty of the world
a fitting image of the tranquillity and tenderness that overflowed their
guileless hearts.

But Eden was far away from New England in the spring of 1775. Committees
of Safety had been formed in all the towns, whose duty it was to provide
for defense against what might happen; and two eminent leaders, Samuel
Adams and John Hancock, had been to Lexington and Concord to oversee the
dispositions, and to consult with the fathers of the colony who had met in
the latter town. A small quantity of powder and some guns and muskets had
been stored in both these places; for if trouble should occur with the
British, it was most likely to begin in Boston, and the minute-men of the
province would rendezvous most conveniently at these outlying settlements,
which lay along the high road at distances of fourteen and twenty miles
from the city. No offensive operations, of course, were contemplated, nor
was it known what form British aggression would assume. Defense of their
homes and liberties was all that the New England farmers and mechanics
intended. They had no plan of campaign, and no military leaders who knew
anything of the art of war. They could be killed by invaders, and perhaps
kill some of them; they were sure of the holiness of their cause; but they
were too simple and homely-minded to realize that God had intrusted to
them the first irrevocable step in a movement which should change the
destinies of the world.

In Boston, during the 18th of April, there had been bustle and mysterious
conferences among the British officers, and movements among the troops;
which might mean anything or nothing. But there were patriots on the
watch, and it was surmised that some hostile act might be meditated; and
plans were made to give warning inland, should this prove to be the case.
At the British Coffee House, that afternoon, the group of officers was
gayer than usual, and there was much laughter and many toasts. "Here's to
the Yankee minute-men!" said one: "the men who'll run the minute they see
the enemy!" General Gage stalked about, solemn, important and
monosyllabic. Lieutenant-colonel Smith was very busy, and held himself
unusually erect; and Major Pitcairn, of the marines, was often seen in his
company, as if the two had some secret in common. The plain citizens who
walked the streets fancied that they were shouldered aside even more
arrogantly than usual by the haughty redcoats; and that the insolent stare
with which they afflicted the handsome wives and pretty maidens of Boston
was grosser and more significant than common. But the evening fell with
matters much as ordinary, to all appearance; and as the town was under
martial law, most of the population was off the streets by nine o'clock.

But soon after ten that night, a man was riding at a hand-gallop past
Medford, heading west. He had been rowed across Charles River just at the
beginning of flood tide, and had landed on the Charlestown shore a few
minutes before the order to let none pass had reached the sentry. Turning,
with one foot in the stirrup, he had seen two lights from the North Church
tower, and a moment afterward had been on his way. Half a mile beyond
Charlestown Neck he had almost galloped into the arms of two British
officers, but had avoided them by turning suddenly to the right. Now the
old Boston road was smooth before him, and he threw off his three-cornered
hat, bent forward in his saddle and spoke in his horse's ear. His was a
good horse, and carried an important message. A house near the roadside
showed up dark and silent against the starlit sky; the horseman rode to
the door and struck the panels with his whip. A window was thrown open
above: "Who's there?"--"Paul Revere: the British march to-night to
Lexington and Concord: Warren, of the Committee of Safety, bids you hold
your men in readiness."--"Right!"--The horseman turns, and is off along
the road again before the captain of the Medford minute-men has shut the

It is but a short fourteen miles to Lexington; but there are a dozen or
twenty farmhouses along the way, and at each of them the horseman must
pause and deliver his message; so that it is just midnight as he comes in
sight of the outskirts of the humble village. There is a dim light burning
in the window of yonder hip-roofed cottage beside the green; Adams and
Hancock must be anticipating news; Adams, indeed, has the name of being a
man who sleeps little and thinks much. The night-rider's summons is
responded to at once; and then, at the open door, there is a brief
conference, terse and to the point; the pale face of a woman looks from
the window; a message has brought Dawes and Sam Prescott, ready mounted,
to accompany Revere on his further journey. Young Jonas Parker, the best
wrestler in Lexington, has drawn a bucket of water at the well-sweep and
is holding it under the nose of Revere's horse. "Well, my lad," says Paul,
"are you ready to fight to-morrow?"--"I won't run--I promise you that,"
replies the youth, with a smile. He was dead five hours later, with a
bullet through his vigorous young body, and a British bayonet wound in his
breast, having kept his word.

Meanwhile the three horsemen are off, bearing now toward the left, for
Lincoln; but there, as luck would have it, they encountered half a dozen
English officers, who arrested Dawes and Revere and took them back to
Lexington. Prescott, however, was too quick for them; in the flurry and
darkness he had leaped his horse over the low stone wall, and was off
across the meadows which he had known from a boy, to Concord. It was then
between one and two o'clock; and the latter hour had hardly struck when
the ride was over, and the bells of the meeting-house were pealing from
the steeple. Two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage is the test of a man, as
Napoleon said some years later; be that as it may, here are the Concord
minute-men, Hosmer, Buttrick, Parson Emerson, Brown, Blanchard, and the
rest; they are running toward the green, musket in hand, bullet-pouch on
thigh, ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred and more; and there comes Barrett,
their captain, with his sword; the men range out in a double rank, in the
cool night air, and answer to their names; if the time has indeed come for
action, they are ready to make good the bold words spoken at many a town
meeting and private chat for weeks past. They have been comrades all their
lives, and know each other; and yet now, perhaps, they gaze at one another
curiously, conscious of an indefinable change that has come over them, now
that death may be marching a few miles to the eastward.

And in truth, while they were discussing what might happen, death was
already at work at Lexington. Eight hundred grenadiers and light infantry,
the best soldiers in America, had marched into the village shortly before
dawn. For an hour or more, as they marched, they had heard the sound of
bells and of muskets, now near, now far, telling that their movement had
been discovered; and they hastened their steps; not as apprehending
resistance from the Yankee cowards, but lest the stores they were after
should be hidden before they could get at them. And now, here they were,
advancing with the regular tramp of disciplined troops, muskets on their
shoulders, bayonets fixed, and a slight dust rising from their serried
footsteps. They looked as if they might march through a stone wall. But
could it really be true that these men meant to kill American farmers in
sight of their own homes? Were English soldiers really enemies of their
own flesh and blood? As they approached the common--an irregular triangle
of ground, with a meeting-house at the further end--the alarm-drum was
beating, and muskets firing; and yonder are the minute-men sure enough,
running together in the morning dusk, and marshaling themselves in scanty
ranks under the orders of Captain Parker. Young men and old are there, in
their well-worn shirts and breeches, cut and stitched by the faithful
hands of their wives and daughters, and each with his loaded flint-lock in
his hands. There are but fifty or sixty in all, against sixteen times as
many of the flower of the British army. The vanguard of the latter has
halted, and has received the order from Pitcairn to load; and you may hear
the ring of the ramrods in unison, and then the click of the locks. And
yonder comes the rest of the host, at double-quick, the hoarse commands of
their officers sounding out of the gloom. What can less than threescore
minute-men do against them? At all events, they can die; and history will
never forget them, standing there in front of the little church where they
had so often prayed; and their country will always honor their names and
love them. They stood there, silent and motionless, protesting with their
lives against the march of tyranny. How few they were--and what countless
millions they represented!

Out rides Pitcairn in front of the grenadiers. You can see the red of his
tunic now in the gathering light, the sparkle of his accouterments, and
the gleam of his sword as he swings it with a commanding gesture.
"Disperse, ye villains!" he calls out in a harsh, peremptory voice: "Ye
rebels--why don't you lay down your arms and disperse?"

Would they obey?--No: for they were neither villains nor rebels; they had
come there as a sacrifice, and they would not go thence until the crime
had been committed, and their country had definitely learned, from them,
whether oppression would proceed to the last extremity, or not. It was
only a few harmless, heroic lives to lose; but so much must needs be done.
It was not an easy thing to do; there was no one to teach them how to do
it scenically and splendidly. They must simply stand there, in their own
awkward way, shoulder to shoulder, motionless, gazing at the gallant major
and the heavy masses of uniformed men beyond, waiting for what might come.
The Lord of Hosts was on their side; but, as with our Saviour in the
Garden of Gethsemane, He seemed remotest when most near. Their wives and
children are there, looking on, straining their eyes through the
obscurity, with what throbbings of agony in their hearts, with what
prayers choking in their throats!

The major snatches a pistol from his holster, levels and discharges it;
and "Fire!" he shouts at the same moment, at the top of his lungs. He had
omitted the "Ready--present!" and the soldiers did not all fire at once;
first there were a few dropping shots; but then came the volley. The
regulars shot to kill. Down came Jonas Parker to his knee, to be stabbed
to death before he could reload; there fell old Munroe, the veteran of
Louisburg; and Harrington, killed at his doorstep, and Muzzey, Hadley, and
Brown. In all, before the stars had faded in the light of dawn, sixteen
New Englanders lay dead or wounded on the village green. And the British
troops had reformed, and huzzaed thrice, and marched on with drum and
fife, before the sun of the 19th of April had looked upon their work. The
Revolution had begun.

It was seven o'clock when, with the sun on their backs, the British
invaders came along the base of the low hill, crowned with pine and birch,
that lies like a sleeping serpent to the east on the way to Concord. They
were a trifle jaded now from their all-night march, and their gaiters and
uniforms were a little dusty; but the barrels of their guns shone as
bright as ever, and their spirits were good, after their glorious exploit
six miles back. Glorious, of course: yet a trifle dull, all the same;
there would be more fun shooting these bumpkins, if only they could summon
heart to put up a bit of a fight in return. "Maybe we'll get a better
chance at 'em out here, colonel--eh?" the major of marines might have
said, with his Scotch brogue, turning his horse to ride beside his
superior officer for a mile or so. "I don't think it, sir," that great
soldier would reply, puffing out his cheeks, and wiping his brow with his
embroidered handkerchief. "The sight of his majesty's uniform, Major
Pitcairn, is alone enough to put to flight every scurvy rebel in
Massachusetts. If you want to get within range of 'em, sir, you must wear

During the early morning hours, the minute-men standing under the liberty
pole in front of Concord meeting-house had been gradually re-enforced by
parties hastening in from Lincoln, Acton, and other outlying hamlets,
until they numbered about two hundred men. But as the British drew near,
eight hundred strong, the Americans withdrew down a meadow road northward,
until they reached a hospitable edifice with a broad roof, pierced by
gables, standing at the upper end of an avenue, and with its back toward
the sluggish Muskataquid, or Concord River. A few rods to the left of the
site of this manse was a wooden bridge, spanning the stream, known as the
North Bridge. The manse was occupied by the Reverend William Emerson, the
minister of the town, and from its western windows was an excellent view
of the bridge. One of these windows was open, and the pastor himself, with
his arms resting on the sill, was looking from this coign of vantage when
the minute-men came up, crossed the bridge, and stationed themselves on
the rising ground just beyond. He remained there, a deeply interested
spectator, during the events which followed.

The British, finding Concord deserted, divided into three parts, one
going to a bridge to the south of the town, one remaining in the town
itself, and the third marching north, where it again divided, one party of
a hundred guarding the approach to the north bridge, on the further side
of which the Americans were embattled, the other proceeding along the road
to the house of Captain Barrett in search of arms. A couple of hours
passed by, and nothing seemed likely to happen; but it was noticed that
there was the smoke of a fire in Concord, a mile to the south and east.
Smith and Pitcairn were there, with the main body of the troops, and they
had been making bonfires of the liberty pole and some gun carriages: the
court house was also in a blaze. But to the Concord men, waiting at the
bridge, it looked as if the British were setting their homes afire. The
women and children had been sent into the woods out of harm's way, before
the regiments arrived; but some of them might have ventured back again.
Vague rumors of the bloodshed at Lexington had been passed from mouth to
mouth, losing nothing, probably, on the way. The men began to ask one
another whether it was not incumbent on them to march to the rescue of
their town?

By accessions from Carlisle, Bedford, Woburn, Westford, Littleton and
Chelmsford they had now grown to a strength of four hundred; the force
immediately opposing them was less than half as numerous. They evidently
did not expect an attack; they had not even removed the planks from the
bridge. They despised the Yankees too much to take that easy precaution.

But though the British at this point were few, they were regulars; they
stood for the English army in America: and for more than that--they stood
for all England, for Parliament, for the king, for loyalty; for that
enormous moral force, so much more potent even than the physical, which
tends to prevail because it always has prevailed. These farmers did not
fear to risk their lives; their fathers, and some of themselves, had
fought Indians and Frenchmen, and thought little of it. But to fight men
whose limbs were made in England--in the old home which the colonists
still regarded as theirs, and had not ceased to love and honor, for all
this quarrel about duties and laws of trade--that was another matter: it
was almost like turning their weapons against themselves. And yet, if
there were any value in human liberty, if the words which they had
listened to from the lips of Adams and Warren and Hancock meant anything
--now was the time to testify to their belief in them. They were men: this
was their land: yonder were burning their dwellings: they had a right to
defend them, and their families. What said Captain Barrett--and Isaac
Davis of Acton, and Buttrick? And here was Colonel Robinson of Westford
too, a volunteer to-day: but what was his opinion?

The officers drew together, conferred a moment, and then Barrett, who was
in command, and the only man on horseback, gave the word: "Advance across
the bridge: don't fire unless they fire at you." The companies marched
past him, led by Buttrick, Davis and Robinson, with their swords drawn.
The men were in double file.

Seeing them actually advancing on the bridge, the British condescended to
bestir themselves, and some of them began to raise the planks. Upon this,
the Americans, who meant to cross, broke into a trot. Mr. Emerson, leaning
out of his window, with the light of battle in his eyes, saw three or four
puffs of smoke come from the British, and two Americans fell. Immediately
after there was a volley from the regulars, and now Isaac Davis was down,
and moved no more; and Abner Hosmer fell dead near him. The Americans were
advancing, but they had not fired. "Father in Heaven!" ejaculated the good
parson, between his set teeth, "aren't they going to shoot?"

Even as he spoke, he saw Buttrick leap upward, and heard his shout:
"Fire, fellow soldiers!--for God's sake, fire!"

The men repeated the word to one another; up came their guns to their
shoulders, and the sharp detonations followed.

They reached the ears of the minister, and he gave a sigh of relief. They
echoed across the river, and rolled away toward the village, and into the
distance. Nor did they stop there--those echoes: the Atlantic is wide, but
they crossed it; they made Lord North, Thurlow, and Wedderburn start in
their chairs, and mutter a curse: they penetrated to the king in his
cabinet, and he flushed and bit his lip. More than a hundred years have
passed; and yet the vibrations of that shot across Concord Bridge have not
died away. Whenever tyranny and oppression raise their evil hands, that
sound comes reverberating out of the past, and they hesitate and turn
pale. Whenever a monarch meditates injustice against his subjects, the
noise of the muskets of the Concord yeomen, fired that men might be free,
falls upon his ear, and he pauses and counts the cost. Yes, and there have
been those among ourselves, citizens of the land for which those yeomen
fought and died, who also might take warning from those ominous echoes:
for the battle waged by selfishness and corruption against human rights
has not ceased to be waged on these shores, though the British left them a
century ago. It seems, at times, as if victory inclined toward the evil
rather than the good. But let us not be misled. The blood of the farmers
who drove England out of America flows in our veins still; we are patient
and tolerant to a fault, but not forever. The onlooker, gazing from afar,
fears that we will never shoot; but presently he shall be reassured; and
once our advance is begun, there will be no relenting till the last
invader be driven into the sea.

There is a deeper lesson yet to be learned from Concord fight. It is that
the noblest deeds may be done by the humblest instruments; and that as
Christ chose His apostles from among the fishermen of Galilee, so was the
immortal honor of beginning the battle for the liberation of mankind
intrusted to a handful of lowly husbandmen and artisans, who knew little
more than that right was right, and wrong, wrong. There were no
philosophers or statesmen among them; they comprehended nothing of
diplomacy; they only felt that a duty had been laid upon them, and
inspired by that conviction, they went forward and did it. The judgment of
the world has ratified their act, and has admitted that perhaps more
subtle reasoners than they, balancing one consideration against another,
taking counsel of far-reaching prudence, flinching from responsibility,
might have put off action until the golden moment had forever passed. But
what the hands of these men found to do, they did with their might; and
therefore established the truth that the spirit of God finds its fitting
home in the bosoms of the poor and simple; and that the destinies of
mankind are safe in their protection.

Two English soldiers were killed or mortally wounded by the fire of the
Americans and several others were hit. A panic seized upon the rest, and
before the farmers had crossed the bridge, they were retreating in
disorder upon the main body in Concord. Barrett's men were surprised by
this sudden collapse of the enemy, and did not pursue them at that time,
nor intercept the small force further up the road, all of whom might
easily have been killed or captured. Perhaps they even felt sorry for what
they had done; at all events, they betrayed no bloodthirstiness as yet.
But when Smith and Pitcairn, after much agitation and irresolution,
ordered a retreat of the whole force down the Boston road, firing as they
went upon all who showed themselves, and robbing and destroying dwellings
along the route: when the winners of Concord bridge, and their fellow
minute-men, who now began to be numbered by thousands rather than by
hundreds, saw and comprehended this, the true spirit of war was kindled
within them, and they began that running fight of twenty miles which ended
in the hurling of the British into the defenses of Boston, broken,
exhausted, utterly demoralized and beaten, with a loss of two hundred and
seventy-three men and officers, Smith himself receiving a severe wound.
Ten miles more would have witnessed their complete annihilation. No troops
ever ran with better diligence than did these English regulars before the
despised Yankee minute-men; they lost the day, and honor likewise. It was
in vain that they threw out flanking parties, in an effort to clear the
woods of the American sharpshooters; the latter knew the war of the forest
better than they, and the flanking parties withered away, and staggered
helpless from exhaustion. It was in vain that Lord Percy, with twelve
hundred men, met the flying horde at Lexington, where their officers were
trying to reform them under threats of death; his cannon could delay, but
not reverse the fortunes of the day. Lord Percy soon became as frightened
as the rest, and realized that speed of foot was his sole hope of safety.
Gasping for breath, reeling from fatigue, with terror and despair in their
hearts, foul with dust and dripping with blood, a third part of the
British army in New England were hunted back to their fortifications as
the sun of the 19th of April, whose first beams had fallen upon the dead
at Lexington, went down in the west. Less than fifty Americans had been
killed, less than forty were wounded. Some of these, however, were
helpless persons, who were wantonly murdered in their houses by English
soldiers, their brains dashed out, and their bodies hacked and stabbed.
Women in childbirth were not exempt from the brutal fury of the flower of
the British army; and an idiot boy was deliberately shot as he sat on a
fence, vacantly staring at the passing rout. All, or most of the towns in
the neighborhood of Boston contributed their able-bodied men to the
American force during the day; but there was never more than a few hundred
together at one time, fresh relays taking the place of those whose
ammunition had been used up. Some of these squads performed prodigies of
endurance; one of them arrived at the scene of action after a march of
fifty-five miles. No man under seventy or over sixteen would stay at home;
and Josiah Haynes of Sudbury was marching and fighting from earliest dawn
till past noon, when he was killed by a grenadier's musket-ball. He was
born five years before the Eighteenth Century began.

At West Cambridge the Americans were met by Joseph Warren and General
Heath, who organized the heretofore irregular pursuit, and made it more
disastrous to the enemy than ever. Warren, in the front of danger, was
grazed by a bullet; but his time had not yet come. Fortunately for the
British, Charlestown Neck was near, and once across that they were for the
present safe. In fourteen hours they had learned more about America than
they could ever forget. The Americans, for their part, had not failed to
gather profit and confidence from the experiences of the day. The
paralysis of respect and loyalty to England was at an end. The antagonists
had met and measured their strength, and the undisciplined countrymen had
proved the stronger. At any given point of the retreat, the English had
always been the more numerous; but they showed neither heart nor ability
for the contest. The British Coffee House in King Street that night
presented a scene in marked contrast with that of the night before.

The rumors of the battle, and messages of information and appeal from the
leaders, were disseminated without delay, and in a space of time
wonderfully short had penetrated to the remotest of the colonies.
Everywhere they met with the same reception; all were eager to join in the
work so hopefully begun. Within a day or two, the force beleaguering
Boston numbered several thousand; but as many of these came and went
between the camp and their homes, no precise estimate can be made. They
were without artillery for bombardment, without a commissariat, and almost
without organization; and no leader had yet appeared capable of bringing
order out of the confusion. But not a few men afterward to be
distinguished were present there: the veteran John Stark, Benedict Arnold
from Connecticut, Israel Putnam, who rode a hundred miles on one horse to
join the provincial army; and Joseph Warren, were on the ground, and
others were to come. Boston was effectually surrounded; Gage and his
officers were afraid to order a sortie; and after a few days allowed the
non-loyalist inhabitants to leave the city, on their promise not to take
part in the siege. The chief deficiency of the Americans, or that at least
which most obviously pressed upon them, was the want of money:
Massachusetts had hitherto avoided paper; but it was no longer possible to
stand on scruples, and a bill to issue a hundred thousand pounds was
passed, and a quarter as much in bills of small denominations, to pay the
soldiers. The other colonies adopted similar measures. In New York, eighty
thousand pounds' worth of stores and supplies for Gage was seized by the
people, and no ships were allowed to leave the harbor for the succor of
the enemy. In Virginia, Patrick Henry and the young Madison, just out of
Princeton, were prominent in opposing Governor Dunmore's efforts to
establish "order." In Pennsylvania, men were raised and drilled, and
patriotic resolves adopted; and Franklin arrived from England in time to
be elected deputy to the second American Congress. The men of South
Carolina announced themselves ready to give "the half, or the whole" of
their estates for the security of their liberties, and voted to raise
three regiments. Georgia, with only three thousand militia, and under
threat of an Indian war on her frontier, fearlessly gave in her adhesion
to the general movement. In North Carolina, the news from Lexington
stampeded the governor, and left the people free to work their will. But
the next notable achievement, after the Concord fight and the running
battle, was the capture of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen.

The design was formed in Connecticut, less than ten days after Lexington.
Ethan Allen was a Connecticut boy; but had early emigrated with his
brothers to the New Hampshire Grants, as Vermont was then called. These
grants, given by the governor of New Hampshire, were called in question by
New York, and officers from that colony tried to oust the settlers; in
their resistance, Allen was the leader, and attained local celebrity.
Parsons of Connecticut conferred with Benedict Arnold on the scheme of
capturing the old fortress; and communication was had with Allen, who,
being familiar with the Lake George region, and at the same time of
Connecticut stock, was esteemed the best man to associate with the
enterprise. Parsons and a few others raised money on their personal
security, and set out for the north, gathering companions as they went.
Ethan Allen met them at Bennington, with his company of Green Mountain
Boys, and was chosen leader of the adventure, Arnold, who had a commission
from Massachusetts, being ignored. On the 9th of May, the party, numbering
about eighty men, exclusive of the rear guard, which was left behind by
the exigencies of the occasion, landed on the shore near the fortress.
Ticonderoga was a strong place, even for a force provided with cannon; but
Allen had nothing but muskets, and everything depended upon a surprise. It
was just sunrise on the 10th when Allen addressed his men with "We must
this morning either quit our pretensions to valor, or possess ourselves of
this fortress; and inasmuch as it is a desperate attempt, I do not urge
it, contrary to your will. You that will undertake voluntarily, poise your
firelocks!" The response was unanimous. The wicket of the stronghold was
found open; the sentry snapped his gun at Allen, missed him, and was
overpowered with a rush, together with the other guards. On the parade
within, a hollow square was formed, facing the four barracks; a wounded
sentry volunteered to conduct Allen to the commander, Delaplace. "Come
forth instantly, or I will sacrifice the whole garrison," thundered Allen,
at the door; and poor Delaplace, half awake, started up with his breeches
in his hand and wanted to know what was the matter.--"Deliver to me this
fort instantly!"--"By what authority?" inquired the stupefied commander.
The Vermonter was never at a loss either for a word or a blow.--"In the
name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" and presenting
the point of his sword, he cut short further parley and received the
surrender. Fifty prisoners, with guns and stores, went with the fortress,
for which the British had sacrificed forty million dollars and several
campaigns; and not a drop of American blood was spilled. Ethan Allen is a
picturesque character, and the capture of Ticonderoga is one of the
picturesque episodes of the Revolutionary War, and a valuable exploit from
the military point of view; but it lacks inevitably the moral weight and
dignity of the Concord fight. Indeed, the significance of the entire
struggle between Britain and her colonies was summed up and typified in
that initial act of unsupported courage. What followed was but a corollary
and expansion of it.

On the same day that Allen overcame Delaplace, the second Congress met in
Philadelphia. It was a very conservative body, anxious that the war might
proceed no further, and hopeful that England might recognize the justice
of America's wish to be free while retaining the name of subjects of the
king. But affairs had now got beyond the control of congresses; the people
themselves were in command, and the legislature could do little more than
ascertain and register their will. The present Congress, indeed, had no
legislative powers, nor legal status of any kind; it was but the sober
mind of the several colonies thinking over the situation, and offering
advice here, warning there. It could not dispose of means to execute its
ideas, while yet it would be open to as much criticism as if it possessed
active powers. Naturally, therefore, its tendency was to be timid and
circumspect. It is memorable nevertheless for at least two resolutions of
high importance; it voted an army of twenty thousand men, and it named
George Washington as commander-in-chief. And when he declined to
countenance the proffered petition to King George, the ultimate prospect
of reconciliation with England vanished.

Julian Hawthorne