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The shot heard 'round the world

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Detail of print by A.H. Ritchie / Image: US Government Archives

The "shot heard 'round the world" ignited the American Revolution and turned British subjects into Americans. Their reasons for fighting against tyranny will be familiar to Brits and Americans concerned about the tyrannical moves of their governments today.

The 'bright inheritance of English freedom'

In 1774 the British Parliament had passed a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts in America). The Acts shut down all commercial shipping in Boston until the tons of tea steeping in Boston Harbour as a result of the Boston Tea Party had been paid for. They also required Brits in America to house British troops. This was a breach of the British Bill of Rights, and enraged Brits in America who considered these rights to be theirs, as indeed they were.

Brits in America were also angry that they did not have any say over the amount they would have to pay in taxes and they were angry about how much they had to pay. They naturally wished to keep the bulk of what they had earned for themselves and their families, and they realized that taxes could be counter-productive.

This idea would be supported two centuries later by a paper prepared for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress in 1998 -

American economist James Gwartney demonstrated that there was a direct relation between tax burden and economic growth: The higher the level of taxation, the lower the growth rate. Higher taxes meant lower incentives and more resources flowing from the productive sector, which generates jobs, to government.

When government pays for government jobs with taxes, government reduces private job creation by reducing the money which business has available for investment and generating jobs. Government job programs have some worthwhile outcomes, but they are largely sterile because, unlike business, they rarely generate new jobs.

The First Continental Congress declared that the intolerable Coercive Acts were “not to be obeyed”. Recalling the British Declaration of Rights, Congress issued a Declaration of Rights that affirmed the right to “life, liberty and property”. The delegates also called for a trade embargo and forwarded a petition to Parliament requesting that the Acts be rescinded. 

More boldly, the Continental Congress established the Continental Army. It was intended to be a defensive army of citizen-soldiers. New Yorkers had written London's Mayor that they were "born to the bright inheritance of English freedom". They declared that they would fight for that bright inheritance if they had to.

Armed resistance

In Virginia Patrick Henry faced delegates afraid to break with Britain. Though he risked jail for speaking, 39-year-old Henry told Virginians that ten years of pleading and argument with London had led nowhere.  He asked, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” He answered, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” His words dispelled doubts, and Virginians prepared for armed resistance.

Trying to crush rebellion

Parliament secretly ordered Governor Gage to enforce the Coercive Acts. In April, in Boston, Gage sent 700 soldiers to destroy the colonists' weapons depot in Concord, Massachusetts, so they could not rebel or defend themselves.

Doctor Joseph Warren heard of the plan, and on the evening of 18th of April 1775 sent riders, including Paul Revere, to warn Concord and Lexington. As they spread the alarm "through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country folk to be up and to arm", church bells pealed and drums beat, calling local militias into action.

Fathers, sons and grandfathers

At dawn on April 19th, fifty militiamen faced the British Army on Lexington Green. The youngest was 18. The oldest was 63. They were fathers, sons and grandfathers. It was reported that the British commanding officer rode up and shouted, "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!"

Eight Americans were killed. Ten were wounded.

Standing their ground

At Concord, Americans stood their ground then broke with military convention and shot "from behind each fence and farmyard wall", forcing British soldiers into a bloody retreat.

Riders galloped the news to every colony. Thirteen thousand volunteers assembled to lay siege to Boston.

The American Revolution had begun.

Comments (2)

GW:

Wonderful post.

Michael:

Not a bad account, I have one small quibble. It was not the First Continental Congress which established the Continental Army but rather, the Second. After Lexington and Concord, and after Bunker Hill, the Second Continental Congress adopted those thirteen thousand New England volunteers besieging Boston as a Continental Army to defend the rights of all of the colonies.

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