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    Ch. 14: The Shot Heard Round The World

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    Chapter 15
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    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.
    Chapter 15
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