April 19 marked the 244th anniversary of “the shot heard round the world” when colonial American militia clashed with British troops around sunrise on Lexington Green in Massachusetts. For years, tensions between Britain and her American colonies had been growing over taxes on stamps, lead, paint, paper, glass, and tea. The 1775 morning skirmishes in Lexington and later Concord sparked the American Revolution.
Americans disapproved of taxes without representation. As Paul Revere wrote, if Parliament had the ability “to take one shilling from us without our consent, they have a right to all we possess. . . .”
In May 1765, Virginian Patrick Henry roared against taxation without representation: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
The Stamp Act Congress would later add its dissent in petitioning the King on behalf of the colonists: “that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.”
However, George III and Parliament rejected the American colonies’ ability or right to determine taxation. They insisted Parliament’s authority was absolute, declaring their colonies were “subordinate to, and dependent upon the imperial crown of Great Britain.”
In 1773, Bostonians showed their displeasure over taxes on tea by dumping 10,000 pounds of it into Boston Harbor. Similar “tea parties” were held in other colonies.
Outraged by the Boston “Tea Party,” Parliament removed political power from the people by closing Boston Harbor, abolishing Massachusetts’ government, banning town hall meetings, and requiring colonists to house British troops. These “Intolerable Acts” led to a “Continental Congress” of the colonies (except Georgia) in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.
With one of the 13 colonies no longer able to govern itself, the Continental Congress took actions to protest the loss of self-government. However, the very day Congress sent its list of rights and grievances to London, the King banned the sale of guns and ammunition.
By the time the 2nd Continental Congress convened in 1775, 49 Americans and 73 British troops were dead and Boston was surrounded by armed colonists. Residents who wanted to leave were required to surrender their weapons: 1,800 muskets, 600 pistols, nearly 1,000 bayonets, and 40 blunderbusses.
A year later, Congress would declare American independence, noting “the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” – including: “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.”
As we note these milestones today, we should also take note of sometimes forgotten Founders who joined to “pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the independence and creation of our great nation.
More importantly, let us never forget the rights they fought for: freedom of religion, speech, and the press; the right to bear arms; protection from unreasonable searches and seizures; protections of rights to life, liberty, and property; rights of accused persons in both criminal and civil cases; protections against excessive bail, fines, and punishments; and rights retained by both the people and the individual states.
In the predawn hours of a chilly and hazy April 19, 1775, fewer than 70 Americans stood before one of the strongest armies in the world at that time. They were outnumbered nearly ten to one. Eight of these militiamen would die that morning. Another ten were injured.
While no one knows who fired the first shot, the colonists stood before the King’s soldiers to protect their homes, their families, and their ways of life.
Would any of us have done the same on that chilly morning?
Please, let’s not take our rights for granted.