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Revolutionary Enlightenment

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

I think we get caught up in the idea that the American Revolution was about freedom, and that’s not exactly right. The Founding Fathers didn’t want independence from England. England was a warm, cozy blanket of protection. It was established and well-funded armed forces and food and supplies when they needed them. They had no intention of renouncing that until it became very clear that they couldn’t get what they wanted without independence. What they wanted was fewer taxes.

British Parliament was passing tax laws without the Colonists involvement, and the Colonists didn’t like sending money back to England, money that did not benefit themselves. They wanted a say, but England said, well, that’s not how colonies work. They were right, and Colonialism is an ugly thing already, what with the Puritans just showing up and claiming land that was already owned and occupied. But that’s a different story for another time.

Basically, the Colonists thought they had a right to a say in how their money was being spent, and England thought that this promising outpost of the British Empire was theirs to control, and those heretofore British citizens should pipe down and be thankful for what they’ve got. They were both sort of right.

The only option was for the Colonies to be independent, and that seems very obvious now, but that was a very dangerous idea then, and the major players didn’t want it. They did, however, accept that it was their fate when the British made their first major show of aggression at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. 

Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott rode through the country, alerting people that the Regulars were on the move. The militia men were farmers with hunting rifles, some veterans of the French and Indian War who stayed stateside, but nothing close to an organized military force. They assembled in Buckman Tavern, probably had a pint or two to steel their resolve but I’m just speculating, and then met the advancing British on Lexington Common.

To be clear, the militia men were not nobly fighting on behalf of everyone. They were defending their own rights, their own property. Women, slaves, natives, they had no say in this. Only white men owned land, and only landowners could vote or have any say in government. They get a lot of undue credit, but they didn’t knowingly fight for anyone like me. Not intentionally, anyway. They just didn’t want to pay. I try to remember that. 

Add that to the Colonialism, and the King Phillips War a century before, and all of the other terrible things that these guys did or benefited from, and it’s not painting a very pretty picture of them. American history includes a lot of ugliness that we generally agree not to talk about in history class, because we like the way it turned out. We get to live here and claim ownership and post on our blogs about battles that happened 240 years ago because things happened exactly the way they did.

Everything could be different now. I could be British. Who knows? 

I don’t mean to say that the ends justify the means, but there’s no going back in history and trying again the right way. Maybe just spread the word about them, and stop assigning noble attributes where none existed. These men were not enlightened.

Anyway, the militia men met the British, and there was a tense standoff where both sides were ordered not to fire the first shot, but of course someone did, and no one knows who. It is said that a colonist had a flash in the pan, where he pulled the trigger, but the primer powder failed to ignite the musket charge. Bright light, no bang. A misfire. Either the British returned fire based on this colonist’s intent, or his fellow militia men took this to mean the battle was starting. It’s impossible to say.

The British overpowered the Lexington militia men and advanced to Concord, where a much larger militia was assembled. The troops retreated to Boston in defeat, and the whole way back, were shot at by farmers who had not made it to the Common in time for the battle.

There were many more battles to follow, but, hopefully this is not a surprise, the English were eventually defeated and the Colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776.


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