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The Shot Heard Round The World (Part 1)


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 diploinatists 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 berties, 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 wharves 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 be 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 tall 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 parallaxes 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 knot 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 bad 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 lo change the policy of the country, however; George would have his way to the bitter end; the blind lust to trash 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 concentite 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 powerfu1 England. Arguing from the average selfishness of human nature, this policy did not seem unwise; but the tact 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 again~4t 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 Patrons, 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 ~ed to the formation of two political parties throughout the colonies. In Pennsylvania, the combination of nonfighting Quakers and careful traders deadened energy in the cause, and the preaching's of Dickenson, 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 views.


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 annrninced 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 wore was sent to then] 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 reinforcements 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 Jines 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 uame of "minutemen," 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 Admass, 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 eiiricliment and advantage of both. By a collection they admitted the right of Parliament to lay external duties and to regulate trade; hut they strongly enclosed 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 iin~ ports into England, and to refuse all exports there from, 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 light," saul Hawley; and Washington, when lie 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 I old that we are impatient of government and desirous of independence. These are calumnies. Permit us to be as free as ourselves, 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 ~ithi 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 hiiniaii blood in such all 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 he 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 Yeomen yielded nothing so lofty and just in sentiment as their remonstrance. The nonrepresentative 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 able-bodied men in England were needed to carry on the industries of the country; there were two 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 from 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 smallclothes, home-knit stockings, homemade 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 lie 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 entrusted 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 lip) 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 stoles 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 mouths 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. 'nuocence 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 minutemen of the province would rendezvous most conveniently at these outlying settlements, which lay along the highroad 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 18 th 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 louse that afternoon the group of officers was gayer than usual, and there was much laughter and many toasts. "Here's to the Yankee minutemen !" 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 moro g~ificaj~~ Lhan 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 Medforci, 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 Charleston 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 minutemen has shut the window.

Continue to Chapter 14 Part 2