by Howard Stephenson
Today, April 15, federal and state income taxes are due. But the day ought to be changed to April 19 – a very special day in the history of the United States and the world. On this day the American protests against taxation without representation and against a government which was hostile to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and property, culminated in war.
Following a costly war with France, Britain imposed excessively high taxes on the colonies, beginning in 1764, to refill her treasury. There was a requirement that stamps be purchased to authorize simple documents and a tax on many imports including the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, the infamous tax on tea. British soldiers were quartered in homes near Boston starting in 1768.
Although April 19 is not observed as a special day, it is the day when, 227 years ago, a shot was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts which has continued to ring around the world.
The Minutemen had been warned by Paul Revere early that beautiful morning in 1775 that British soldiers would be marching through the small town of Lexington on their way to confiscate illegal arms thought to be stored by the patriots in Concord. About 70 Minutemen stood on the village green in Lexington at dawn when General Gage’s 700 British troops arrived from a night-long march from Boston, heralded by the warning sounds of church bells along the way.
As the British rushed onto the green, someone fired a shot. The British fired two volleys and the Minutemen returned fire. Ten Americans were killed and ten more were wounded. Only one British soldier was wounded. The Minutemen scattered and after re-grouping the British fired a victory volley into the air and continued toward Concord.
Soon, hundreds of militia engaged the British, firing from behind buildings, rocks and trees. By the time they reached Concord, the British were retreating to Boston, under heavy fire all along the way. In retaliation, British soldiers ransacked and looted homes along the route, forcing their occupants to flee and killing many innocents. Perhaps more than the actual battles between troops, this failure of the British to honor the conventions of war and respect the property and lives of civilians was what solidified the will of the patriots and convinced many neutral colonists to support the revolution.
The eight-year war for American independence had begun.
For Britain, this would be a world war, involving most major European nations and stretching all the way to India. By providing major sums of money to the patriot war effort, France was forced into bankruptcy and in its weakened state, was susceptible to revolution. Spain also help the colonists by officially declaring war against Great Britain on June 16, 1779. The Irish were emboldened by the example of the American Patriots and as early as 1779 had a militia of approximately 40,000. The American victory was eventually made possible by the persistence of the ill-equipped colonial army inspired by their commander George Washington and the war-weariness of the people of England.
It wasn’t until 1990 that half of the world’s population enjoyed the blessings of living under governments that were chosen by the consent of the governed. But the shot fired on April 19, 1775 continues to sound throughout the world as Democracy rolls forth and brings with it the freedoms we in America now take for granted.