Guns and the concept of self-protection have long been a tradition in America. For years preceding the founding of our country, the colonists relied on hand tools of all kinds for their survival. Perhaps the most important among those tools were their firearms.
The American colonists were considered rogue British subjects and were wanted for treason by the King of England, making the ability to keep and bear arms vital for their survival. However, the king had an interest in relieving the colonists of their firearms, which was their only form of self-protection. Stripping the colonists of their guns would leave them helpless against the king’s army and would ensure a continued British rule over the new world. Such an outcome would have been a sad fate for the liberty-minded colonists.
Disarming the population in the interest of leaving them helpless to a tyrannical government is nothing new in recorded history, and the outcome has always been the same. As far back as the Roman Republic, there have been bans on weapons of all kinds.
An early example of this was following the Second Servile War, which took place from 104 to 100 BC on the island of Sicily. Weapon bans happened during the third slave revolt, which saw the rise of the Thracian gladiator Spartacus. Then, following the second revolt on the island of Sicily, Cicero banned all slaves from carrying weapons of any kind.
Other Roman rulers also banned weapons in an attempt to control the population. In 52 BC, Pompey brought armed troops into the city to disarm the people, although his soldiers were still allowed the use of weapons. This lead to the killing of thousands of unarmed peasants.
Many Roman citizens chose to break the laws by fashioning self-defense weapons from every day objects such as chair legs, pieces of roof tiles, and pottery. It was just such a handcrafted blade deployed in the brutal assassination of Julius Ceasar on the Ides of March, 44 BC.
Long before firearms existed, there have been dictators and rulers who recognized the sinister advantage of disarming the population for the sake of preserving an all-controlling uncontested, centralized government.
History shows that throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, millions of innocents died at the hands of ruthless dictators who exercised authority by confiscating guns by force. Disarming their citizenry and turning them into slaves and subjects made it easy for them to control the population, leaving innocent people helpless against the will of the state.
Here in America, British soldiers of the crown perpetrated the first attempt at gun confiscation under the command of General Thomas Gage in an ongoing quest to take control of the young American colonies.
Garrisoned in Boston on the night of April 18, 1775, the “British regulars” headed to Concord, Massachusetts. Their mission was to seize the guns and gun powder held by the colonists. This early attempt to disarm peaceful citizens resulted in a historical and fateful event that unfolded in a volley of gunfire between the British and the Americans the following day.
That night, working on reports from a network of spies keeping tabs on British troop movement, Joseph Warren, a local physician and member of the “Sons of Liberty,” dispatched two couriers Paul Revere and William Dawes. His objective was for the men to warn the colonists of the impending invasion. Also to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were holed up inside a residence in Lexington. The two riders set out to Lexington and Concord, on their infamous “midnight ride.”
Crossing the Charles River by boat, Revere made his way into Charlestown, where locals were waiting to hear about the movement of British troops headed their way.
Local patriots waited for a signal to be placed by a “friend” of Revere’s on the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church. Known at the time as “Christ Church,” it was the highest point in the city. If they saw one lantern hanging in the tower, the British would be arriving by land. If they saw two lamps, they were coming by sea.
Two lanterns were hung from the bell tower of the Christ Church that night, signifying that the British were, in fact, heading their way by sea.
Here is a short excerpt from a poem memorializing these events by renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow entitled “Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride.”
“One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
and I on the opposite shore will be,
ready to ride and spread the alarm
through every Middlesex village and farm,
for the country folk to be up and armed.”
The riders, departing from separate locations that night to evade detection and capture, encountered trouble along the way. Dawes was thrown to the ground by his horse and was forced to return on foot. Arrested by a British patrol after leaving Lexington, Revere never made it to Concord. However, a third rider Dr. Samuel Prescott did make it and managed to warn the residents. The British interrogated Revere and then released him, but not before confiscating his horse. He eventually made his way back to Lexington on foot.
Early the next morning, on April 19, 1775, the British arrived at Lexington, where more than 70 minutemen were waiting on the village green. Someone fired a shot, but it’s uncertain which side it was, and a fierce battle ensued.
When the brief clash ended, eight Americans were dead, and at least eight more were injured, while one redcoat lay wounded. The British continued to nearby Concord, where later that day, they encountered armed resistance from a group of militiamen at the North Bridge. Gunfire erupted, leaving two colonists and three redcoats dead.
Following the battle at Concord, the British “regulars” retreated to Boston. The British suffered many casualties along the way at the hands of colonial militiamen.
The Revolutionary War had begun as a result of the first-ever attempt by a tyrannical government to disarm the American people.
In 1837 the battle at the North Bridge was memorialized by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem “Concord Hymn,” whose opening stanza goes like this:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood.
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled.
Here once the embattled farmers stood.
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
“Concord Hymn” was penned by Emerson in honor of the dedication of a battle monument at the North Bridge. At the dedication on July 4, 1837, a group of local townspeople sang the poem to the tune of a classic hymn entitled “Old Hundredth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Boston native, born in 1803, spent much of his childhood in Concord. His grandfather, who was a minister, had witnessed the 1775 battle at the North Bridge. Taking up permanent residence in Concord in 1835, Emerson living in Concord until his death in 1882, Emerson went on to become a leading American intellectual.
Besides the American Revolution, the “shot heard round the world” has also been associated with other historical events. In 1914 the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which is said to have started World War I, and in 1951 the game-winning, three-run homer by the New York Giants’ Bobby Thompson against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was Thompson’s “shot” that won the Giants the National League pennant that year.
But most of all, in the hearts and minds of Americans, the shot heard ’round the world represents an undying dedication to freedom and liberty won through hard battle and human sacrifice.
Since the inception of this country and the adoption of the documents of freedom, Americans have embraced the same spirit that faced down innumerable odds in Lexington and Concord. On that fateful day in 1775 — grasping from the jaws of tyranny, the right to self-governance and the right to exercise those liberties handed down by the creator. Those who went before us ensure, “The Shot (of Revolution) Heard ‘Round the World” will live on in America’s DNA.