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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Concluding Comments on Lexington and Concord


     So here we are. Captain John Parker, captured for as long as we stand as a nation, in bronze, on Lexington Green. The quintessential American, the minuteman, the patriot, the freedom fighter. An iconographic image of a mythology bounded by reality and time. It is an image of America we have nurtured for two and a half centuries. It is an image of an individual and individualism. To a large extent these men were manipulated by the propagandists of their time. Captain Parker stood on the green with some seventy-seven men knowing he could not stop the British. Why else was he there? To provoke. There was an inevitability to what was unfolding.
     It is interesting that today we are engaged in a great debate over the extent of that individualism. Our national discourse relates to the very nature of our society, and whether it is best served by individual activity, where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts, or whether we are better served with a much broader governmental control. The men who mustered at Lexington Green, and who stood at the bridge at Concord, and who stood behind trees and walls, from many towns, stood in defense of their homes, their families, their property. They had grown up with a frontier mindset. They supported themselves, worshiped as they chose, built their towns. Sympathetic and objective descriptions of the time demonstrate that the American economy of 1775 was in good shape, that Americans were not being overtaxed, were not bearing disproportionate shares and, in many cases, were openly flouting laws and engaged in wholesale smuggling. They were intent on going further into Indian lands than the British government wanted. They despised Catholics and resented the Quebec Act as one of the “Intolerable” Acts, which recognized the Catholic Church in Quebec and granted land to Quebecois citizens. The Revolution was not fought by saints in a pure cause. It was fought by men from a mixture of motivations. It was fought as a civil war, neighbor against neighbor, and it was fought against a background of multiple entities vying for authority and legitimacy. And it was fought against an enemy that, in certain respects and personalities, was empathetic.

     So standing on the Green at Lexington and looking at John Parker, I wonder what he would make of America in 2011.  He would not have had patience for the politicians’ talk, nor would he be pleased with politics and the political process as an end in itself. He was a man who did his duty, who adhered to his notions of integrity, and stood his ground. His was a kind frontier justice; his revenge was act of affirmative commission. He neither asked permission nor forgiveness. In the most Biblical of moments, his activity on the Battle Road in Lincoln had nothing to do with Sam Adams or John Hancock, with great political ideas or philosophy. It was an eye for an eye.  Perhaps from such things are nations made.

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