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Monday, April 18, 2016

Lexington and Concord and the Rule of Law

April 19, 1775:the confrontation of the Regulars with the militia at Lexington Green.  Today we see the markers that show the line in which Captain John Parker's men stood:

We are still over a year from the Declaration of Independence, so at this time both Parker's company were as British as the Regulars they confronted.  Firing on the Regulars would have been an act of treason.  After the first shot--which remains unresolved as to who fired it--eight Americans died and ten were wounded.  

 After the battles, the political battle began.  The "Americans" gathered "depositions," at the time sworn statements, including this one by Sylvanus Wood, 23, reaches us across the centuries: "[t]he British troops approached us rapidly in platoons, with a General officer on horse-back at their head. The officer came up to within about two rods of the centre of the company, where I stood.--The first platoon being about three rods distant. They there halted. The officer then swung his sword, and said, 'Lay down your arms, you damn'd rebels, or you are all dead men--fire.' Some guns were fired by the British at us from the first platoon, but no person was killed or hurt, being probably charged only with powder. Just at this time, Captain Parker ordered every man to take care of himself. The company immediately dispersed; and while the company was dispersing and leaping over the wall, the second platoon of the British fired, and killed some of our men. There was not a gun fired by any of Captain Parker's company within my knowledge."

A case is made for self defense. 

British Lieutenant John Barker, also present, disagreed: "At 5 o’clock we arrived there and saw a number of people, I believe 2 and 3 hundred, formed on a common in the middle of the town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack tho’ without intending to attack them, but on our coming near them they fired on or two shots, upon which our men without any orders rushed in upon them, fired and put ‘em to flight; several of them were killed, we could not tell how many because they were got behind walls and into the woods; We had a man of the 10th Light Infantry wounded, nobody else hurt. We then formed upon the common but with some difficulty, the men were so wild they could hear no orders; we waited a considerable time there and at length proceeded on our way to Concord, which we then learnt was our destination, in order to destroy a magazine of stores collected there."

One wonders what circumstances today would be such as occur "in the course of human events" that would justify, as a matter of law, a 21st century Lexington.