A Cold Day in April

Column by Emmett Harris.

Exclusive to STR

The prior day's clinging dampness had given way to clear yet cool conditions by the pre-dawn hours of April 19, 1775. Gusts of wind came from the west and the temperature felt colder and rawer than the 46 degrees showing on local thermometers. A robust fire kept the chill away inside Buckman Tavern, but the atmosphere stubbornly maintained an unseen, leaden presence. John Parker exhaled slowly. Another hour would be enough, he thought. If word hadn't arrived by then, he could send the men home. He raised a tankard to his lips, and sipped the last drops of tepid ale that remained. Then the tavern's front door swung inward with a crash and Thaddeus Bowman lurched across the threshold. The room stilled and even the crackling of the fire seemed to pause. Parker read the face of his scout and lowered the pewter mug to the table. In the quiet of the room, the action made a sound like distant musket fire. No one spoke. Captain John Parker rubbed a calloused hand over his face, stood, and pushed past Bowman into the blusterous morning.

Five days earlier, the military governor of Massachusetts, British General Thomas Gage, had received orders from London to disarm the local insurgents and imprison their identifiable leaders, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The punitive Intolerable Acts of 1774 had not quelled the recalcitrant colonists. Instead, it added another lesion to the cluster of sores that had been festering for almost a decade. From the perspective of the Crown, the time had come for action. Weapons elevated even the smallest of gnats into a potentially dangerous adversary, and the local militias were known to be collecting arms caches. Thus, it was time to defang the provocateurs.

Emerson immortalized our conception of what happened later that morning of the 19th, as the first rays of light broke across the commons in Lexington. The skirmish between Captain Parker's militiamen and the British regulars was the first official salvo of the American Revolution . . . and it all started over attempted gun confiscation.

Fast forward to April 2013.

Americans no longer face the prospect of being disarmed by a foreign military. The redcoats now are homegrown and use surreptitious methods to achieve the same aim. Unlike Parker and his contemporaries, more and more people today are willingly acceding to an increasing train of abuses and usurpations. They do so because tyranny is beyond a remote concept for them, it is an impossibility. Tyranny is something that only happens in other countries. Either the gulag is in your face or it doesn't exist.

While belief in American exceptionalism is comforting to some, it is a form of hubris that ignores the nature of bureaucracy. When Jefferson warned that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground,” he probably had bureaucracy in mind. Bureaucracy is the maze of rules and regulations that collectively restrict the ability to live. Bureaucracy is stultifying in all organizations, but it is the hidden structure beneath tyranny, where disobedience is met with real or implied force. Tyranny's outward face can be truly horrific or mildly disturbing. Both are facets of the mailed fist. Enough of Parker's generation recognized this and were willing to stand in opposition to it. Today, too many live in fear of threats that are far more removed than the bureaucratic face of homegrown oppressions.

As the calendar nears the 19th of April this year and a cold wind whispers across the commons in our memories, imagine the belfry alerting John Parker's men to assemble. Their spirit still lives and we should harness that to reflect on the bureaucratic corruption that has crept into the souls of so many of our fellow countrymen. The purpose shouldn't be to ridicule but to find those kernels of self-determination that have been buried beneath years of propagandic morass. Kernels can sprout. We can see it happening in the East, South, and West. These are the barricades against aggrandizing autocrats' rule-making minions. These form the edifice of liberty.

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Emmett Harris's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Emmett Harris lives in New Hampshire, home of the Free State Project.


Jim Davies's picture

Beautifully written, Emmett!

Emmett Harris's picture

Thanks, Jim!

KenK's picture

My how times have changed. Today's rebels are unlikely to go head to head with the Taxachusetts "National Guard", MSP SWAT teams, et. al and win so easily these days. A more modern context for this story would feature small groups of guys making IEDs & car bombs in an old barn somewhere, while other groups are practicing long range rifle marksmanship and memorising the faces and addresses of the local oppressors, while another team hacks into the Masshole state government IT systems and trolls for intel and conducts cyber sabotage. This modernized form of resistence is less worthy of epic poetry but then again people don't read much poetry these days.

Steve's picture

Many countries have heard the famous last words, "It couldn't happen here...."
We suffer not from an excess of guns but a dearth of imagination.

KenK's picture

It was alway like this. If they had an equivelent version of today's mainstream media in 1776 they would all be trashing the rebels as gun nuts, traitors, & kooks, and doxing the hell out of the likes of Jefferson, Paine, Patrick Henry, and the rest of the rebel leaders in order to discredit them . The vanguard is always small.

KenK's picture

How appropriate that Harris' column appears on Tax Day too. 

Glock27's picture

Beautifuly put. but the tragedy is that very few seem to care. America is a tired, bedraggeled group of people; it is sort of like Cubain the mid 50's. They are looking for something cute, and out of the ordinary a Pinochccio has arrived. Don't ever forget and keep teaching Emmet.