Lexington and Concord -- Where the Rubber Meets the RoadRoundup
tags: Revolutionary War, historical memory
The New York Time’s controversial “1619 Project” and the historians’ war it sparked illustrate how this country’s founding -- the American Revolution -- is the cornerstone of our collective understanding of this country’s present. The “1619 Project” gives readers a race-themed narrative of the Revolution in an effort to help them see racism as pervasive in American life today. Such efforts to enlist the Revolution for a cause are not new -- attempts to shape public opinion and public policy in the present often begin with a retelling of the country’s birth.
Proponents and opponents of future major national projects -- from foreign wars to various domestic initiatives and Constitutional reforms -- have likewise used the Revolution as a springboard for their public-relations campaigns. Public-policy advocates have thus introduced Americans to various reinterpretations of the Revolution, as correctives to the traditional explanation of what had animated Americans to rebel in 1775. In place of the original explanation offered by the colonists themselves (about a lawless British government that violated its colonists’ ancient English liberties), Americans have been introduced to alternative interpretations that claim to identify the rebels’ true agenda -- class conflict, national self-determination, lower taxes, white supremacy, slavery, commercial expansion, anti-Catholicism, or hunger for land on the western frontiers.
The Revolution’s military history is notably missing in these new narratives. This is because the Revolution’s battlefields (and Lexington and Concord in particular) are where these reinterpretations of the Revolution are tested against common sense. When an average reasonable person contemplates the 70 American farmers and shopkeepers who ventured to stop 700 redcoats on the Lexington Green 245 years ago today, s/he has a hard time reconciling that scene with the narratives listed above. This reasonable reader cannot see how those 70 militiamen, with guns suicidally drawn against a vastly larger force of professional soldiers, were advancing their economic self-interest, suppressing class tensions, claiming land out West, promoting commerce, or defending slavery.
The Revolution was, first and foremost, a war.
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