Home > history, massachusetts and new england > Happy Patriots Day (or The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same)

Happy Patriots Day (or The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same)

Monday, April 17, 2006, 16:48 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Today the states of Massachusetts and Maine (which was part of Massachusetts until 1820) celebrate Patriots Day, a holiday which I feel compelled to point out every year has nothing to do with the football team. It honors the patriots who fought, whether on or off the field of battle, for American independence.

The holiday is observed on the third Monday of April, but it memorializes April 19, 1775, when colonial militias fought the British “redcoats” at the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. The events of that day are most famously, if not entirely accurately, told in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride

What is remarkable about the revolutionary patriots is that they, and the colonial government behind them, set about to overthrow British rule without adequate equipment, without sufficient troop levels, even without an exit strategy. The only overall “strategy” was to keep fighting until they either won or couldn’t fight any more. Indeed, it took six and a half years for the British to surrender, although the Continental Congress waited another year and a half to formally end the war. Rebellions sprung up sporadically for the next few years. Was the experiment of American independence turning into a quagmire? Would civil war break out? I’m guessing the loyalists (those who took the side of the British) were rooting for the insurgency and failure of the newly liberated country.

Finally, more than four years after the war officially ended, the new country began the process of establishing a constitution. It took four months for the draft to be approved by the delegates. But support for the proposed constitution was far from assured. The document was opposed from many quarters, including a group led by Declaration of Independence signers Samuel Adams and John Hancock. What hope did the new country have if even those who first advocated for independence were now critical of it? The former colonies had won the war, but could they win the peace?

We know from history that ultimately, the independence movement was successful. That didn’t mean the new country was free from trouble, though. Tensions between the new United States of America and Great Britain simmered, culminating in a U.S. declaration of war in 1812. The Americans won that one too, but that didn’t keep the country from very nearly disintegrating less than 50 years later in a bitter and deadly civil war.

The history of our country is teeming with examples of freedom coming at a price. There are people today, lots of them, who take freedom so for granted that they forget—or never knew in the first place—how hard it was to get and maintain. Why they think that there can ever be peace without freedom is a mystery.

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