Independence Day 2014

From:

THE STATESMAN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

WITH OTHER ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES HISTORICAL AND LITERARY

MELLEN CHAMBERLAIN, LL.D.

When the action at Lexington on the morning of the 19th was known at Dan vers, the minute men there, under the lead of Captain Gideon Foster, made that memorable march — or run, rather — of sixteen miles in four hours, and struck Percy’s flying column at West Cambridge. Brave but incautious in flanking the red-coats, they were flanked themselves and badly pinched, leaving seven dead, two wounded, and one missing. Among those who escaped was Levi Preston, afterwards known as Captain Levi Preston.

When I was about twenty-one and Captain Preston about ninety-one, I “interviewed” him as to what he did and thought sixty-seven years before, on April 19, 1775; and now, fifty-two years later, I make my report — a little belated perhaps, but not too late I trust for the morning papers!

At that time, of course, I knew all about the American Revolution — far more than I do now! And if I now know anything truly, it is chiefly owing to what I have since forgotten of the histories of that event then popular.

With an assurance passing even that of the modern interviewer — if that were possible —

I began: “Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord Fight, the 19th of April, 1775?”

The old man, bowed beneath the weight of years, raised himself upright, and turning to me said: “Why did I go?”

“Yes,” I replied; “my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against ‘intolerable oppressions.'” “What were they? Oppressions? I did n’t feel them.” “What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

“I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.”

“Well, what then about the tea-tax?”

“Tea-tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.”

“Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.”

“Never heard of ’em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.”

“Well, then, what was the matter? and what did you mean in going to the fight?”

“Young man, what we meant in going for those red-coats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”