Massachusetts had a state holiday two days ago, on Monday. No, this state holiday is not the Boston Marathon. No, this holiday is not the holiday which recognizes an obscure Revolutionary War event that just happens to fall on the same date as St. Patrick’s Day. No, this state holiday has nothing to do with — and predates by many years — the federal holiday called “Patriot Day” which commemorates the attacks on 9/11/2001.
Patriots’ Day commemorates the beginning of the Revolutionary War, a.k.a. the War of American Indepence. It is the date on which the first colonist blood of the war was shed — in the town of Lincoln, just after midnight, when one of His Majesty’s troops cut a Lincoln militiaman with his sword. It is the date on which the first colonists in regular military formation received fire from His Majesty’s troops — in the town of Lexington, when the Redcoats fired at an interracial company of militiamen, killing eight and wounding several more. And it is the date of “the shot heard ’round the world” when His Majesty’s troops were first forcibly turned back by the combined forces of several towns at the North Bridge in Concord. (Having grown up and lived most of my life in Concord, of course I think what happened in Concord was most important. My cousins who grew up in Lexington beg to differ.)
And today is the actual anniversary of these events. (Not the state holiday, which always falls on a Monday.) These momentous events happened 248 years ago today. I’ve always felt this is the date which commemorates the beginning of our democracy here in the United States. The militiamen and Minute Men who fought on April 19 were duly authorized by their towns, and by the Provincial Congress. They were under the authority of democratically elected, non-military officials. And they followed a course of action that had been determined by democratic process.
As a pacifist, I’d prefer it if our democracy had had a non-violent beginning. And there’s no doubt the democratic tradition in Massachusetts went back more than a century and a half before this date in 1775. But April 19, 1775, turned out to be the date that people looked back on and said, That’s when it began. So this is my favorite day for waving the American flag and being a patriot. This is also the day each year when I recommit myself to continuing to pursue the still-unfinished democratic project of our country.
And by the way — it’s now just two years to the big blowout party on April 19, 2025. It’s not too soon to start planning your participation in the 250th birthday of our American democracy.