What follows is an address, delivered in my absence by Tom Moor, at the Committees of Safety rally held at Lexington Green on 19 April 2009. I have also appended an afterword.
Ladies and gentlemen:
Lexington Green does not merely recall an historic event. More importantly, it also teaches a profound lesson in the philosophy and practice of popular self-government. Observe the statue standing there at the head of the green. And recall the statue at the North Bridge in Concord. Each of them depicts but a single individual. Yet, in each case, that one individual represents many more than himself alone: A single Minuteman, representing all of the Minutemen.
Even more importantly, the Minutemen were no happenstance bunch of individuals some of whom accidentally gravitated to Lexington Green and the North Bridge on the 19th of April in 1775. They were no mere crowd of farmers, artisans, and tradesmen who stumbled together with no coherence, no general self-consciousness, no collective purpose or resolve.
To the contrary: They were members of an organization which included all free adult able-bodied men throughout Massachusetts, with like organizations in each of the other twelve American Colonies. An organization which had existed in Massachusetts herself for almost 150 years. An organization with legal—indeed, governmental—authority: The Militia of Massachusetts.
And they assembled here, not to break the law, but to witness to it, to defend it, and if possible to enforce it against British troops who were, they rightly believed, breaking the laws of Massachusetts, abridging the Colonists’ rights as Englishmen, and flouting what the Declaration of Independence later called “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”.
Here at Lexington, the Militiamen did not at first intend to fight—they meant only to demonstrate their disapproval of the incursion into their town by General Gage’s troops, to embody in their own persons on this green their legal authority, and to present a living remonstrance through a muster of physical—but even more importantly, of legal and moral—strength, rather than an act of outright forcible resistance.
As Pastor Jonas Clark wrote in The Battle of Lexington: An Eyewitness Narrative of That Day, the Militia of Lexington
“was alarmed and ordered to meet on the usual place of parade; not with any design of commencing hostilities upon the king’s troops, but to consult what might be done for our own and the people’s safety: And also to be ready for whatever service providence might call us out to upon this alarming occasion, in case overt acts of violence or open hostilities should be committed.” by the British.
So, recalled Reverend Parker,
“alarm guns were fired and the drums beat to arms; and the militia was collecting together. Some, to the number of about 50 or 60, or possibly more, were on the parade, others were coming toward it. In the meantime, the [British] troops, having * * * stolen a march upon us * * * , seemed to come determined for MURDER and BLOODSHED; and that whether provoked to it, or not! When within about half a quarter of a mile of the meetinghouse, they halted and the command was given to prime and load; which, being done, they marched on ’till they came * * * in sight of our militia * * * . Immediately upon their appearing so suddenly and so nigh, Capt. [John] Parker, who commanded the militia company, ordered the men to disperse and take care of themselves, and not to fire. Upon this, our men dispersed; but many of them, not so speedily as they might have done, not having the most distant idea of such brutal barbarity and more than savage CRUELTY from the troops of a British KING as they immediately experienced! For no sooner did they come in sight of our company, but one of them, supposed to be an officer of rank, was heard to say to the troops, “Damn them; we will have them!” Upon which the troops shouted aloud, huzza’d, and rushed furiously towards our men. About the same time, three officers * * * advanced on horseback to the front of the body and * * * one of them cried out, “Ye villains, ye Rebels, disperse; damn you, disperse!” or words to that effect. One of them * * * said “Lay down your arms; damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms!” The second of these officers about this time fired a pistol towards the militia as it was dispersing. The foremost, who was in a few yards of our men, brandishing his sword and then pointing it towards them, with a loud voice said to the troops, “Fire! By God, fire!” which was instantly followed by a discharge of arms from the said troops, succeeded by a very heavy and close fire upon our party, dispersing, so long as any of them were within reach. Eight were left dead upon the ground! Ten were wounded. The rest of the company, through divine goodness, were (to a miracle) preserved unhurt in this murderous action!”
We learn from this account that, pursuant to orders, Lexington’s Militiamen were in fact dispersing when the British opened fire on them. Dispersing, but not laying down their arms. They knew that, by themselves alone, they could not effectively resist the overwhelming force the British had amassed against them in the field. Nevertheless, they refused to surrender their legal and moral authority. And later, they—along with Militiamen from Concord and other towns throughout the surrounding area—combined that authority with sufficient force, and drove the British back into Boston.
This is a stirring story. But what does it offer to us today? Is what happened here in Lexington on the 19th of April in 1775 merely an historical incident with no contemporary value other than as an excuse for a spring holiday? To imagine as much is to forget the admonition that those who refuse to learn from history will find themselves repeating history—and generally the hard way.
All too many Americans have become all too much forgetful of the real meaning of the 19th of April, 1775. Today, except for a few ceremonial vestiges here and there, the true Militia of Massachusetts, as well as the true Militia of all the other States, are almost entirely disbanded.
Disbanded in fact, but not under “the supreme Law of the Land”. For—
• The Constitution of the United States still declares that “[a] well regulated Militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State”. Indeed, “[a] well regulated Militia” is the one and only institution that the Constitution recognizes as “necessary” for any purpose.
• The Constitution still incorporates “the Militia of the several States”—according to the principles under which they existed in 1788—into its federal structure.
• The Constitution still delegates to Congress, and in default of Congress to the States, and in default of Congress and the States to WE THE PEOPLE themselves, the power and the duty to organize, arm, discipline, and train the Militia.
• Yet, notwithstanding the Constitution, nowhere in America are “the Militia of the several States”, or of any State, organized in the manner and to the degree “the supreme Law of the Land” expressly, unequivocally, and emphatically commands.
This is not because our country faces no grave dangers against which the Militia are the first, and the best, and perhaps in the final analysis the only means to provide true “homeland security”. To the contrary: Today, more than ever before in America’s existence, “well regulated Militia” are urgently “necessary to the security of a free State”, everywhere throughout the United States.
“[T]he Militia of the several States” are effectively disbanded, and the Constitution flouted, and America’s “homeland security” imperiled, because WE THE PEOPLE are not doing their part. WE THE PEOPLE are not standing forth today, as the Minutemen of Lexington stood forth in 1775, in defense of their country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Unlike the Minutemen of Lexington, who mustered on this green, muskets in hand, to perform their possibly fatal duties as Militiamen in the face of armed oppressors, all too many contemporary Americans refuse to acknowledge, let alone to fulfill, even their simplest and safest responsibilities as self-governing citizens of “a free State”.
“[A] free State” is a state in which the people actually govern themselves. “A well regulated Militia” is composed of every able-bodied resident of the State from sixteen to sixty years of age. The Militia consists of the people; and the people control the Militia. So, of course “[a] well regulated Militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State”. It could not possibly be otherwise.
More than that: Because “a free State” is one in which the people govern themselves—and because “[a] well regulated Militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State”—therefore, without “[a] well regulated Militia”, popular self-government cannot long endure. Let me repeat that, so there can be no mistake: Without “[a] well regulated Militia”, popular self-government cannot long endure. This is what the Constitution declares. This is what History teaches. This is what current events are proving. This is what all Americans will soon learn, to their everlasting sorrow, if they fail to follow in the footsteps of the men from Lexington.
Here today, an enthusiastic throng of patriots has gathered. Yet it is only a congregation, not an organization. Its participants sense their potential political power to bring about fundamental, and desperately needed, reforms in this country. For strength lies in numbers; and tens of millions of Americans share their sentiments. But potential is not actual power. And actual political power this great mass of Americans cannot yet exercise, because its members lack, not simply the means, but more importantly the legal authority, to do so.
That legal authority can—and must—be regained, by revitalizing in every one of “the several States” the institutions that the monument on Lexington Green recalls, rightly glorifies, and recommends to us today. Not just the solitary man with his musket, but the hundreds and thousands, even millions, of men and women who should muster in “the Militia of the several States”.
With their muskets? Surely so, because being armed is the hallmark of free citizens and of a proper constitutional Militia. But armed not with muskets alone, or even primarily. Because today the most important work of political and economic reform in American can be undertaken without muskets:
• There must be fundamental monetary and banking reform before a total collapse of the Federal Reserve System plunges this country into economic, political, and social chaos
• There must be adequate preparations for dealing with natural disasters, epidemics, and other like catastrophes
• There must be provision of food and medical security for all Americans.
And the list goes on.
Surely, men and women who know and are determined to assert their rights will prove capable of performing these tasks, even without muskets in their hands. If they are properly organized. So now, just as did the Minutemen on Lexington Green, patriots “must consult what might be done for our own and the people’s safety” and make themselves “ready for whatever service providence might call us out to”—in and through the organizations that the Constitution declares to be “necessary to the security of a free State”: “the Militia of the several States”.
How is this to be accomplished? In the selfsame manner in which all fundamental political reform must be brought about in “a free State”. WE THE PEOPLE, by themselves and for themselves, must employ democratic self-government to save, strengthen, and extend democratic self-government by revitalizing what the Constitution itself declares to be “necessary” to preserve democratic self-government: “the Militia of the several States”. The proper path is through each of the States’ legislatures, one by one. The good people in each State must enact statutes that will revitalize their Militia along strict constitutional lines and for constitutional purposes. Immediately, if not sooner.
In this effort, proponents of revitalizing the Militia should seek and welcome support from members and veterans of the regular Armed Forces, and of State and Local police, sheriffs’ departments, and emergency-services agencies. One need simply read the Constitution to realize that the Militia’s responsibilities—“to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”—overlap the duties of the Armed Forces and embrace those of State and Local police, sheriffs’ departments, and kindred agencies. Therefore, when the Militia are revitalized, they will complement the regular Armed Forces, and supplement the police and emergency-services personnel. The Militia, the Armed Forces, the police, and so on will be the closest of allies, never competitors, let alone antagonists—because they will all share the very same goal: the preservation of popular self-government against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The enemies of “a free State” know this. Which is why they belittle the movement for revitalization of the Militia with the contention that “revitalization of the Militia is useless, because the Militia cannot effectively fight the Armed Forces”. This is black propaganda broadcast in order to sow dissension, to create distrust, and to engender defeatism. And it is obviously wrongheaded, because it rests on the demonstrably false assumption of an inherent conflict between the Militia and the Armed Forces.
Precisely where does the Constitution say that the Militia and the regular Armed Forces must, or will, or should, or even might fight, one against another? Are not the Militia and the Armed Forces components of the very same constitutional plan? Are not they equally dedicated to securing the same “common defence” and “general Welfare” that the Constitution’s Preamble promises to all Americans?
Perhaps the dark day will dawn when aspiring usurpers and tyrants will attempt to seize power in the United States. But one cannot assume that, on that day, the Armed Forces, in whole or in a major part, will consist of traitors who will aid and abet such a conspiracy by taking up arms against their own people. Perhaps, too, a few rogue elements in the Armed Forces might provide those usurpers with some aid and comfort. After all, every barrel contains a few bad apples. But, even then, would not the better part of the Armed Forces and the Militia concert their efforts in order to restore and preserve constitutional government? Why should Americans expect any other outcome?
We are reminded here today that the members of the Armed Forces, sheriffs, the police, and other public-service personnel take an oath to support the Constitution. What, though, must be the consequence of this oath? The Constitution recognizes and empowers “the Militia of the several States” as fundamentally important parts of its federal system. In fact, the Constitution devotes more words to setting out Congress’s and the States’ powers with respect to the Militia than it does to setting out Congress’s powers with respect to the Army and the Navy. And the Constitution appoints the President of the United States as Commander in Chief of both “the Army and Navy of the United States, and * * * the Militia of the several States”. Thus, constitutionally, “the Militia of the several States” are at least as important as the regular Armed Forces. For that reason, when the members of the Armed Forces take an oath to support the Constitution—all of the Constitution, without any exception—they take an oath to support “the Militia of the several States” as component parts of the Constitution, too. Today, however, “the Militia of the several States” are not properly organized anywhere within the United States. So the oath that members of the Armed Forces take to support the Constitution as it should be enforced in its entirety must translate into an oath to support revitalization of the Militia, so that the entirety of the Constitution can be enforced. One cannot take an oath to support the Constitution as a whole while at the same time acquiescing in the neglect, failure, or intentional refusal of public officials to put into operation the very institutions that the Constitution itself declares are “necessary to the security of a free State”.
The enemies of “a free State” also seek to demoralize patriots by claiming that the restoration of constitutional government throughout the United States is impossible. But it is precisely the revitalization of “the Militia of the several States” that will make such restoration, not only possible, but also relatively easy. We know that it will be possible, because the Constitution itself assures us that “well regulated Militia” are “necessary to the security of a free State”—and, if “necessary”, then surely they will be sufficient for that purpose. We can further rest assured that restoration of constitutional government through revitalization of the Militia will be practicable, because “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” favor the big battalions—and the good people of America outnumber the enemies of “a free State” by orders of magnitude. Not only that. Once organized in “the Militia of the several States”, Americans will have unquestionable right—in the form of constitutional authority—as well as overwhelming might on their side.
The “embattled farmers” of Lexington choose to meet the British troops on this green because this was the farmers’ own ground that the British were invading and violating. The Minutemen were in rightful possession. And possession, the old saw has it, amounts to nine-tenths of the law. The other one-tenth is enforcement of that possession. Who, though, are better able to enforce, and have the greater incentive to enforce, possession than the people in actual possession—in decisive numbers, with right on their side, and thoroughly organized to convert numbers and right into might?
In sum, the lesson that History sets before us today in bronze, and stone, and greensward is plain enough for anyone to learn, and compelling enough for every patriot, not only to take to heart, but also to put into action. Americans will rest secure in their constitutional freedoms only when they themselves secure those freedoms through the “necessary” constitutional means: namely, “the Militia of the several States”. Nothing less has sufficed in the past; nothing less will do today.
The Militiaman standing at the head of the green reminds us that self-government is not a “spectator sport”. It is a “team effort”. And it is not just a game, either. It is a free people’s vocation—sometimes even a sacrificial vocation. So, with that insight and that inspiration, when we leave this green today let us bear with us a new resolution, and a new understanding of how, to make constitutional self-government a reality throughout America.