Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dramatic Violence



From "Crossing the River"

He [Major John Pitcairn] had his first good look at them. They were dressed in jerkin; they were wearing wide brimmed hats. They were few in number, fifty or sixty maybe. They were standing wide-legged. He had expected 500.

He despised exaggeration. If he were to effect a peaceful resolution, his men would have to march to Concord with charged muskets. Who in the ranks would fire a ball into the back of the cove in front of him? Fate, craving entertainment, pounced upon such opportunity!

He could not ignore the townspeople’s disobedience. Encountering them armed upon his return would not answer. To confiscate their weapons, he would have to threaten them. Two hundred fifty against sixty. Mustered sullenly in the middle of their parade field, they had the look of street brawlers outside an oft-frequented kiddley. Prideful men! Behind upstairs window curtains the town’s cowards watched!

He didn't want to slay them. Neither had General Gage. Neither he nor the General could prevent these men from insisting on it. Damned, prideful rebels!



Any account of the events that occurred at Lexington April 19, 1775, must attempt to answer this question: Why did Captain John Parker position militiamen provocatively on the town common?

Most historians believe that Samuel Adams, using Reverend Jonas Clarke’s influence, persuaded him.

Captain Parker had met with many of his militiamen at about 1 a. m. They had decided not to take a stand against the British but place themselves instead where they would not be “discovered.” The decision was in keeping with the way militiamen preferred to fight, from behind walls and trees and out of houses. It would be what we would expect from Parker and those of his militia who were veterans of the French and Indian War. Nevertheless, when the British troops arrived at the Common, Parker had placed a majority of his men in a clearly visible location.

Reverend Jonas Clarke had been Lexington’s preacher for two decades. A graduate of Harvard, Clarke was learned, domineering, and physically imposing. Over the years Clarke and Parker had developed a companionable albeit inequitable friendship. Clarke, the advisor and teacher, had sought to elevate in different ways the simple, sincere farmer.  Clarke loaned Parker numerous books.  He was responsible for Parker being elected captain of the militia.

Jonas Clarke's opposition to Parliament's restrictive colonial policy is clearly stated in the town's resolves, all of which he wrote. About the Stamp Act he declared: “We have always looked upon men as a set of beings naturally free … that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-beings of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness. They are seldom lost, but when foolishly forfeited or tamely resigned.” In 1773, after Parliament had awarded the East India Tea Company a monopoly of the colonial tea business, Clarke wrote that any citizen of Lexington discovered purchasing or consuming the tea “shall be looked upon as an enemy to this town and to this country, and shall by this town be treated with neglect and contempt.” In response to Parliament’s Coercive Acts, Clarke, writing for Lexington, declared, “We shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea and life itself, in support of the common cause.” Clarke's political position during these years was identical to that of the radical Boston patriots.

Samuel Adams's long opposition to England's coercive policy is well documented. Achieving a complete separation from England was his consuming passion. His greatest political skill prior to the war was his ability to manipulate. Arthur Bernon Tourtellot in "William Diamond’s Drum" states: “In his long and persistent effort Samuel Adams made use of every person, every prejudice, every element, every fear, and every aspiration in colonial society. By patient, skillful, strong-minded, and often ruthless work he finally welded together forces of such dynamic drive that it is difficult to believe that any of his contemporaries fully understood them.”

An important facet of Adams' manipulative skill was a technique that Tourtellot calls “dramatic violence.” Beginning with his use of the mobs of Boston to thwart stamp tax collectors, he used this technique “again and again, always at an opportune time and always with masterful effect--not least of which was the mobs' inciting of the British troops to fire on a group of mobsters in 1770, creating the long politically useful Boston Massacre.” [Tourtellot]

Notwithstanding his manipulative skills and tenacious willfulness, Adams knew he couldn’t control historical events. He did believe, however, that some events could be inspired. In the spring of 1775 he needed such an event, a dramatic happening that would destroy the inertia of timidity within the Continental Congress and Massachusetts's Provincial Congress, an event that would unite all the colonies “in such furious indignation … that they would never be reconciled.” [Tourtellot] When it was clear that General Gage intended to send an armed expedition through Lexington to Concord to destroy that town’s military stores, Adams saw his opportunity.

Adams and John Hancock had chosen to stay in Lexington during March and April while they attended the sessions of the Provincial Congress in Concord. Reverend Clarke accommodated them. Clarke's wife was a cousin of John Hancock. The Clarke House had been the house of Hancock's grandfather, the town minister whom Clarke had succeeded. Whether their stay there had been suggested by Adams or not, he definitely wanted to make use of Clarke's political standing. “Nobody could give Adams a more reliable appraisal of the capacity and willingness of the country people to resist any coercion from Gage.” [Tourtellot] Frequently, Adams and Clarke sat up late into the night reading and conversing. During these exchanges Adams must have taken an accurate measure of Clarke’s pervasive influence.

From "Crossing the River"

The High Whig leader rested his head against the cushioned chair back. … During Adams and Hancock’s stay Clarke had been Adams’s advisor and obliging confidant. This particular night Adams wanted much more.

“So, Samuel, once again you will have your Tea Act.”

“Your meaning, Jonas?” Adams answered, not the least surprised at the Reverend’s insight.

The minister placed the book he had been about to read on the circular table next to his chair. He covered his yawning mouth. “You will devise a way to capitalize on this forthcoming invasion.” He crossed his left leg over his right, placed his huge hands on his left knee.

“An opportunity our timorous friends who assemble at Concord would forfeit!    We do not need finely-worded resolutions! We need an event, Jonas, that will enflame the passions of our people, an event that will embolden, nay compel, every half-way patriot to one course of action!”

Red fissures in the bottom log snapped.

Independence, Samuel, can only be obtained by force. What precisely would you have happen that would inspire the most cautious of our people to fight?”

He knows. Am I surprised? I am not. But I will say it. And he will agree. “Martyrs, Jonas. A dozen martyrs.”



Reverend Clarke had summoned John Parker to his house after midnight. Thereafter, Parker had met with his men. Their majority decision had been not to muster on the common but to gather where they would not be “discovered.” Parker met a second time with Clarke, with Adams likely attending. Later, when John Hancock walked to the village common to interact with Parker’s militiamen, Sam Adams accompanied him. Adams and Clarke had had both the time and the opportunity to change Parker's mind about how the captain’s men were to be employed.