September memories of the American Revolution

September 25, 2020

It hardly needs saying that Brandeis attaches a special importance to history. On some profound level the university understands that, without history, the conditions of the present are without context and the safeguards of civilization are without recognition. Without history, there is nothing to remind us that the comforts we take for granted are, in fact, artificial and therefore require a conscious and ceaseless preservation. It hardly matters how far the road stretches behind us—without a careful eye on the road before us, any measure of distance can come to naught in an instant.

September in Massachusetts (and elsewhere) is a time of seasonal transition, when the tops of trees grow alight with gold and the first chilly gusts are detectable in the air. These waning days of summer have witnessed momentous history in years past throughout the world, and this country constitutes no exception. The events which occurred in this month at the time of the American Revolution signified a change of season within America itself. Two consequential events in particular, marking the opening and close of the month, illustrated the attributes of agency and sacrifice which helped to produce an independent Republic.

On Sept. 5, 1774, delegates converged in Philadelphia to discuss the means of public retaliation against the Coercive Acts. The absence of Georgia, which at the time was reliant upon British military supplies to combat a Creek insurgency, did not affect the resolve of the colonial delegation to reject these stipulations by an English Parliament of which they were not a part. These acts, known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts, sought to punish an unruly Massachusetts in particular for the deposit of 46 tons of British tea into the Boston Harbor. 

A collective repression was imposed upon Boston, including interventions in the judiciary and the forced quartering of English soldiers in private residences. The confiscation of the rights of Massachusetts colonists naturally led the residents of other colonies to fear the abridgement of their own natural rights, and the result was an assembly comprising the representatives of twelve colonies. The active dedication and initiative of this convention would be followed by a subsequent convention in 1775, coinciding with the rise of armed insurrection throughout New England, and a third convention the following year in which independence from the British Empire was declared on the fourth of July.

A second pivotal event occurred in late September, on the twenty-second of 1776. The declaration of independence months prior had seen an escalation of war throughout the gentle green hills of lower New England. Nathan Hale of Connecticut was captured by the English military and executed without a trial. He died at the age of twenty-one, younger than many undergraduates at Brandeis University; his famed last words declared that “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The infant Republic would prove to validate his sacrifice and win its independence after seven years’ more war, signifying that the loss of young Nathan Hale had cultivated in the earth a legacy of newfound national consciousness. The willingness for sacrifice confirmed the ultimate futility of the English effort to reacquire control, for a cause this great could surely inspire the necessary effort and agency for victory.

We exist today as the product of Septembers long past. The defeat of the titanic British Empire and its German mercenaries was formalized in 1783, after which the American Republic was free to represent itself in all its future affairs. Long after its ally, the French absolutist regime, fell to revolutionaries in 1789, the American Republic has endured to the modern day under its 1787 constitution, epochal for its mindfulness of English abuses and meticulous dispersal of official power as a result. Its legacy, written throughout the land, is even expressed across the river from my Connecticut hometown, where the local high school is named after Nathan Hale. 

When the world emerges from the pandemic, and we once again immerse ourselves in the dominant matters of our own lives, let us not forget that the certainties we depend upon today were built upon the efforts of previous generations to contend with the uncertainties in their own lifetimes. Remembrance of this fact ensures gratitude and thus a commitment to the survival of their contributed legacies, a duty which every living generation is obligated to perform. It is difficult to recall a distant memory, particularly one so distant as the American Revolution and its reasons for igniting, yet it remains more recent than one would think that these gentle, steady hills of Massachusetts were once aflame in uprising against an authoritarian European empire. To remember the legacy of Septembers past is to rediscover eternal virtues of bold initiative and moving sacrifice.

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