Editor’s note: In honor of Veterans Day and the heroes who have defended liberty, we’re publishing early the story of a little-known veteran and American founder, Dr. Joseph Warren. We’re also making this article accessible for free through Monday, November 12. (The essay is from the Winter 2018–2019 issue of The Objective Standard, which will be published on November 20. Read his fascinating story below, and share this article with friends—and especially any vets—while it’s accessible for free.
Now is no time for any of America’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die. —Dr. Joseph Warren1
Writing about America’s founding fathers, philosopher Ayn Rand said, “as a political group, they were a phenomenon unprecedented in history: they were thinkers who were also men of action.”2
Nobody embodied that description better than Dr. Joseph Warren. Not only was he an able doctor, but Warren was a rare patriot leader who possessed the brilliance and eloquence of a Thomas Jefferson combined with the leadership qualities and physical courage of a George Washington. As John Adams said of him, “Warren was a young man whom nature had adorned with grace and manly beauty, and a courage that would have been rash absurdity, had it not been tempered by self-control.”3 These qualities prompted British General Howe to claim that Warren’s life was equal to five hundred ordinary colonials. Lord Rawdon, a British commander, called him “the greatest incendiary in all America.”4 President Ronald Reagan quoted Warren in his first inaugural address and said he “might have been among the greatest of America’s founding fathers” had he not fallen in battle at Bunker Hill.5
Although America’s founders generally are well known, and everyone knows of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride,” few know the pivotal role that Joseph Warren played in the decade leading up to the decisive day of April 19, 1775—a role that included the decision to send Revere on his famous ride. Warren was an architect of the rebellion and was involved in every major insurrectionary act and event in Boston in his day. His prolific writing included the Suffolk Resolves, which united the colonies against Britain and inspired the Declaration of Independence. From the fall of 1774 to the spring of 1775, Warren almost single-handedly directed the patriots’ efforts in Boston while other leaders such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock were away at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Warren not only talked the talk; he helped to build, lead, and fight in America’s newborn military. He fought in the nation’s first two major Revolutionary War battles, and he was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, at the age of thirty-four. A few weeks after the battle, George Washington—nine years Warren’s senior—arrived in Boston to take command. When he surveyed the spot where Warren fell, he told the Boston patriots, “this is where you lost your Commander-In-Chief.”6 . . .
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