Many of my Facebook friends have asked me to write an article on the History of April 19th. Why? Of course, this date is slightly more likely to fall on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday (58 in 400 years each) than on Friday or Saturday (57), and slightly less likely to occur on a Monday or Wednesday (56). But what important things have occurred historically on this date in history? There are many, here are just three:
Reformation — April 19, 1529
On April 19, at the Second Diet of Speyer, the first use of the term Protestant occurred. What was the context? Back at the First Diet of Speyer, Germany in 1526, followers of Martin Luther in Germany and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland understood that the Roman Church would permit the toleration of Lutheran and Swiss Reformed versions of worship. This would essentially suspend the impact of the Edict of Worms, which back in 1521 had declared Luther to be an Imperial outlaw and banned the reading or possession of his writings. (He had already been religiously excommunicated by the Pope the previous year in 1520.)
German Princes, following the First Diet of Speyer, understood now that cujus regio, ejus religio — literally “Whose realm, his religion” or roughly “the religion of the Prince is the religion of his territory.” This meant that if a Prince followed Luther, so too could his people. However, if the First Diet suspended the Edict of Worms, the Second Diet reinstated it or more particularly excluded toleration for Lutherans, Zwinglians or Anabaptists. A group of German Princes, realizing this could mean the end of tolerance for Lutherans and Reformed, subsequently filed a formal legal “protest” and were hence called Protestants.
Revolution — April 19, 1775
April 19 two centuries later saw the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, also known as the War of Independence. The event that triggered this was The Battles of Lexington and Concord. Across four small towns in Middlesex County, Massachusetts (modern-day Arlington and Cambridge) the first armed conflicts of the War occurred, following the rapid warning system and the ride of Paul Revere, and the engagement of the Sons of Liberty, resulting in the death of perhaps 103 Americans.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his Concord Hymn, recounts this episode of history with the words “the shot heard ’round the world.” What is perhaps less well-known is that it was his own grandfather, the Reverend William Emerson, an ordinary country preacher, who played a role in the story. The month before, on March 13 he had preached a sermon to the Concord militia of the “approaching storm of war and bloodshed” calling them to “real service” based on moral and spiritual resolve trusting on God’s power to uphold them. He said:
“For my part, the more I reflect upon the movements of the British nation… the more satisfied I am that our military preparation here for our own defense is… justified in the eyes of the impartial world. Nay, for should we neglect to defend ourselves by military preparation, we could never answer it to God and to our own consciences…”
Reflection — Today, April 19
Two centuries later, for me, April 19 is the date I celebrate the birthday of my twin sister. She claims that she’s an only child, but I recall that she was born at a young age to get an early start in life. She was born in a hospital so that she could be close to our mother.
Why is April 19 important to you?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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