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Celebrating a Revolution

July 4th - In praise of revolution.


{This is an updated version of a post originally published July 4, 2017}

Smartleaf is located in Boston, MA, and we’re surrounded by historic sites from the American Revolution. There are Smartleafers (we actually call ourselves that) who live in Boston proper (site of the Tea Party and the Boston Massacre), Lexington (site of the war’s first battle), Quincy (home of John Adams), and Marblehead (home of America’s first naval ship to sail under George Washington’s command). I live in Cambridge, and my walk to work takes me past George Washington’s first headquarters (later home to the poet Henry Longfellow, who wrote about Paul Revere’s “midnight ride”), past the field where Washington assumed command of the Continental army, past the route of Revere’s compatriot rider William Dawes, past a revolutionary war-era cemetery, and past the encampment of the American army during the siege of Boston. (Shameless hometown history plug: George Washington so outmaneuvered the British that they abandoned Boston without firing a shot. He had directed Henry Knox (of Fort Knox fame) to haul cannons from Vermont’s Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge. Washington installed these cannons overnight on a hill overlooking Boston, using hay bales to disguise the activity. The victory is celebrated locally as “Evacuation Day.” We also celebrate “Patriots’ Day” on the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. The rest of the world knows it as the date of the Boston Marathon.)

Every tech firm claims to “revolutionize” this or that. And, yes, we say the same thing (except, well, we really do…). But even we recognize that there’s a difference between reinventing wealth management and establishing the world’s first large-scale democracy. It’s easy, at least for me, to gloss over just how truly risky, imaginative and disruptive the American War for Independence was. “So you want a revolution?” asked the Beatles. Today, most of us would probably respond with something akin to a shrug, but all around us here in Boston are reminders of those who said “yes.” This is pleasing, and we like the idea of holding onto some of that spirit. Happy Independence Day from all of us at Smartleaf.

Covid-19 postscript: this year, July 4th celebrations in Boston will be curtailed as a public health precaution, but even this has historical echoes: in July, 1775, shortly after taking command of the Continental army, George Washington wrote to the Continental Congress that “We shall continue the utmost vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy.”1 The “Enemy” he was referring to was not the British, it was a smallpox epidemic.

1  Ann Becker, Smallpox at the Siege of Boston: “Vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy” pg 60

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