Want to know the truth about Paul Revere? If so, your search would provide the perfect metaphor for yet another elusive historical figure: Sarah Palin.
Where should you start? Right here my friend. I have carried a voluminous biography about Paul Revere around with me for at least ten years now. Am I bragging? Yeah, a little.
The book itself is tattered beyond repair. I acquired it in Massachusetts at least twenty years ago and ten years later finally got around to reading it. The author, Esther Forbes, worked with the help of her mother Harriette M. Forbes to study volumes of Revere family historical documents which were lent to them by William B., and Edward H. R. Revere, great-grandsons of none other than the famous Paul. The book was finally published in 1942 by the Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. (I guess there were still a few patriots there at that time.)
Please allow, from the footnotes of Forbes epic, number 54: “Most American heroes of the Revolutionary period are by now two men, the actual man and the romantic image.” (Dixon Wecter’s ‘Hero in America’)
My conclusion, after the first reading of Esther’s exhaustive biography, was that Revere was indeed an important patriot, but that his well-narrated but still mysterious seminal event, was the merest of blips in his life story. Indeed, all that Longfellow’s poem has accomplished is to carry this charter member of the Sons of Liberty into the 21st century so that we can, if we are so inclined, examine once again his allegiance to the cause of freedom. Paul Revere’s Ride was dangerous, but so was every other day leading up to it, and his courier duties afterward were even more dangerous still.
And Revere had company on that fateful April evening either. Also from Esther’s notes, number 30: “The idea the Paul Revere was the only rider out that night was so picturesquely implanted in the American mind by Longfellow in 1863 there was a natural reaction when it was learned that he was by no means alone.” Revere was made famous, but William Dawes was similarly charged that evening, and others joined in as soon as they heard that something was afoot.The Midnite Ride of Paul Revere reveals more about the poet, than it does about his protagonist, and the reaction to Palin’s comments concerning Revere, reveal more about the media than it does about the lovely Sarah.
If you are like most people who have even a cursory understanding of American History, you probably know one thing about Revere, and that is that he galloped through the Massachusetts countryside yelling, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Congratulations, if you know that much you are now qualified to either write for the Huffington Post, or host a local television news program.
I have come to the conclusion that learning history almost always involves unlearning. In other words, take it from a Revere expert, if there is such a thing, Palin would have done the cause a disservice if she had satisfied the chattering classes by simply regurgitating Longfellow. Because she didn’t, you now have an opportunity to learn a little.
Paul Revere was baptised on January 1st, 1735. Apollos, his father who immigrated to Boston in 1716, probably allowed for the change in the family name so that his children might more easily fit in with the decidedly English culture. Becoming “Americanized” meant becoming English, because at the time America was English. Paul protested as a young man that they changed so that the English bumpkins could pronounce their proud French name, but the fact that he became such a trusted figure of the Revolution proves that he eventually became a happily-converted anglophile, even as he maintained his proud French ego.
Indeed, before Revere fought for liberty, he fought against France, as did many if not most of the male members of the very British colonies during the various French and Indian Wars leading up to the Revolution. In 1756 Revere was given a commission and served as a second lieutenant in the English Army.
Chances are that if you know more than one thing about Revere, the second thing you know is that he was a silversmith. Like many artisans of the day Revere joined the Freemasons as a young man. This secretive society was without question his entree into groups that would later take forms like the Committee of Safety and Committee of Correspondence.
From Esther’s book we leave Revere for a moment to capture a sentiment that was probably widely held in 1773. 100 years after the Revolution Charles Francis Dana made an observation that cannot be overlooked, and to say that it is apropos today is an understatement, quoting:
“The King and the Parliment were the revolutionists. We were the conservators of existing institutions. They were seeking to overthrow and reconstruct on a theory of Parlimentary omnipotence… we broke no chains.”
The same is true today. The Tea Party is not a revolution, it is an attempt to thwart a revolution. And if that is not exactly what Sarah Palin is saying, I’ll eat my tri-corner hat.