Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sarah Palin, Paul Revere, and the Truth

This Sarah Palin and Paul Revere story has gotten everybody's panties in a wad. So let's just tell the truth here.

Every American child, in grade school, as part of learning about the Revolution, learns the story of Paul Revere. Here are the salient facts that most people know (because this is what's taught): Revere set out on a night ride to warn the colonists that the redcoats were coming. You know, so we'd be ready for them. He needed to get the word out, so stealth was the key word: the lanterns in the North Tower would be lit to indicate which way the redcoats were arriving by: one light by land, two by sea. Most of us were also treated to the version of the story told in Longfellow's poem. I can recall that "belfry" was one of our vocabulary words.

That's it. That's all I knew; and admit it, that's all YOU knew of the story (unless you have a PhD in Revolutionary History), until this news story broke.

Now, Sarah Palin has been tooling around the East Coast in her Sarah Mobile visiting historical sights like the Liberty Bell and such, so after visiting New England, a tv reporter in Boston asked her this question: “What have you seen so far today and what are you going to take away from your visit?” In answer, she launched into her now famous story about Paul Revere's midnight ride, saying, "He who warned, uh, the ... the British that they weren't gonna be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells and, um, by making sure that as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free ... and we were gonna be armed."

Now, anybody who is an honest person is going to say Sarah Palin messed up the story. And that's how most people saw it: she botched the historical lesson; some saw it as a forgivable gaffe; others (like me) saw it as a botching of history, forgivable in others but not so forgivable in someone who might make a run for President and who claims to know her history.

It should have dropped there, end of story. But no. First off, Palin said on Fox News that the question had been a "gotcha" question. (That's her favorite defense when she gets asked something she doesn't know the answer to. But I'm sorry, the above question is no "gotcha" question. Then again, neither was "what do you read?" Yet I digress.)

Then Palin actually defended her answer. Now, pay attention. AFTER THE FACT, after she or her people had time to go do some background research perhaps, and after her apologists attempted to change the Paul Revere entry on Wikipedia to match Palin's version of events, lo and behold! A very obscure (as in known to very few, including me and I'll bet you too) letter written by Revere in 1789 and held by the Massachusetts Historical Society reveals that Revere was captured! Oh my God! That wasn't in my textbook in third grade. (Or maybe it was fourth or fifth. I don't remember.)

Yes, indeed, Revere was intercepted by the British and questioned. And here's what he said, according to his letter:

I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out.

Based on this, Palin is trying to tell us that she was right, that Revere had warned the British. (And a nice bluff, too, I might add, on Revere's part; for certainly there were not as many as five hundred armed militia. But I see this as less "talking big" to the British and more an attempt to protect his countrymen.)

But even if you believe that Palin had read Revere's obscure letter (which I don't), telling the redcoats a fib after being captured is not quite the same thing as Revere riding through town basically yelling at the British that they weren't going to take our arms and that we was gonna kick us some red-coated booty.

So here's the truth: Palin botched the story. Then somebody else found out there was a grain of truth to her botched story. After the fact, she latched onto that grain of truth as evidence that she knew what she was talking about and had known it all along.

I call bullshit on that. I don't buy it. If that obscure footnote to the story was what she was originally referring to, why didn't she say that clearly at the outset? Instead of telling us Paul Revere rode through town warning the British and firing warning shots and ringing bells? Which is most assuredly untrue.

If you believe Palin on this one, I have a nice oasis in the Mohave Desert that I want to sell to you.

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