J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Sarah Palin Meets Paul Revere

Yesterday former half-term governor Sarah Palin’s made-for-television bus tour of historic sites ran into a pothole when she spoke on camera about Paul Revere. As transcribed by The Selling of the President 1968 author Joe McGinniss, Palin said Revere was:
He who warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and um by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that uh we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free…and we were gonna be armed.
Needless to say, Revere didn’t ride to warn the British. He rode to warn provincial militia officers and the Continental Congress delegates Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were on the march.

One could make the argument that Revere’s actions led to a massive popular response that served as a warning to British officials about the people’s determination to protect their traditional liberties—I’m just not convinced that Palin could make that argument, at least without coaching.

Furthermore, her comment about “takin’ away our arms” connotes that the royal forces were after personal weapons like muskets and pistols. The goal of the British march was artillery which the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected using diverted taxes for a military force independent of the royal government. That’s an important distinction, I think.

It sounds like Palin got an accurate description of Revere, the Lexington alarm, and his adolescent bell-ringing at Old North Church during her travels, but that history got garbled in her attempt to spin it into modern right-wing talking points (“Put the government on warning!” “We need our arms!”). The result was her typical stew of folksy phrases without logical or grammatical connections.

However, some of the websites critiquing Palin’s remark made historical errors of their own. Mediaite said of Revere:
He had to be quiet to not let the British know that he knew (sorry, but no bells either) they were coming– to seize weapons stores, actually…
And McGinniss elaborated on that:
the whole point of Revere’s ride from Boston to Lexington (his destination was Concord, but he didn’t make it) was that it was secret. Because the Middlesex County countryside was rife with British supporters, Revere virtually whispered his warnings that the King’s forces were crossing the Charles River on the night of April 18-19, 1775 to launch an attack upon the American rebels.
There weren’t many “British supporters,” or Crown supporters to be scrupulous, in Middlesex County by April 1775. The most prominent had been chased into Boston, or cowed into silence. Revere had to leave Boston secretly, but once he was outside town his only worry was being stopped by British army officers sent to patrol the roads ahead of the march. They nearly caught him in Charlestown, and did catch him in Lincoln.

One person even had to ask Revere to keep it down: Sgt. William Munroe, guarding the parsonage in Lexington. According to his recall in 1825:
About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said he, “you’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out.”
“Warnin’ shots and bells” were definitely part of the Massachusetts militia alarm, though not from Revere himself. People in rural towns used church bells and alarm guns to summon their neighbors; many British officers described hearing those signals during the march west. Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould even testified that he heard cannon.

(Caricature above courtesy of The New Yorker.)

36 comments:

Judy said...

Scroll down to see Revere's reaction here: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/06/03/sarah-palin-on-paul.html

Anonymous said...

And here we have "The Ride of Paul Revere. Also."

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/06/03/981801/-The-Ride-of-Paul-Revere-Also?detail=hide

EJWitek said...

A distinction must be drawn between what Revere was up to and what the British were up to on that fateful April day. Revere had been instructed by Joseph Warren to warn Hancock and Adams since Warren erroneously thought that they were the primary objective of the British expedition.The stores at Concord were mentioned in a secondary way.
In Fact,Gen Gage gave an order to Lt Col Smith that "Having received intelligence, that a quantity of Ammunition, Provisions, Artillery, Tents and small Arms, have been collected at Concord, for the Avowed Purpose of raising and supporting a Rebellion against His Majesty, you will March with a Corps of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, put under your Command, with the utmost expedition and Secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and destroy all Artillery, Ammunition, Provisions, Tents, Small Arms, and all Military Stores whatever. But you will take care that the Soldiers do not plunder the Inhabitants, or hurt private property.
You have a Draught of Concord, on which is marked the Houses, Barns, &c, which contain the above military Stores."
Thus Lt Col Smith had authorization to not only seize the cannon and other supplies but to enter private dwellings to seize arms and ammunition.
Revere was only being a good courier and doing what he had been instructed to do. It's not his fault that Warren got it wrong.
It now seems 236 years later that nobody in America can seem to get it right. But please don't tell Sarah Palin that Lt Col Smith was under orders not to hurt private property. We would have to endure another news cycle about this.

Peter Ansoff said...

JL, I admire your ability to come up with exactly the right turn-of-phrase: " . . . her typical stew of folksy phrases without logical or grammatical connections". Perfectly said.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Peter. Prof. John Fea also highlighted that passage.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Ed, the orders for the march from Gen. Gage did authorize the troops to search private property for the Provincial Congress’s arms and other military stores. Gage also gave Lt. Col. Smith a detailed list of which houses in Concord to search.

It’s notable that those were the only houses the troops did search. They passed many other homes on the road and in town which, because of the province’s militia laws, were likely to contain “small arms.”

And, as you say, they were under orders not to destroy private property. I recall one miller in Concord said who reportedly told the soldiers which bags of flour were his and which belonged to the province, and the soldiers respected his distinction.

Jen said...

No one has ever accused me of defending Sarah Palin's understanding of history. And I don't think that will happen anytime soon. But, I want to thank you for correcting not only Palin's high-gloss understanding of "the ride," but also the myriad descriptions that showed up in the press. I cringed just as much at Palin as I did with the supposedly more careful descriptions I'd read as well.

But as much as Palin makes me want to take a shower after I hear her speak, what really bothers me is when politicians use history as a thinly veiled dog whistle to co-opt American history to suit short-term political needs. It's nothing new, but since this recent round included Sarah Palin, I just wanted to let the air out of her bus tires.

Gah.

So, thanks for being specific and neutral. Much appreciated.

Timoteo said...

Revere did in fact tell the British that the colonial militias, who had been alerted, were waiting for them.

"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. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then orderd me to mount my Horse, after searching me for arms"

link:
http://www.masshist.org/database/img-viewer.php?item_id=99&img_step=1&tpc=&pid=&mode=transcript&tpc=&pid=#page1

J. L. Bell said...

I was waiting for the right-wing blogosphere to try to use that passage from Revere’s account to claim that Palin was accurate.

But it doesn’t work, does it? Only badly addled admirers of Palin would claim that the most significant thing Revere did was to tell Maj. Edward Mitchell he’d alarmed the countryside.

And even at that moment, captured in Lincoln, Revere didn’t warn the British “by ringin’ those bells and um by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells…”

But thanks for trying, Timoteo.

Anonymous said...

Interesting posts. I greatly admire all of those that have discribed the events of history with much greater accuracy than Sarah Palin. It is a sad state of affairs when the country has such a historical account given from a "political" figure. If she was an "ordinary", Jo blow citizen in Hollywood she might show up on Jay Leno's Jaywalkers.
Thank you to all for giving the real facts. That's what I love about following this blog.

EJWitek said...

Perhaps the fundamental problem here is the famous (infamous) poem by Longfellow. Most people remember the poem and don't really know the history. The poem has Revere thundering through the countryside the whole night with the specific intent of warning the villagers that the Regulars were out so that they could defend themselves.
The poem distorts the actual history and creates a myth; it's the myth that people remember. But without the myth would they even remember the history, however distorted it may be?

Charles Bahne said...

Given the interpretations of history that we're hearing from Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, et al, perhaps that explains why some politicians are trying to downgrade the teaching of history by defunding the Teaching American History grant program. After all, if it doesn't really matter what Paul Revere did, or where the first shots were fired, then what's the sense of teaching children about it in the first place?

J. L. Bell said...

Longfellow’s poem probably does play some role, Ed. It’s cemented the figure of the lone rider shouting to every Middlesex village and farm in many people’s minds.

However, among the first things people learn when they read about 18-19 April 1775 is that the poem is not accurate. So that spurs folks to be ready to dismiss all the details of the popular legend as inaccurate.

So between the grizzled legend and the enthusiastic debunking there’s a lot of space for error.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree that the phrasing could have been better. There is a real opportunity for our politicians to learn more about our country, it's heritage and geography. I wonder if the Palin Bus tour will hit all 57 states “visited” by another politician.

But there were a couple things she got right.

Paul Revere had spent considerable effort developing the communication network that by ringing those bells and firing those shots raised the10,000 plus colonists that laid siege to Boston beginning April 20, 1775.

On the night of April 19, 1775 there were no Americans in Massachusetts. All citizens Tories and Whigs were British subjects. When Capt. Parker and the Lexington militia stood armed in front of the Redcoats, they were standing up for their rights as British Citizens which had been taken from them by the Intolerable Acts. It was a choice for liberty When Issac Davis led the Acton militia down Punkatasset hill towards the North Bridge he was going to stop the Redcoats from burning the town down looking for Military Stores including the muskets that were buried in Col. Barrett's fields.

Technically, it wasn't until the Declaration of Independence was signed that Americans lived in the colonies.

I'm just glad to hear a politician talk about our heritage. I forgot who said it but “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” And "The Ride" is a great story.

I'm sure she would have done better with a Teleprompter.

J. L. Bell said...

Anonymous, I don’t see what you could possibly mean by writing, “But there were a couple things she got right. Paul Revere had spent considerable effort developing the communication network…”

Where in Palin’s words is there a mention of a communication network? As a reminder, she said: “He who warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and um by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that uh we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free…and we were gonna be armed.”

Might you be projecting what you wish she had said into the vacuousness of her actual words?

The rest of your argument seems to be that until 4 July 1776, the term “British” applied to everyone in Massachusetts, so when the former half-term governor said Revere “warned, uh, the…the British,” she was actually referring to how he warned militia officers and Continental Congress delegates. Yet she used “they” for “the British” and “we” for the locals.

Those arguments are even more ludicrous than Palin’s original statement. Thanks for the laugh!

Joan said...

This morning the Boston Herald has an article in which several history "experts" back Palin assertions up. Can you comment?

Magpie Mason said...

What about the historians who say Palin has it right? Click on:

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/us_politics/view/2011_0606you_betcha_she_was_right_experts_back_palins_historical_account/

Jay

ProBonoPublico said...

I can't believe the amount of verbiage wasted on this woman. She's a politician, and a not very successful one. This is just another episode of PDS (Palin Derangement Syndrome). Educated people of taste and manners just go ballistic at the sound of her voice.

So she spoke badly, got facts wrong, I see politicians on both sides of the aisle making similar gaffes all the time. She, like many Americans on the left and right, has Longfellow's poem as the basis of her historical picture of this seminal event.

You'd be surprised how many people, even in Massachusetts, even educated people, pretty much have the same knowledge about the Lexington Alarm as she does.

But why do the chattering classes spend so much time on her? She has a snowball's chance in hell of becoming elected to anything again beyond dogcatcher of Wasilla. Even the Republicans don't think she's electable. If they don't waste much time on her, why should anyone else?

I can't understand the energy wasted on her by people who should and (I hope) do know better.

Anonymous said...

Magpie and Joan, that's the Herald, a Rupert Murdoch rag. Everything coming out of it is suspect.

Kit said...

For heaven's sake, he wasn't warning the British who captured him, he was taunting them!

J. L. Bell said...

Here’s the Boston Herald article. (The Herald, for folks outside the region, is Boston’s right-leaning tabloid daily, as opposed to its market-leading, left-leaning broadside daily.)

That page also includes a video that starts a few seconds earlier than the one I’ve seen most. Palin starts with what sounds like a remark about what a teenager needs to learn.

Palin then proceeds to the description of Revere at issue: “He who warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and um by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells…”

The article cites three scholars:

• Brendan McConville, an excitingly iconoclastic professor at Boston University. He agreed there was a moment, after Maj. Mitchell had detained Revere at gunpoint in Lincoln, when the silversmith told a British officer that the militia was massing. Brendan also called Palin “lucky in her comments” rather than showing a convincing grasp of history.

• Patrick Leehey, longtime historian at the Paul Revere House, also acknowledged that incident in Lincoln, but expressed doubt that “that’s really what Mrs. Palin was referring to.” Since the Palins had just visited the Revere House, Patrick could have taken credit if she’d repeated an accurate but little-known aspect of history. But he didn’t.

• William A. Jacobson, not a Boston historian but a professor of securities law at Cornell, posted Revere’s 1798 description of being captured on his blog. Jacobson started that blog because he dislikes criticism of Palin, so it’s not surprising he’d seek a way to justify her remarks.

But it takes truly besotted Palin fan to think that she was thinking of what Revere told Maj. Mitchell, or that that’s what teenagers most need to learn about him.

If one were asked what Revere did when he was captured, then one could indeed say that he warned the British about the determination of the militiamen. But one couldn’t correctly say Revere “warned the British…by ringin’ those bells,” which is what Palin said. And of course Palin hadn’t been asked about that moment anyway.

Palin’s follow-up comments within the friendly confines of Fox News offered more evidence of ignorance rather than deep knowledge. She spoke of “private militias.” The militia units that gathered on 18-19 April were not private, but organized according to law under the authority of the elected Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Todd Gardner said...

And just think, he had to ride clear to Concord ,NH "ringin" those bell. I'm going to lose it.

J. L. Bell said...

ProBonoPublico, I agree that Palin’s misstatements have provoked far more commentary than another person’s would have.

However, part of the reason is that saying, “He who warned, uh, the…the British…by ringin’ those bells…,” contradicts the basics of both the historical record and Longfellow’s popular legend. If Palin had said Revere saw the lanterns in Old North Church, then it would be clear she (like many other Americans) had been misled by the poem. But she came up with a rendition all her own, and insisted it was correct.

Does it matter if Palin’s never going to hold public office again? Well, some would say she might hold office, or try for one. And she has managed to affect the national debate even after leaving office early. Celebrity energy works in weird ways.

Anonynmous said...

I found Professor Allison of Suffolk University's take on the whole brouhaha quite telling...

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/06/137011636/how-accurate-were-palins-comments-on-paul-revere

James Stripes said...

It is critically important to emphasize that the Regulars were after American artillery. In the world of gun rights advocates like Palin that want to marshal this story for their political purpose, today's equivalent of artillery in 1775 would be an M1A1 Abrams tank. Now that's something that gun rights' advocates oughta be demanding among the inventory at the Army Navy Surplus store.

KDeRosa said...

One could make the argument that Revere’s actions led to a massive popular response that served as a warning to British officials about the people’s determination to protect their traditional liberties

This is a tad misleading. Revere's actions were intended to cause a massive popular response that served as a warning.

This makes the intent element clearer, especially in light of Palin's subsequent explanation.

She could have also been speaking of the verbal "warning" issued to the British regulars, as the vicar suggests. Teh intent from the outset element is lacking, but an intent was certainly formed after capture.

Furthermore, her comment about “takin’ away our arms” connotes that the royal forces were after personal weapons like muskets and pistols. The goal of the British march was artillery

It also could connote that the royal forces were after the gunpowder, which they were also after. (Isn't that how the Powder Alarms got their name?) Taking away gunpowder is like taking away bullets today. And, the colonists had to import all their gunpowder. No bullets equals no arms.

It's a shame that these seemingly partisan slippages detract from what appaears to be a neutral history site.

J. L. Bell said...

KDeRosa, your attempts to make Palin’s comments match up to the history of Paul Revere’s ride look like a painful stretch. Let’s remember that the former governor said Revere “warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells…”

Whatever his intent, Revere didn’t ring bells on 18-19 Apr 1775. As for warning the British, you write, “an intent was certainly formed after capture.” Since Revere didn’t have that intent before capture, and did everything he could to avoid capture while riding, that intent clearly couldn’t have been part of the purpose of his ride, as Palin and now you have later insisted.

There was one “Powder Alarm” in New England, on 1-2 Sept 1774, and it supports the point I made. The gunpowder that Gov. Gage had his troops move into the Castle was the province’s supply. The gunpowder that he had his troops look for in April was what the Provincial Congress had collected, using diverted taxes. He didn’t send the regulars after private, individual stocks of powder, nor privately owned muskets and pistols.

I don’t claim to be nonpartisan; I just try to be accurate. But I certainly don’t accept judgments of partisanship from someone so clearly bending over backwards to justify a right-wing politician’s obvious mistake.

KDeRosa said...

JL Bell, Thanks for responding.

" Let’s remember that the former governor said Revere 'warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells…'

And what is ahistoric about that?

It can't be the warning part. Warning were given both verbally and symbolically.

When you confiscate the only stores of gunpowder, you are certainly disarming the poeple or as a layman might say "taking away our guns"

The dictionary meaning of "to ring" is "to cause to ring." That gives a little leeway as to who did the ringing. People do tend to speak generally/figuratively and not always hyper-literally.

And didn't Revere intend to cause bells to ring? One of many examples from David Hackett Fischer's book:

… Paul Revere himself was on the road, traveling northeast from Charlestown to Medford. As we have seen, he had not planned to go that way, but once in the village of Medford, he went quickly about the task of awakening that community with remarkable economy of effort. He rode directly to the house of Captain Isaac Hall, commander of Medford’s minutemen, who instantly triggered the town’s alarm system. A townsman remembered that “repeated gunshots, the beating of drums and the ringing of bells filled the air.”

Fischer at Kindle Location 2435, citing Hall Gleason, “Captain Isaac Hall,” Medford Historical Society Publications 8 (1905): 100-103; Henry Tilden Wild, Medford in the Revolution; Military History of Medford, Massachusetts, 1765-1783 (Medford 1903), 8; Charles Brooks, History of the Town of Medford (Boston, 1886).

Your argument seems to be that even though Revere caused bells to ring as part of the alarm system he had helped design and implement that night, since he didn't personally ring the bells, Palin's words were clearly ahistoric and wrong.

That just seems to me to be a bit mean-spirited and pedantic coming from a neutral historian.

(continued)

KDeRosa said...

"that intent clearly couldn’t have been part of the purpose of his ride, as Palin and now you have later insisted."

That is an unfair characterization of my words. It should be clear from my words that I'm not insisting on anything. I am merely making an argument, just like you are.

You seem to be saying that Palin's "part of his ride was to" language means that the purpose of his ride from the outset was to. That's a reasonable interpretation. Or maybe she meant that the part of the ride from Lexington to Concord was intended to rouse the countryside and serve as a metaphorical warning/threat, as you originally suggested. That also seems reasonable. Who knows? But aren't we supposed to give extemporaneous layman speakers some deference.

"He didn’t send the regulars after private, individual stocks of powder, nor privately owned muskets and pistols."

He wouldn't have had to now would he as long as he had successfully taken away their gunpowder? Guns without gunpowder in colonial times are merely clubs. Am I reading this part of your argument correctly?

Here's what Fischer says:

This soldier [Gage] who hated war did not wish to use force against the Americans, except as a last resort. His purpose was to remove from Yankee hands the means of violent resistance until a time when cooler heads would prevail. To that end, General Gage proposed to disarm New England by a series of small surgical operations—meticulously planned, secretly mounted, and carried forward with careful economy of force. His object was not to provoke war but to prevent one.
New England’s Whig leaders were vulnerable to such a strategy. Many weapons were in the hands of the people, but not enough for a long struggle against the King’s troops, and there was no easy source of resupply. Few firearms were manufactured in New England; gunpowder had to be imported from abroad. This gave General Gage his opportunity. While still in his summer house at Danvers, he began to plan a series of missions against the arsenals and powderhouses of New England designed to remove as many munitions as possible—enough to make it impossible for the people of that region to make a determined stand against him.
The plan had one major weakness. It could only succeed by surprise. The people of New England were jealous of their liberties, including their liberty to keep and bear arms.

Fischer, Kindle Locations 860-873, (1994) citing Gage to Dartmouth, Aug. 27, 1774, Gage Correspondence, I, 365, 367


"But I certainly don’t accept judgments of partisanship from someone so clearly bending over backwards to justify a right-wing politician’s obvious mistake."

I wrote "these seemingly partisan slippages" based on the ungenerous interpretations (in my opinion) you were ascribing. Theses latest comments are approaching ad homiminem territory. I'm not bending any further than you are in my interpretation and you haven't exactly established that whatever bending I am doing was outside the bounds of reasonable interpretation. Ultimately the issue rests on a matter of linguistics, not history.

Again, thanks for taking the time to respond.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, KDeRosa, for clarifying the lengths you’ll stretch in order to argue that Sarah Palin’s comment was accurate.

You seriously rest your argument on the idea that we should interpret Palin’s phrase “by ringing those bells” to mean “by prompting other people to ring those bells”? (Please note that my original posting above already stated, contrary to some of Palin’s critics, that bells were part of the Lexington Alarm.)

By that logic, Revere also warned the British by hanging those lanterns, and by spotting the same lanterns from Charlestown. After all, his actions caused other people to do those things, too, and British officials eventually got some sort of warning as a result. But most people would see that statement as historically inaccurate and any claim for its accuracy as misguided and ludicrous. I doubt the “cause to ring” claim will be any more convincing to anyone who’s not already a Palin fan.

I also don’t think it’s wise to attempt such an argument and then call anyone else “pedantic.”

As for your insisting that Paul Revere intended to warn the British, you wrote, “an intent was certainly formed.” A statement of certainty about intent carries a tone of insistence on that intent.

The gunpowder that Gage’s soldiers located in the powder house in modern Somerville and in Concord was not “the only stores of gunpowder” available to the Massachusetts militia. If they were, then the provincials would not have been able to fire back at the regulars on 19 April 1775 or besiege Boston immediately afterwards.

Throughout Revere’s ride from Charlestown to Lincoln, he roused local militia officers with a warning about the British on the march. There was no distinction in that regard between the parts of his ride from Charlestown to Lexington and from Lexington west. (William Dawes didn’t start warning militia officers until after meeting Revere in Lexington.) No interpretation that rests on such a false distinction is “reasonable.”

KDeRosa said...

Thanks, KDeRosa, for clarifying the lengths you’ll stretch in order to argue that Sarah Palin’s comment was accurate.

I think you finally reached ad hominem with that comment. Why not just stick to the merits of the argument?

You seriously rest your argument on the idea that we should interpret Palin’s phrase “by ringing those bells” to mean “by prompting other people to ring those bells”?

No. I am arguing that this is merely one of many reasonable interpretations of what she said. I have no idea of what she really meant and either do you. People often speak in this general sense. People say that "the captain turned the ship" when the Cpatain merely gave the order to someone else to turn the ship. Or, "Lincoln won the Civil war," when Lincoln never actually fired a shot. or, "Columbus discovered America" even thugh Columbus never intended to discover America. All these statements hit the various aspects of the linguistic arguments you've made. Your literal interpretation may be be the right one; my only point is that it isn;t the only reasonable one.

A statement of certainty about intent carries a tone of insistence on that intent.


Are you claimingthat Revere didn't intend to do what he did? That his actions were somehow involuntary or out of his control?

If they were, then the provincials would not have been able to fire back at the regulars on 19 April 1775 or besiege Boston immediately afterwards.

As Fischer points out, the object was to "designed to remove as many munitions as possible—enough to make it impossible for the people of that region to make a determined stand against him."

If Gage managed to confiscate enough powder, not all of it, the colonists ability to resist would have been sufficiently defused. Wasn't that the point of Gage's ongoing attempts?

There was no distinction in that regard between the parts of his ride from Charlestown to Lexington and from Lexington west.

The distinction rests on your "original purpose" distinction. The main purpose of the ride to Lexington was to warn Hancock and Addams. there they determined that the real purpose of gage's raid was the munition stores, Then a new purpose was formed to ride off to the west to warn about that. That's a natural breaking point to separate the ride into parts, with the warning occurring in the latter part.

J. L. Bell said...

Evidently, KDeRosa, you feel that calling someone “mean-spirited and pedantic” isn’t ad hominem argument, but someone saying that you’re stretching to great lengths to justify Palin’s remarks is. It’s good to know how you apply those standards.

When Revere arranged for the lanterns to be hung in Old North Church (which is not the same as hanging them himself, as I expect you’d acknowledge in other contexts), when he rode from Charlestown to Lexington, and when he rode from Lexington toward Concord, his purpose was the same. He wanted to alert militia officers and political leaders that the British army was on the march north of the Charles River. He did not want to “warn the British.”

Revere and Dawes did not, contrary to your assertion, decide in Lexington that the British didn’t intend to arrest Hancock and Adams. That’s why he would go back to the parsonage after the British officers released him in order to make sure those men got away. Revere and Dawes decided that the British might be headed for the weapons in Concord, and that it was therefore worthwhile carrying the alert further.

According to Revere himself, he did the same thing before reaching Lexington (“In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the minute men; and after that, I alarmed almost every house, till I got to Lexington.”) as afterward (“I likewise mentioned that had better alarm all the inhabitants till we got to Concord.”) Contrary to this odd position you’ve taken, his purpose and methods were the same.

Once again, Revere did not ride to “warn the British,” certainly not “by ringin’ those bells.” If a junior-high student had uttered Palin’s words in social-studies class, most of us would have no problem recognizing that student as confused and missing the point. But that student wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of being a political icon.

KDeRosa said...

when he rode from Charlestown to Lexington, and when he rode from Lexington toward Concord, his purpose was the same.

... Contrary to this odd position you’ve taken, his purpose and methods were the same.


Fischer seems to disagree with you on this point:

The men talked with members of Lexington’s militia company. Jonas Clarke remembered that the conversation centered on the purpose of the British mission. They agreed on reflection that Doctor Joseph Warren must have been mistaken in thinking that the purpose of General Gage was the arrest of Hancock and Adams. It was true, as Jonas Clarke observed, that “these gentlemen had been frequently and publickly threatened.” But the arrest of Hancock and Adams alone could not be the primary object of so large an expedition. “It was shrewdly suspected,” Clarke later recalled, “that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord.”
It was clear that Concord must be warned, and that the messengers from Boston were the men to do it.

Fischer, David Hackett (1995). Paul Revere's Ride (Kindle Location 1993-1999). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


I agree that they didn't abandon the notion that Hancock and Addams remained a possible objective, albeit a secondary one; but, their understanding of the primary objective had changed at Lexington.

He wanted to alert militia officers and political leaders that the British army was on the march north of the Charles River. He did not want to “warn the British.

Let's follow the causal chain. Revere would warn the responsible colonial who would effect the alarm by ringing bells, firing shots, among other things. The militia would thus be alerted. The militia would muster to oppose the British regulars. This show of force would serve as a warning to the British that the colonials would resist their efforts and fight if necessary.

Though I don't think this is the "warning" that Palin was referring to. It was most likely the warning that Revere issued when captured as the Vicar seems to think.

Evidently, KDeRosa, you feel that calling someone “mean-spirited and pedantic” isn’t ad hominem argument, but someone saying that you’re stretching to great lengths to justify Palin’s remarks is. It’s good to know how you apply those standards.

This is a common misconception. Wikipedia provides a good explanation: "'Gratuitous verbal abuse' or 'name-calling' itself is not an ad hominem or a logical fallacy.

In order to become a fallacy, the insult would need to given as a reason for believing some conclusion, for example, 'X is idiotically ignorant [of politics], so why should we listen to him now?'"

My point was that your comments were moving from gratuitous ridicule (not an ad hominem) to insults intended to undermine me so others would not take my arguments seriously (an actual ad hominem).

J. L. Bell said...

Your hypocrisy is breathtaking, KDeRosa. Your first comments on this blog included insinuations clearly intended “to undermine me so others would not take my arguments seriously,” to borrow your words. Yet you claim you didn’t attempt ad hominem argument. It’s obvious that you perceive and object to such rhetoric only when you see it undermining you.

I do disagree with David Hackett Fischer’s statements in that passage of Paul Revere’s Ride. I think his recreation of events was influenced by Arthur B. Tourtellot’s, and, as I discussed three years ago, Tourtellot presented a hypothesis that took him beyond the available sources.

Specifically, we have one secondhand account of John Hancock going to the Lexington common to speak to the local militia, and that mentions only John Hancock doing so. There’s no evidence for such a discussion also including Adams, Clarke, Revere, and Dawes as Fischer describes.

In addition, last year I raised questions about the phrases Fischer quotes from Clarke in that paragraph. Clarke put those words in quotation marks, presenting them as part of Dr. Warren’s message, not a conclusion that the men in Lexington reached. But the words reflect Clarke’s perspective from a year later, when the mystery of where the British column was headed had been answered. On 19 April, Clarke continued to insist that Hancock and Adams had to flee.

Aside from a hunger to say I’m wrong, I don’t see the reason you attempt to deny my statement that Revere’s “purpose and methods were the same” while riding into and out of Lexington. His purpose was to rouse the militia and spread the news that the regulars were out. His method was to knock on nearly every door, as I quoted.

If you wish to “follow the causal chain,” you might as well go all the way to the development of baseball because Revere’s actions arguably set in motion events that eventually led to the separation of American baseball from previous bat-and-ball games shared with Britain.

But I doubt anyone would actually see that “causal chain” as an accurate statement of Paul Revere’s significance. Unless, of course, a certain former half-term governor had gotten confused on television and said that Revere invented baseball.

KDeRosa said...

JD Bell, thanks again for taking the time to respond.

Basically what you're saying is that there is some scholarly dispute as to the interpretation of some of the events that night. I don't disagree.

This just means we're more in the realm of competing opinion, rather than more in the realm of historical fact. Until the dispute is settled, there is no wrong or right as to this issue. So, I, a layman, am not wrong to rely on the Fischer interpretation.

Aside from a hunger to say I’m wrong, I don’t see the reason you attempt to deny my statement that Revere’s “purpose and methods were the same” while riding into and out of Lexington.

You are way too defensive. I have no desire to prove you wrong. I don't need to prove you wrong to make my case -- which is that you are overselling your opinion on a few issues as historic fact and then claiming that Palin's history is wrong as a matter of fact because it does not comport with your opinion.

On this issue, your opinion is that there was one purpose. In contrast, Fischer's opinion is that the purpose shifted at Lexington. We can agree to disagree. There is no wrong or right.

His purpose was to rouse the militia and spread the news that the regulars were out. His method was to knock on nearly every door, as I quoted.

But the purpose, and that is the distinguishing factor, was different if you are following Fischer's opinion. It is the purpose that distinguishes one part of Revere's ride from the other.

If you wish to “follow the causal chain,” you might as well go all the way to the development of baseball

Warning the British regulars is a direct and proximate effect of Revere's actions, the development of Baseball is far more attentuated.

But I doubt anyone would actually see that “causal chain” as an accurate statement of Paul Revere’s significance.

I disagree. My opinion is Ihat it is more historically significant that Revere was successful in mustering the militia so they'd be ready and waiting with a show of force and ready to fight if needed when the British regulars arrived. The show of force is more significant than the alarming of the militia.

Lastly, with respect to your opening paragraph, I think you are still confused as to why an ad hominem is a logical fallacy and ridicule is not and why the former is worse than the latter.

J. L. Bell said...

Scholars disagree on a lot of small details about 18-19 April 1775, KDeRosa. Despite that range of conclusions, however, none has written that Paul Revere rode in order to warn the British by ringing bells and shooting off guns. Though we may not be able to say for certain which historian is right in their disagreements, we can say that curious description of Revere was factually wrong. Some of us just choose not to do that.

My own conclusions about what happened in Lexington after midnight on 19 April are based on sources quoted fully, not partially. I published them years before Sarah Palin made her odd remarks about Revere, some of them before John McCain’s “Hail Mary” pass made her a national figure. I’m therefore confident that my conclusions about that night aren’t influenced by my feelings about Palin. I doubt everyone can say the same.

You misread the history in saying that Revere’s purpose shifted at Lexington. He set out to rouse the militia on the way to that town; he continued to rouse the militia afterward. He used the same methods, and he tried hard to avoid British patrols. Both before and after, his goal was a general militia mobilization in eastern Massachusetts.

Your attempt to distinguish between “the alarming of the militia” and “mustering the militia” makes no sense, and suggests a superficial and politically motivated understanding of the history. The alarm was a necessary first step to gathering minute and militia companies on short notice.

I don’t think I’m being “defensive“ when faced with someone who’s been offensive from the start. You continue to want to say I’m wrong. You just did so again. Slithering away to the phrase “prove you wrong,” which means something different, simply shows that you’re practiced in non-denial denials. (You will now say once again that I’m wrong.)

As to your last paragraph, I still think you’re confused about the fact that the same standards should apply to what you say about other people and to what other people say about you.