“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;”
There was a time that every schoolboy and girl knew that poem but, those days are sadly gone. American cultural myths are an important part of American nationhood especially at a time those values are under siege.
This year marked the 200th anniversary of American patriot Paul Revere’s death. Revere was called to a different light when he passed on May 10, 1818 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Modern historians, often motivated by left-wing political ideology, seem to celebrate “myth-busting” American iconography, especially that of the Founding Fathers. Like many pop-culture movements, this phenomena swings in cycles targeting specific individuals to serve contemporary political fashion. Thomas Jefferson was a target for a long time, Abraham Lincoln goes in and out of vogue, and the most unlikely of them becomes heroized, the ultra-Federalist Alexander Hamilton (who was an enemy of the neo-Marxists for decades).
There are two primary methods by which this “myth-busting” is conducted, though the results are similar. The first is to take prevailing and contemporary mores and apply them to American historical figures with little or no attempt at explaining the context. A second, more subtle method is to attack the authenticity of the myth itself. If the actual history is different than what was outlined in the myth, the heroic nature of the person can be put into question.
This is second route is the case with the story of Paul Revere. It used to be commonplace for school children to learn the poem: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860. It was written to unite the country on the side of the Union by illustrating how one person’s contribution can change history.
The poem depicts Revere as the sole champion, the only rider, who saw the signal in the North Church steeple and warned the colonials at Concord. Additional mythology also includes Revere yelling through the roads the famous catchphrase, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” The actual history is much different, but if anything it should enhance our admiration rather than diminish it.
The real story is an example of an early American espionage victory. The signal in the North Church was not for Revere but set up by Revere two days before in order to warn the thirty patriot horse riders Revere had selected, to warn the colonials at Lexington, and Concord the method by which the British were traveling to arrest colonial leaders and seize arms and supplies. He never made it to Concord but succeeded in warning the men of Lexington allowing them the time to prepare the militia which delayed the British in getting to Concord and losing the first major engagement of the American Revolution. Revere rode with two others, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. Revere ended the evening by being captured and interrogated by the British, though he was later released.
Thus, instead of a story of a nighttime ride of a single rider, we have an example of what planning and forethought can do to change history. Revere, a silversmith by trade, was an ardent member of the Sons of Liberty, the Freemasons (ultimately becoming Grand Master of Freemasons in Massachusetts), and was one of the “Indians” involved in the Boston Tea Party. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Revere was part of a group with the nickname, the “Mechanics” who formed a rudimentary intelligence agency making it the first intelligence “service” in American history. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the Revolution and afterward became involved in politics as a Federalist.
It is important to reflect on what binds a society together. Americans must be exceptionally careful that “myth-busting” does not become deconstruction. Unlike any other nation on earth Americans cannot unify using ancestry, blood, race, religion, or ethnicity. Americans work with the double-edged sword of political creed. The sword has the one edge of positive universalism.
Anyone, regardless of ancestry, blood, race, religion, or ethnicity, can become an American. This is the one value that many on the left like to amplify. However, the sword has another sharper edge. It is the edge that defines Americans. In political philosophy, this is the belief in life, liberty, and property under the natural law emanating from God. It is expressed visually in the Greco-Roman architecture of Washington D.C. It is also grounded in American myths, based in truth, such as the steadfastness of Washington, the idealism of Jefferson, the honesty of Lincoln, and the courage and tenacity of Paul Revere.