Palin, Paul Revere and the rewards of ignorance

When I went to high school, one of our teachers taught us that we should always look at what we were reading in terms of two categories: Was the statement “reliable,” meaning were the facts right, and was the statement “valid,” meaning did the facts support the argument the writer was making.

Sarah Palin and her friends on the Republican right seem to have never heard of either validity or reliability. They operate on principles associated internationally with politicians like Hitler and domestically with politicians like Joe McCarthy. Say anything regardless of how easy it is to disprove as long as it makes the point you are trying to make, and keep on saying it, attacking your critics as you do.

Palin recently used a strange interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride to defend the right-wing position against all forms of gun control. Her initial statement was that “he [Revere], who warned, uh, the British, they weren’t going to be takin away our arms, ….making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were sure that we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.”

When her statement was interpreted as saying that Revere’s ride was an attempt to “warn the British” (as she is trying to warn the Obama administration), she restated her premise and said more nonsensensically: “Remember the British had already been there – many soldiers – for seven years in that area. And part of Paul Revere’s ride – and it wasn’t just one ride. He was a courier. He was a messenger. Part of his ride was to warn the British …”

Although it would do her little good in the GOP, Palin might learn something from Marxist and other progressive views of the American Revolution. In fact, Communists, socialists, progressives of all kinds today are much closer to the spirit of Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and the Minute Men who fought at Lexington and Concord than Palin and her supporters are. Palin and company are the “Wall Street” loyalists of today, similar to the enemies of the American Revolution who called themselves “empire loyalists.”

Paul Revere’s “ride,” which became part of U.S. historical mythology, was in reality a significant moment in a revolutionary process against the British Empire, the most powerful empire on earth. The issues in that revolutionary process were never abstractly about the “right to bear arms” or the right not to be taxed by anyone. Most certainly they were not about what Palin in her wacky way called “uh, individual private militias that we have.”

When Revere and two other men sought to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams, leaders of the underground legislature in Boston, that they were to be arrested, and secret arms depots were to be seized, a Continental Congress already existed and revolutionary war was about to begin, even though the Declaration of Independence was a still more than a year away.

Massachusetts had long been the center of the revolution. Its merchants had resisted the Stamp Act of 1765 with violence, as merchants, artisans and others formed the Sons of Liberty. The Boston Massacre against artisans and laborers took place in 1770 as the empire moved toward more repressive actions against what was an emerging bourgeois national revolution.  In 1772, Committees of Correspondence seeking to unite anti-empire forces through the colonies began to be created.

The following year, there was widespread opposition to the British East India Company dumping of India-produced tea in colonial markets, culminating in the counter-dumping of tea by revolutionary activists in Boston harbor, an act to which the empire responded with repression and martial law. Massachusetts responded, through the Committees of Correspondence, with a call for a Continental Congress. 

The British military governor, General Thomas Gage, ordered the arrest of Hancock and Adams and the seizure of the arms of militia forces loyal to the revolutionary legislature, while he led his troops out of Boston. Revere and two others escaped from Boston and rode to warn the revolutionaries. While they were captured and held, the battles at Lexington and more importantly Concord prevented Gage from achieving his military goal.

Gage attempted unsuccessfully to rally empire loyalist sentiments around his actions, accusing the revolutionaries of firing the first shots. After subsequent battles at Bunker and Breeds Hills, the Continental Congress in July 1775 chose George Washington to lead a united Continental Army, whose first mission was to defeat the British in Massachusetts.

Those involved risked their lives to create what was to be the first large republic in modern history. Palin and “tea party” Republicans who invoke their names to attack an elected president and attempts by the U.S. government to regulate and tax wealth, and protect citizens from deadly weapons, have as little in common with those patriots as the British right-wingers of that time who hailed Gage’s actions and called for Boston to be leveled as a lesson to the revolutionaries. Their idea of liberty begins and ends with their own ambition, wealth and privilege.

Photo: noeluap // CC 2.0


Norman Markowitz
Norman Markowitz

Norman Markowitz is a Professor of History. He writes and teaches from a Marxist perspective, and has written many articles on a variety of topics, including biographical entries on Jimmy Hoffa, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the civil rights movement, 1930-1953, and poor peoples movements in U.S. history.