Sarah & Paul: Twisting facts to fit ideology

I find myself in the unusual position of defending Sarah Palin – sort of. Ever since she visited Boston, comedians and commentators have poked fun at her apparent mangling of Paul Revere’s activities of April 18-19, 1775. (By the way, the finest account of that event is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer). Here’s what Palin said:

He who warned uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.

There is a kernel of factual accuracy in what Palin said. While Revere certainly wasn’t warning the British of anything – he took extreme measures to avoid the British that night – the warning he brought to Middlesex County was that the British were coming to take away their arms; specifically, a large quantity of munitions stockpiled at Concord.

Palin undoubtedly knows the basics of the Paul Revere story. Her repackaging of that story was her attempt to twist the broadly accepted factual account to fit her ideology. In her interpretation of this slice of American history, Paul Revere became a Second Amendment zealot even before there was a Second Amendment.

Watch Palin’s speeches and remarks going forward. They’ll be sprinkled with such re-interpretations of US history that twist broadly agreed upon accounts of past events to fit her ideology. Commentators might ridicule her apparent verbal missteps, but I see a deliberate strategy to co-opt American history to promote a political agenda. Given the sad state of historic education in America today, it’s a strategy that stands a substantial chance of success.

8 Responses to Sarah & Paul: Twisting facts to fit ideology

  1. Peter Richards says:


    As a teacher of history for 30 years, what is troubling about Palin is her manipulation of history for her own political motives. In fact, from a symbolic point of view, you could argue that Revere, and the others who came out that night, were indeed warning the British that the colonists believed their rights as they understood them were under attack. But if that is your perspective, then leave out they were coming to take our guns. If she wants it literally, then the larger ideological context doesn’t work. But why let facts and logic get in the way of a good sound bite?

  2. Dr Mo says:

    As any teacher will attest, if it’s THAT mangled, requires twisting to sort of maybe find some kind of kernel of truth in it, then it fails the grade. Period. Peter was an inspiring teacher of mine.

  3. Dean says:

    Ringing church “bells and warning shots”. It was suppose to be a clandestine raid by the British on the munitions and cannons (WMD) in Concord.

  4. joe from Lowell says:

    I think there was a little from Column A, and a little from Column B.

    Firin’ warnin’ shots and ringin’ those bells? This is just Palin garbling history.

    On the other hand, did you see her defense on Fox News Sunday of why she wasn’t wrong about Paul Revere?

    “Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have.”

    “Individual, private militia?” What is an “individual, private militia?” Two things about the colonial militias: they weren’t individual, and they weren’t private. The arms the British tried to seize were collectively-stored in an arsenal, and handed out to people who joined the local government militia when they were called together by the government official who ran it, to be used in formation by people following orders.

    As opposed to “ringin’ those bells,” this distortion is strategic: she’s misstating history in order to make the collective defense of government-controlled firearms which were used for a government-controlled, collective purpose into a story about the regulation of privately-owned firearms.

  5. joe from Lowell says:

    “Peter, the British were marching to Concord for WMD.”

    Weapons in the Militia Depot?

  6. Peter Richards says:

    Actually, the real target was John Hancock and Sam Adams who had recently left Boston and were headed for the Second Continental Congress and were believed to be in Lexington. Munitions were the secondary issue.