American Disrespect for History, April 18 Edition

I waited until midnight, just to see if how many major news organizations would note the importance of April 18 before it was over. Oh, many mentioned the Boston Marathon, and almost every one of them prominently mentioned that it was tax day. The real importance of April 18, however, and the American heroes who made it significant, was ignored yesterday in all but a pitiful few newspapers and websites. It was yet another example of this country’s growing disrespect for its origins, its ignorance of the deeds of the men and women who created the United States, and the increasing disconnect between America’s present and its founding ideals.

On April 18, 1775, an accomplished silversmith named Paul Revere, eventually joined by fellow patriots  Charles Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott, rode from Charlestown, Mass. to Lexington, stopping at houses and farms along the way to warn the occupants that “The British are coming!”

A volunteer courier for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, Revere was instructed to ride to Lexington to warn the two leaders of the mounting rebellion in the colonies against England, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that British troops were marching to arrest them. He was rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two associates, and borrowed a horse from a friend. There he verified that the local “Sons of Liberty” committee had seen his prearranged signals—two lanterns hung in the bell-tower of the Old North Church in Boston, indicating that troops would row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching “by land” from Boston..

After reaching Lexington around midnight and warning Adams and Hancock, Revere, Dawes and Prescott decided to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where weapons and supplies were hidden. All three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott and Dawes escaped, and Revere was soon released. His bravery and determined action may well have stopped the American Revolution from being strangled in its crib.

They don’t teach students about Paul Revere anymore, even, astonishingly enough, in Boston. We neglect honoring him and other patriots at our peril. It is disrespectful to them, but dangerous for us. Our culture and society can only be strengthened by knowing and appreciating the sacrifice, courage and commitment of our ancestors to forge a new kind of nation in the New World, because it helps explain why America’s ideals are worth preserving, and fighting for.

Even my own son did not know the significance of April 18. He does now, because I told him the story today, ignoring his 16-year-old grimaces. He knows the story now. As Revere spread his warning to allow our nation to be born, we have an obligation to remind new generations of the leading role he played in permitting them to be born Americans. There is no better way of doing this, perhaps, than reading them the poem that school children were once charged with memorizing, but that now is considered as passé as “Dick, Jane and Sally.” I had neglected to read myself it for many years; that won’t happen again.

This one’s for you, Paul. Thanks for our country.

Paul Revere’s Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

9 thoughts on “American Disrespect for History, April 18 Edition

  1. Jack – I confess that I did not remember that April 18 celebrated the Ride. As soon as you reminded me, however, I did realize that I recalled – surely 40+ years later – the opening stanzas of the Longfellow poem! It was required memorization back in the day.

    I’m curious – just what do they teach the young ones these days?

  2. I’ll be charitable to the Boston Herald and assume that the insertion of “[team stats]” after “Patriot’s” is an artifact of your web machinery, not an assertion that the day is about the football team. I’ll be charitable to you and assume you know that Longfellow’s poem takes substantial liberties with what actually happened (for example, Revere would have shouted “the regulars are coming” or somthing like that, since the colonists themselves were still British). I’ll be charitable to myself and respectfully decline your invitation to re-read the poem, which is (like most of Longfellow) uninspired doggerel.

    However, even crabby, captious old me can’t find fault with your main point — that Americans are almost as ignorant of their own history as they are about, say, world geography, foreign languages, basic mathematics, evolutionary science, and . . . the list goes on.

    The sad thing is that I might be willing to forgive all of these shortcomings, dire as they are, if Americans had neglected them in order to hone their skills at sensible thinking, ethical behavior, public duty, and legislative foresight. At this point, I’m at a loss to discern that they traded their birthrights for anything more substantial than a mess of pottage.

    • Doggerel? DOGGEREL? You prefer maybe “The Hollow Men”? Nothing wrong with a good story told in rhyme, and if it remains popular (as poetry itself has not) after so many years, I think a poem deserves more respect.

      You forget that I am from Arlington, Mass, “Old Menotomy” in the poem, and Arlingtonians are painfully aware that Revere never got there, despite Longfellow’s artistic license—we were stuck with Dawes. Not much rhymes with Dawes except “Jaws” (“We’re gonna need a bigger horse!”). OK, laws, pause, cause, flaws—hey, why isn’t Dawes in the damn poem?

      • JM: My late mother, bless ‘er, used to read us, not only Longfellow, but many others – a favorite was Paul Laurence Dunbar, called “The Poet of the Hearthside” – and one of my PLD favorites was his “Little Brown Baby with Sparkling Eyes ” – made me think of the love my own father had for us kids. She was a wise woman.

        If Longfellow is “doggerel”, then so are Dunbar, Whittier, Milne, Kipling – oh, so many others.


        Bad poet joke:

        SHE: Do you like Kipling?

        HE (leering): I don’t know – how does one kipple?

    • T. Fuller, I will also bet that not 1 in 20 can tell you the source of your phrase, “…a mess of pottage”.

      One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate Wm. Tyndale’s many nice turns of phrase.

  3. There were two stories my mom read so many times to us as children that after 30 years she can still recite them perfectly from memory.

    1. Horton Hatches an Egg.
    2. Paul Revere’s Ride.

  4. Surely Michelle Bachmann and the Tea Party reminded America of Paul’s ride, right? Surely they were aware of the anniversary?
    Course Bachmann thought the shot heard ’round the world was in New Hampshire….

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