Jill Lepore on “Paul Revere’s Ride”

  • Jill Lepore has an interesting piece in the New York Times today (19-Dec-2010) about Longfellow’s famous poem Paul Revere’s Ride. Listen my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. She describes how the poem, published on the same day that South Carolina seceded from the United States 150 years ago, is as much about the pending Civil War as about the Revolutionary one. This is another example where myths of American Independence are used to inform the present, which was Longfellow’s true intention. See NY Times Sunday Opinion.
JDN | 19-Dec-2010

The unattractive truth was that the arrival of the provisional treaty ending the war in April 1783 made the Continental Army superfluous, and the sooner it disappeared, the better. Congress eventually voted to provide full pay for five years for officers in lieu of half pay for life, but doing so was a purely rhetorical exercise, since there was no money in the federal coffers to pay anyone. Even that meaningless commitment generated widespread criticism, especially in New England, where returning officers were greeted with newspaper editorials describing them as blood-beaked vultures feeding at the public trough. At least in retrospect, the dissolution of the Continental Army in the spring of 1783 was one of the most poignant scenes in American history, as the men who had stayed the course and won the war were ushered off without pay, with paper pensions and only grudging recognition of their service.

Joseph J. Ellis
The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783—1789 (2015)