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

Yet there is no doubt that his natural abilities were what most distinguished [John] Marshal from other lawyers and jurists. His head, said Senator Rufus King, is the best organized of anyone I have known. Marshal could grasp a subject in its whole and yet simultaneously analyze it parts and relate them to the whole. He could move progressively and efficiently from premise to conclusion in a logical and rigorous manner and extract the essence of the law from the mass of particulars. In the words of Justice Story, he had the remarkable ability to seize, as it were by intuition, the very spirit of juridical doctrines. Even Jefferson acknowledged Marshall’s talent, but he scarcely respected it. Jefferson told Story that when conversing with Marshall, I never admit anything. So sure as you admit any position to be good, no matter how remote from the conclusion he seeks to establish, you are gone. So great is his sophistry you must never give him an affirmative answer, or you will be forced to grant his conclusion. Why, if he were to ask me whether it were daylight or not, I’d reply, Sir, I don’t know, I can’t tell.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)