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

America had a common language, unlike the European nations, none of which was linguistically homogeneous. in 1789 the majority of Frenchmen did not speak French but were divided by a variety of provincial patois. Englishmen from Yorkshire were incomprehensible to those from Cornwall and vice versa. By contrast, Americans could understand one another from Maine to Georgia. It was very obvious why this should be so, said John Witherspoon, president of Princeton. Since Americans were much more unsettled, and move frequently from place to place, they are not as liable to local peculiarities, either in accent or phraseology.

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