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

[Of those opposed to slavery,] George Washington belonged, with Mason and Jefferson, in the hardest category — disapproving owners. Theirs was the most difficult position to maintain, psychologically and rhetorically. It would not be maintained over the next sixty years, as southern antislavery rhetoric withered. Practically and politically, disapproving owners were in the hardest position from which to achieve their goals. How do you weaken an institution in which you and all your neighbors are enmeshed? Washington did enough, finally, to free his own slaves, which was more than many owners in his position did. Jefferson never freed all his, nor did any of the other slave-owning presidents.

Richard Brookhiser
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996)