Monday, June 6, 2011

Yes, Sarah, you did 'mess up about Paul Revere'

"You know what, I didn't mess up about Paul Revere," former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said on "Fox News Sunday."

'We're coming! We're coming!'
And she just might have something of an argument. Not much, but something. If you squint real hard and pretend. And you're on Sarah's payroll.

Palin raised a few squinted eyebrows when she claimed the purpose of Revere's famous "midnight ride" of 1775 was to send a warning of some sort to the British.

"Part of his ride was to warn the British that we were already there ..." the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

And, technically, she was right. Confused, but right. If only she had stopped there. She didn't, of course. We're talking Sarah Palin.

On April 14, 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts, issued orders to Lt. Col. Francis Smith to secretly march a detachment of troops - known as "regulars" - to seize and destroy "all military stores" kept by the Massachusetts militia - known as "irregulars" - in the village of Concord. Within hours the secret was out. The only question was when?

Smith's 800 troops and the militia had something in common. Both were, at least on paper, under Gage's command. They were technically on the same side. Smith's mission was more repo than it was maneuver.

Concord's "military stores" belonged to the crown. As did Gage, Smith and the militia. And just about everything and everyone else.

In April, 1775, Massachusetts was still a British colony, and would remain that way for the next 14 months until the Declaration of Independence prompted a disputed change of ownership.

Colonists were British subjects. And most viewed themselves as exactly that. British. Which is why when Revere "spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm" on the night of April 18, he didn't shout "the British are coming!" The good citizens of those villages and farms were, themselves, British. And would have likely become quite confused.

Who's coming? Us? You been drinking again, Paul?

"Part of his ride was to warn the British that we were already there," said Palin. Well, Sarah, the British (us) already had that one figured out. But Revere, unless he was on a monumental bender, probably didn't shout "We're here!" to his fellow British subjects as he rode through the night.

The warning Revere and others spread wasn't the nonsensical "British are coming," it was that the "regulars" were now on their way. And it likely wasn't shouted. It would have been passed from mouth to ear in whispers.

Shouting would have been a very bad idea. The route from Boston to Concord was swarming with patrols of army regulars. Further, the whole point of Revere's ride was to alert the militia in Concord that the Boston regulars were on the march - without Gage and Smith figuring out the militia already knew they were on the march.

Gage wasn't looking to provoke a fight. Quite the opposite. Smith's orders dictated he move quickly and secretly. Grab and go. Search and destroy. Hit and run. Eighteenth Century special operations. If the mission went as planned, the militia wouldn't know their stuff - the king's stuff - was missing until sometime the following day.

Gage even told Smith to "take care that the soldiers do not plunder the inhabitants or hurt private property." He also countermanded orders from London to arrest any rebel leaders Smith happened upon during his raid. He didn't want an incident that might trigger "an uprising."

Gage wanted Smith to get in and get out. Quickly.

At the same time, Revere's need for secrecy rivaled that of Gage. Just as Gage didn't want the militia to know anything was up, Revere didn't want Gage to know they'd been tipped off.

Gage, who had correctly concluded the militia would try to haul away the weapons cache if they knew Smith was en route, already had enough manpower in the area to guard the stockpile until Smith's 800 troops arrived. If these patrols could buy Smith enough time, the militia could forget about carting away the remaining goods.

Unknown to Revere, however, most of the arms had already been hauled off, hidden or buried at a farm just outside the village. Yet the need for secrecy remained.

Which is where Palin's "warn the British" interpretation of the events of April 18, 1775 disintegrates.

In the mind of Sarah Palin, Revere set out to tell "the British" that "you're not gonna take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual private militia that we have. He did warn the British."

Sorry Sarah.
  • They weren't American arms. They were British arms. And we're not talking hunting rifles here. The arsenal the regulars were targeting contained cannon (including three massive 24-pounders), muskets, kegs of powder and 550 pounds of shot. The Brits just wanted their stuff back. Or destroyed. And they partially succeeded.
  • Our "well-armed persons" weren't ours. They were the king's colonial militia. This arrangement abruptly ended on April 19.
  • Palin's "individual private militia that we have" - we simply didn't have. First, "we" didn't exist. Not yet. And the militia was anything but "private." It was established, "well-regulated" and funded by the Crown Colony of Massachusetts and the British Parliament. It reported, at least in theory, to Gage, the guy George III appointed to run the place. Palin apparently hears "militia" and gets a mental picture of Todd and his hunting pals drinking beer, talking secession and playing soldier in the woods outside of Wasilla. Not the way it was.
  • "He did warn the British." True. Sort of. Everyone who Revere and the 40 others in his network warned that night were, technically, British. Each soul whose path he crossed that night was a subject of the king. Even the horse he rode was British. Revere was British.
Let's not give the woman too much credit, however. When Palin says "British," it's pretty likely she's talking about Gage, Smith and his 800 regulars.

For Palin's explanation to make any sense, we'd have to imagine Revere riding past a detachment of the king's finest and shouting "hey, we know you're coming but you ain't violating our Second Amendment rights by takin' our guns."

Which is pretty much what Palin is suggesting happened. It didn't. And wouldn't.

The whole "one if by land" thing was part of a well-orchestrated operation that hinged on secrecy. While Revere would later go on to prove he wasn't a military genius, nobody has ever suggested the man was a complete fool.

Gage's plan was to repossess the militia's weapons before the militia could figure out what happened. Revere's plan was to repossess the crown's weapons before Gage figured out Revere had figured out Gage's plan.

Or, "we don't want you to know that we know." And it worked. By the time Smith's regulars turned up in Concord, the bulk of the cache had been carted away, even though much of it was later uncovered. And Gage's hope to avoid an "uprising" didn't go quite as he envisioned. He started a war instead.

"Warning the British," as Palin insists, was clearly the last thing Revere had on his mind as he rode through every Middlesex village and farm in April of 1775.

If it were Revere's intent to make some baffling political point about gun control, he could have stayed at home, written Gage a long letter, fixed himself a nice warm mug of rum and called it a night. No Lexington. No Concord. No Yorktown. No "We the People." No Fox News, just the Beeb. And, most likely, no Sarah Palin.

No Sarah Palin? Maybe the letter wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.

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