Political Animal


June 03, 2011 2:10 PM Paul Revere warned the British?

By Steve Benen

Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) brought her “One Nation” bus tour to Boston yesterday, and visited the historic Old North Church. She then offered her own unique understanding of Paul Revere and his role in American history.

For those who can’t watch clips from your work computers, Palin told reporters about Revere, “He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and, um, makin’ sure as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we were gonna be armed.”

For the record, Palin did not appear to be kidding.

In case anyone needs a refresher, Tim Murphy explained, “This is actually the opposite of everything Paul Revere did.”

He wasn’t sending any messages to the British soldiers who were about to move on the patriots’ weapons stockpiles and arrest key leaders. According to history, Revere was warning the Minutemen that the Brits were coming so these militia members could prepare. He did not ring any bellls. He instructed a friend to put either one or two lights in the tower of the Old North Church (“one if by land, two if by sea”). He did not fire any warning shots. His ride at the time was no act of symbolism; it was a stealth operation in support of a local resistance movement whose goals at that point remained largely undefined.

A couple of months ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told New Hampshire voters, “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” It was one of the more absurd comments about colonial history from a prominent, national figure in quite a while.

Palin’s quote, it seems to me, is much worse.

Update: Reader N.B. has encouraged me to note that Revere was captured by the British officers after his ride and he told them the colonists had been warned. Palin’s description of events, most notably the historic ride, is still quite wrong.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • T2 on June 03, 2011 2:15 PM:

    did Palin go to school? Like elementary school. You know, grades 1-6?
    I'm not trying to "ridicule" the former half termer....just curious. Was she home-schooled?

  • Okie on June 03, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Tina Fey just gets better and better at imitating Palin, doesn't she?

  • Richard on June 03, 2011 2:23 PM:

    At some point, I expect to hear her say:

    "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? NO!!!!"

  • KurtRex1453 on June 03, 2011 2:26 PM:

    Perhaps she was stoned.

  • Bartender on June 03, 2011 2:27 PM:

    No mystery here. The conservatives are determined to rewrite history to their liking from the Texas school books to the US Constitution including "makin' stuff up" (as Sarah has quoted in a different hypocritical context) along the way and the Democrats are just letting them carry on that midnight fantasy ride.

  • Steve Stein on June 03, 2011 2:30 PM:

    I have to quibble with one of Tim Murphy's points: "it was a stealth operation in support of a local resistance movement whose goals at that point remained largely undefined"

    The goal of the ride, and the immediate goal of the resistance movement on April 19, 1775, was to protect the arms stockpiled in Concord (MA not NH of course). So that last part of Palin's, uh, "narrative" - "we were gonna be armed" - might be the only accurate thing she said.

  • Kevin on June 03, 2011 2:31 PM:

    Yet another absurd, butchered quote. But for the record she says at the end "And we were gonna be free" (i.e., not armed).

  • whichwitch on June 03, 2011 2:32 PM:

    Warning shots, ringing bells, and clanging those pots & pans he's so famous for...you betcha.

  • John Weiss on June 03, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Why all the attention payed to knuckleheads? Or perhaps it's a fascination with train wrecks? I'm tired of it; surely there's something else going on in the world.

  • John Puma on June 03, 2011 2:35 PM:

    I don't check-in from work but I WON'T watch any video of Mama Grifter for fear that I'll hurl into my personal electronics.

    Thanks for the clarification that Ms Moose-Poop-for-Brains was NOT kidding.

  • dj spellchecka on June 03, 2011 2:38 PM:

    there are only two possible groups paul revere could have been warning and she names the wrong one....might as well flip a coin...

  • Steve P on June 03, 2011 2:38 PM:

    Excuse me, I speak ditz.

    She's trying to say that Revere warned the Redcoats NOT to try to take away the colonists' arms, or they would face a fight from the colonists.

    That's also not what happened, but she's not confusing the British with the colonists--who, BTW, thought of themselves as British too. Revere's, Prescott's and Daws' actual warning was that the Regulars were coming; "regular" being the correct term for professional soldier until the mad men co-opted it as a polite term for bowel movements.

  • Lifelong Dem on June 03, 2011 2:40 PM:

    Apparently some agent of the lamestream media asked her one of them "gotcha" questions. Like, "What was Paul Revere famous for?"

  • Ron Byers on June 03, 2011 2:41 PM:

    "One if by land, two if by sea."

    I don't know what it is with you children. When I was a kid in the 50s we learned this stuff in grade school. Not only that Walt Disney put a pretty good abreviated version on television. Disney was not entirely accurate, but accurate enough so we recognized it as a television version of what we learned in school.

    In addition, back in the old days inorder to graduate from high school you had to pass tests on both the State and Federal Constitutions.

  • K in VA on June 03, 2011 2:42 PM:

    It's not really her ignorance that matters. It's that so few people seem to mind that ignorance.

  • Ron Byers on June 03, 2011 2:46 PM:

    I think the idea that Sista Sarah is stoned most of the time has some real merit. No straight person could possibly screw up history the way she does.

  • Diane Rodriguez on June 03, 2011 2:46 PM:

    Those of us who recognize her pearls of wisdom as a constant stream of rabbit droppings aren't looking for more air or print time. It's well settled that she is proud of her lack of both knowledge and intellectual curiousity. Those who worship her particular brand of nasty stupid don't need encouragement. The only upside of media coverage is that Republicans are eating their own in full view.

  • zeitgeist on June 03, 2011 2:46 PM:

    and lets not forget that this is two days after totally botching the history and meaning of the Statue of Liberty.

    this is going to be a fun tour as she goes from historical site to historical site. . . completely butchering US history.

    (and the CAPTCHA is great for this subject matter:
    "this oporgass")

  • st john on June 03, 2011 2:50 PM:

    I thought Paul Revere was the lead singer of The Raiders. Remember, Paul Revere and the Raiders?

  • davidp on June 03, 2011 2:52 PM:

    K is right. They have this well practiced two-step going. Palin (for example) says something ridiculous or just plain untrue. Blogs or the orthodox press then point out the error. Whereupon the candidate and the whole GOP noise machine unload on the media for being elitist, out of touch with American values, etc., etc. The right wing base prefers to be wrong with Palin and Bachmann to being right with those detested liberals.

  • just bill on June 03, 2011 2:54 PM:

    don't you mean from hysterical site to hysterical site?

  • Midland on June 03, 2011 2:59 PM:

    Why all the attention payed to knuckleheads? Or perhaps it's a fascination with train wrecks? I'm tired of it; surely there's something else going on in the world.

    You do realize that she is considered a serious presidential candidate? She is supported by two powerful constituencies, the Republican right and the Beltway media. As long as they insist on taking her seriously, there is a chance of her getting her finger on the nuclear button.

    I should note that Palin is not the weirdest or creepiest serious candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012.

  • Wowzers on June 03, 2011 3:00 PM:

    How many school children will fail history this semester after listening to her? Now will the media and blogs quit tracking the elusive Alaskan skank?

  • max on June 03, 2011 3:00 PM:

    Palin is the dumbest human being I've ever seen pretending to be a political figure. She makes George W. Bush look like Ben Franklin.

  • demtom on June 03, 2011 3:05 PM:

    Ron Byers:

    "When I was a kid in the 50s we learned this stuff in grade school. Not only that Walt Disney put a pretty good abreviated version on television. Disney was not entirely accurate, but accurate enough so we recognized it as a television version of what we learned in school. "

    I'm old enough to have seen that as well. But my recollection is that they showed Revere shouting "The British are coming!" at the top of his lungs. So it's possible Palin saw it, and that's where she got the idea about all the bells and such.

  • T2 on June 03, 2011 3:07 PM:

    according to the Pawn Stars show, there were 2 Paul Revere's.. Son and Dad. They were both silversmiths, not 60's pop singers. The Paul Revere and the Raiders guy was actually named Paul Dick. honest.

  • MuddyLee on June 03, 2011 3:08 PM:

    Whenever the Republicans manage to get back in the White House, I look forward to Palin's appointment as Secretary of the Department of Home Schooling. And to Bristol Palin's appointment as the Under Secretary for Abstinence Education. And to Todd's appointment to head up the Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Al on June 03, 2011 3:10 PM:

    The point is that Paul Revere was a hero of the American Revolution. Liberals would prefer to quibble over the details rather than remember this important fact.

  • berttheclock on June 03, 2011 3:10 PM:

    At least she did not slander William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, two of the other known riders of that famous night.

    But, I look forward to Chris Matthews gush how "hot she looks", this afternoon.

  • T2 on June 03, 2011 3:10 PM:

    good point Midland. you forgot to mention that Ms. Palin could very well be vice president of the United States RIGHT NOW, had a few less people voted for Change.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 03, 2011 3:13 PM:

    Mourners for Sarah's Paul Revere gaffe are encouraged to send a right handed felt tip marker and a copy of Longfellow's poem to:

    Sarah Palin's Family Vacation Bus Tour
    c/o any brainless wingnut along the eastern seaboard

  • Daddy Love on June 03, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Expect more absurd comments about colonial history from prominent, national figures almost daily as 2012 electiosn heat up.

  • TCinLA on June 03, 2011 3:17 PM:

    Those two are so stunningly ignorant, and so fucking stupid they have no idea how fucking stupid they are, they are an embarrassment to think we're part of the same species.

    of course, what's even worse are the people who think these two are "leaders." But then, given the anti-education of the past 45 years, and given that the Average American under the age of 40 can't distinguish between the Civil War and the Vietnam War, such a situation was bound to happen. When people don't know their history, they can be lied to about anything. Those who do not know the past will definitely repeat it.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 03, 2011 3:19 PM:

    @ Al on June 03, 2011 3:10 PM:

    "The point is that Paul Revere was a hero of the American Revolution"

    Then how come he was warning the British when we were at war with the British? Sounds like a traitor to me Al! And who is to say this guy was not in cahoots with Bill Ayers?

    /wingnuts is fun!

  • mellowjohn on June 03, 2011 3:22 PM:

    the lead singer for paul revere and the raiders was named mark lindsay.

  • SimpleTone on June 03, 2011 3:26 PM:

    And there's probably (the tourist season is on) some colonial costumed tour guide trying to make a living telling people what actually happened not 20 feet away from her and her cameras.

    Take a breath and listen for just a millisecond, Sarah.

    I think her speaker's fees just dropped 30%. Unless she shoots a few things on the tour.

  • jjm on June 03, 2011 3:26 PM:

    How ANYONE this stupid, ill-informed, and frankly, cartoonish is getting attention and considered a serious politician, is beyond me.

    But so are all the 'right wing' 'sovereign citizens' 'militia' 'Minutemen' etc. They dress up in an admixture of revolutionary war garb and guess what: THEY DON'T EVEN HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THE FIGHTING WAS ABOUT!

    They get everything wrong, from the idea of "popular sovereignty' which was framed as what we could have INSTEAD of the Sovereign as lodged in a single person (the KIng) who considered himself God's representative on earth (divine right of kings; to the consequence of misunderstanding the sovereign in democracy: their completely daft belief that religion is a cornerstone of -- rather is excluded from -- our form of government.

  • Anonymous on June 03, 2011 3:28 PM:

    She couldn't name a newspaper she regularly reads, so why should we be surprised that she's never heard Longfellow: "Listen my children and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere..."?

  • MikeBoyScout on June 03, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Not sure why the lame stream media criticizes Palin so much about her communication ability.

    This woman is not only a former half-term Governor of a state whose population is almost as large as some of the USA's largest counties, but Palin attended 5 universities over 6 years to obtain a degree in Communications.

    AND when it comes to keeping up with the news she reads all of the newspapers. Who in the lame stream media can do that?!?

  • John R AKA Mr. Serf Man on June 03, 2011 3:31 PM:

    To Quote Richard Wolfe from the 08 campaign:
    " I am going to be as restrained as I can be... but this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed, comment that we have seen from Governor Palin so far and there's been a lot of competition for that prize."

    Still tying to outdo herself everyday

  • tamiasmin on June 03, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Whenever I look at the current batch of Republican presidential hopefuls, I say to myself, "No, no, this can't be happening. Not in this country." But then I recall that less than forty years ago, the Republican Party nominated two actual felons for President and Vice President.

    And they won in a landslide.

  • Stephen Stralka on June 03, 2011 3:44 PM:

    Yes, of course the same assholes who claim a monopoly on patriotism are completely ignorant about the nation's history. I'd even go so far as to say that REAL AMERICANS know who the fuck Paul Revere was.

  • Stetson Kennedy on June 03, 2011 3:46 PM:

    I'm surprised she knew who we fought in the Revolution.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 03, 2011 3:49 PM:

    I'm not certain
    (so Journalism grads of University of Hawaii at Hilo + Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu + North Idaho College + University of Idaho + Matanuska-Susitna College should check it out thoroughly)
    but I think Palin's remarks are a clear violation of The Statute of Liberty.

  • worcestergirl on June 03, 2011 3:50 PM:

    Actually, the local media have been covering the tornados non-stop, so neither Palin's tour nor Romney's announcement have garnered much attention.

  • Chris S. on June 03, 2011 3:52 PM:

    Sarah's right. Paul Revere DID warn the British. And thanks to his quick thinking, we won at the Alamo.

  • exlibra on June 03, 2011 4:34 PM:

    If she can remodel the English language (Shakespeare did it too!), why not American history? I'm not a sci-fi fan, but isn't there a whole sub-genre which deals with parallel universes/parallel history? If she were to write a book on history, using her Shakespearean English and her James Joyce technique (stream of consciousness), I bet it would be an instant bestseller.

    "earcel Lemma"; I shall give an earful to that parcel of Lame-stream media.

  • drkrick on June 03, 2011 5:24 PM:

    Perhaps she had Paul Revere confused with Johnny B. Goode?

  • LL on June 03, 2011 5:50 PM:

    @Richard at 2:23..yer killing me. Almost drowned in my afternoon cup 'o' java.

  • Joe Friday on June 03, 2011 5:58 PM:

    PALIN: "He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringin' those bells and, um, makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we were gonna be armed."

    Oh help me Jezus.

  • MikeBoyScout on June 03, 2011 6:51 PM:

    Brought to you by Wasilla Wacky Weed Inc.
    Our weed whacks your, and, um, your, uh, bell!

  • biggerbox on June 03, 2011 7:03 PM:

    It's really amazing how little these people actually know about this country they claim to love so much, and how quick they are to accuse others of not being real Americans, when they don't even know real American history.

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on June 03, 2011 7:44 PM:

    Maybe she only read the MAD Magazine version . . . in it, if I recall correctly, Paul Revere galloped through the night shouting, "I cash clothes".

    Makes as much sense.

  • TeaBaggerSmith on June 03, 2011 7:52 PM:

    Sarah's intellect is dizzying to weak minded liberals. Who you going to trust, your 5th grade teacher or the leading light of American patriotism in the 21st century whose read just about every book worth reading? Towering genius is never appreciated in its own time.

    P.S. What's this "captcha" thing, and why does it say "tingthes HISTORIC"?

  • yellowdog on June 03, 2011 7:58 PM:

    I thought by now Half-Term could have gotten through the Schoolhouse Rock collection and maybe one or two grade-school books on U.S. history. Maybe not.

    Thus, the comments of Midland and T2 above are horrifying to contemplate. Question is not why Palin draws the media but why she draws the party. Why would the GOP choose a leader like her? Why does the party need her?

    -If she does not get Paul Revere right,
    -if she does not know she really ought to get Paul Revere right,
    -if she tortures her native language so badly she sounds like she's reading text beamed in from another planet,
    -if she thinks Fannie and Freddie were Richard Nixon's twin beagles,
    -if she gave up her last job as a public official to seek higher office as a TV star,

    why would a party choose her as one of its leaders? It says more about the party than about Palin. It ain't pretty.

  • captain obvious on June 03, 2011 8:30 PM:

    It says more about the party than about Palin. It ain't pretty.

    And yet, that's part of the attraction. All those old Republican perverts think she's 'attractive'. Guess STUPID is attractive, too.

  • Nanuq on June 03, 2011 9:19 PM:

    Okay, folks: PR 101 teaches that any media attention is better than no media attention. I would prefer not to give Palin the benefit of the doubt as to whether her pronouncements (or those of Michele Bachman) are part of a planned media strategy to keep her presence alive in the media. But it is (just barely) possible for a savvy media person advising Palin to capitalize on her already existing proclivity for historical malapropisms.

  • T-Rex on June 03, 2011 9:30 PM:

    Sigh. You philistines. Chris Matthews and Bill Kristol are going to have to explain this to you. You see, Sarah has a divine right. And her left ain't bad either.

  • Joshua on June 04, 2011 2:31 AM:

    The poem about Revere has nothing to do with history. Its a fun thing for kids and that is it.
    A good place to start is with Revere's own letter about his ride, where he talks about being captured and warning the British about what was coming. Ahem:



  • Dennis on June 04, 2011 6:53 AM:

    Paul Revere did warn the British. He wrote about it himself:

    I observed a Wood at a Small distance, & made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back,and orderd me to dismount;-one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from,& what my Name Was? I told him. it was Revere, he asked if it was Paul? I told him yes He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, & told me he was going to ask me some questions, & if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then orderd me to mount my Horse, after searching me for arms.

  • FSC on June 04, 2011 8:51 AM:

    Dennis:: +1

    Regardless of how you all feel about Palin, you will all impress more people with your honesty and integrity when you admit when you're wrong. Here's the link::

    I have not investigated further - I assume the letter is legit.

  • Dennis on June 04, 2011 9:07 AM:

    FSC, I do believe the author of this blog post and the commenters will issue corrections once they have read the historical facts of Paul Revere's ride.

    Please be patient.

  • neil b on June 04, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Bad enough that Silly Sarah made the error, but at least one major lame-stream (sometimes righties are right) enabled here by making it seem a lesser mistake. On NBC News last night, Brian W just said about Sarah Palin's Revere flub, approx. "in the real story it was lanterns and not bells" - what? NBC was afraid to come right out and say she got who warned whom backwards?

  • Neil B on June 04, 2011 10:21 AM:

    @ exlibra: "but isn't there a whole sub-genre which deals with parallel universes/parallel history? If she were to write a book on history,"
    Heh, I've been ragging on the "many-worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics on science blogs (nutshell: frequentist counting of branches gives 50/50 chances for binary outcomes instead of modulus squared requirements of Born Rule.) So I borrowed Palin's way of talking to make a dig: "How's that splitty-worldy thing workin' out for ya?" Just think, if MWI is true, there is a world where Sarah Palin is not just VP, but President of the USA ...

  • Neil B on June 04, 2011 10:38 AM:

    As for how correct Sarah was: Revere was captured after his basic riding mission (correct?) and her description of the ride is still misleading. He didn't warn them by ringing bells and firing shots, he talked to some British officers after warning the colonists. So her description of "the ride" is still inaccurate and shows some carelessness. But sure, I'll be first to offer a correction and say that the criticism of Palin was excessive, as her story was then roughly a half-truth and not wrong outright. Thanks for the links.

  • Neil B on June 04, 2011 11:11 AM:

    Note also that Revere did not intend to warn the British as Palin implied, he told them later under threat. Maybe she's around 1/4 true? Still not very good.

  • MaryRC on June 04, 2011 11:23 AM:

    FSC, I do believe the author of this blog post and the commenters will issue corrections once they have read the historical facts of Paul Revere's ride.

    So the historical facts of Paul Revere's ride were that he rode from Boston to Lexington, supposedly ringing bells and firing off warning shots, to warn the British that the colonists were armed? You're going to have trouble selling this one.

    Think about it -- if that were really his purpose, he could have warned the British in Boston, since that's where the British army was stationed.

    I'm guessing that Sarah's tour guide's spiel probably included this incident where Paul Revere was stopped and questioned by British soldiers when he reached Lexington. Sarah hears this for the first time and is impressed but when her brain processes this information, what comes out is a little ... garbled.

  • Anonymous on June 04, 2011 11:33 AM:

    Posted at Legal Insurrection:

    This account in "Paul Revere's Ride" by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press 1994), may be of interest to Think Progress and all the others laughing because they purport to be so much better informed than Palin:

    "A townsman remembered that 'repeated gunshots, the beating of drums and the ringing of bells filled the air.'.... Along the North Shore of Massachusetts, church bells began to toll and the heavy beat of drums could be heard for many miles in the night air."

    I suppose you could sit at your desk and go over and over the transcript and the video and pick apart each word, but the bottom line is she could have said this better, but was it as bad as what her detractors and the media are screeching about, I don't think so. Steve Benen said this was much worse than what Bachmann said. Aside from needing to be more careful about her words, Paul Revere did warn the British, and bells were being run.

    What's worse here is that her detractors are making fun of her without knowing either of these two things or even mentioning them. If you're going to criticize someone for their ignorance of history, it's best to know that history before do.

  • MaryRC on June 04, 2011 12:28 PM:

    Paul Revere did warn the British, and bells were being run[g].

    Why, yes, that seems to be true. And if Sarah had emerged from her visit to the National Archives to inform us that John Hancock signed the Constitution, she'd be right about that too. John Hancock did sign something. And the Constitution was certainly signed. So Sarah was right all along!

  • cld on June 04, 2011 2:39 PM:

    What she is saying is that Paul Revere is somebody Teabaggers can relate to because he is famous for his loud frenetic mob-incitement as a terroristic threat.

  • Neil B on June 04, 2011 8:42 PM:

    Anonymous, the bare report of bells and shots doesn't mean that Revere was involved in that part or that he meant to warn the British - AFAICT he didn't, and he did not want to be captured and tell them anything, so "warning the British" was forced on him and not part of his planned purpose. Isn't that latter, what counts in a characterization?

  • Meah on June 05, 2011 2:37 PM:

    You would think she would utilize the internets for some background info before she spewed her tripe! This woman is an idiot!

  • Prof Loren on June 05, 2011 6:02 PM:

    "One if by land" is a myth. Longfellow was NOT a historian.
    = =
    See detail from:
    Joshua on June 04, 2011 2:31 AM:
    = = =
    Two if by sea. No part of Longfellow's poem has become more iconic than the image of Revere standing on the riverbank across from Boston, waiting for a signal from the Old North Church. But in fact, Revere's own testimony contradicts this version of the story. In descriptions of his ride he wrote after the battles, Revere himself said he had arranged for the lanterns to be lit while he was still in Boston—two of them, to indicate the British would be traveling by sea—in case he wasn't able to cross the river. The citizens of Charlestown, on the other side, dispatched their own rider to spread the news. Revere was rowed across, found a horse, and followed.

  • LetsBeClear on June 05, 2011 7:35 PM:

    THE FACT IS Sarah Plainspeak did not know, and misstated, what Revere's intent and actions were.