Paul Revere Remounted
Ain't he the Yankee who had to go for help?"
--old Texas joke
OUR BRITISH FRIENDS had never heard of him. "Paul Revere?" one asked incredulously, as we led him captive along Boston's Freedom Trail, "a midnight ride? . . . captured by us?"
Our visitor was a man of learning. We were as surprised by his ignorance, as he was by the story itself. In our mutual astonishment we discovered the enduring strength of national cultures in the modern world.
Nearly everyone who has been raised in the United States knows of Paul Revere. The saga of the midnight ride is one of many shared memories that make Americans one people, diverse as we may be. Even in these days of national amnesia the story of Paul Revere's ride is firmly embedded in American folklore. His name is so familiar that it has become a general noun in American speech. During the Presidential election of 1992, a Republican journalist ambiguously described a defeated Democratic candidate as "an economic Paul Revere." Whether that phrase was intended to mean a heroic messenger of alarm, or a messenger who failed to reach his destination, was not immediately clear. 1
Ambiguity is an important part of the legend of Paul Revere, and a key to its continuing vitality. The story has been told so many different ways that when Americans repeat it to their children,