Sunday, December 25, 2005
James Wolcott’s recent reference to Digby’s blog as “a Paul Revere gallop through the pitched night of the Bush years” reminds me of this passage from Paul Revere's Ride, a 1994 book by the great historian David Hackett Fischer. The passage seems relevant to the recent discussion (triggered by the Kos article in WM) about the role blogs play in political discourse. Fischer sees Revere in relationship to the overall Revolutionary movement and debunks the myth that he was a "just a messenger." He describes Revere as an important cog *in a liberal movement* that was "open and pluralist" and made up of "an alliance of many overlapping groups." Revere was a silversmith by day, but away from his trade he was doing much more for the rebel cause, and it was more than a poetic midnight ride. This has a feel to it, like maybe this is what bloggers did before computers, in a day when everything was closer, within physical reach, and people did their politics face to face.
Paul Revere's Role in the Revolutionary Movement
The structure of Boston's revolutionary movement, and Paul Revere's place within it, were very different from recent secondary accounts. Many historians have suggested that this movement was a tightly organized, hierarchical organization, controlled by Samuel Adams and a few other dominant figures. These same interpretations commonly represent Revere as a minor figure who served his social superiors mainly as a messenger.
A very different pattern emerges from the following comparison of seven groups: the Masonic lodge that met at the Green Dragon Tavern; the Loyal Nine, which was the nucleus of the Sons of Liberty; the North Caucus that met at the Salutation Tavern; the Long Room Club in Dassett Alley; the Boston Committee of Correspondence; the men who are known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party; and Whig leaders on a Tory Enemies List.
A total of 255 men were in one or more of these seven groups. Nobody appeared on all seven lists, or even as many as six. Two men, and only two, were in five groups; they were Joseph Warren and Paul Revere, who were unique in the breadth of their associations.
Other multiple memberships were as follows. Five men (2.0%) appeared in four groups each: Samuel Adams, Nathaniel Barber, Henry Bass, Thomas Chase, and Benjamin Church. Seven men (2.7%) turned up on three lists (James Condy, Moses Grant, Joseph Greenleaf, William Molineux, Edward Proctor, Thomas Urann, and Thomas Young).
Twenty-seven individuals (10.6%) were on two lists (John Adams, Nathaniel Appleton, John Avery, Samuel Barrett, Richard Boynton, John Bradford, Ezekiel Cheever, Adam Collson, Samuel Cooper, Thomas Crafts, Caleb Davis, William Dennie, Joseph Eayrs, William Greenleaf, John Hancock, James Otis, Elias Parkman, Samuel Peck, William Powell, John Pulling, Josiah Quincy, Abiel Ruddock, Elisha Story, James Swan, Henry Welles, Oliver Wendell, and John Winthrop). The great majority, 211 of 255 (82.7%), appeared only on a single list. Altogether, 94.1% were in only one or two groups.
This evidence strongly indicates that the revolutionary movement in Boston was more open and pluralist than scholars have believed. It was not a unitary organization, but a loose alliance of many overlapping groups. That structure gave Paul Revere and Joseph Warren a special importance, which came from the multiplicity and range of their alliances.
None of this is meant to deny the preeminence of other men in different roles. Samuel Adams was especially important in managing the Town Meeting, and the machinery of local government, and was much in the public eye. Otis was among its most impassioned orators. John Adams was the penman of the Revolution. John Hancock was its "milch cow," as a Tory described him. But Revere and Warren moved in more circles than any others. This gave them their special roles as the linchpins of the revolutionary movement -- its communicators, coordinators, and organizers of collective effort in the cause of freedom.
Another list (too long to be included here) survives of 355 Sons of Liberty who met at the Liberty Tree in Dorchester in 1769. Once again, Paul Revere appears on it. There were at least two other Masonic lodges in Boston at various periods before and during the Revolution; Paul Revere is known to have belonged to at least one of them. In addition to the North Caucus, there was also a South Caucus and a Middle Caucus. Paul Revere may or may not have belonged to them as well; some men joined more than one. No definitive lists of members have been found. But it is known that Revere was a member of a committee of five appointed "to wait on the South End caucus and the Caucus in the middle part of town," and that he met with them (Goss, Revere, II, 639). Several Boston taverns were also centers of Whig activity. Revere had connections with at least two of them-Cromwell's Head, and the Bunch of Grapes. The printing office of Benjamin Edes was another favorite rendezvous. In the most graphic description of a gathering there by John Adams, once again Paul Revere was recorded as being present.
In sum, the more we learn about the range and variety of political associations in Boston, the more open, complex and pluralist the revolutionary movement appears, and the more important (and significant) Paul Revere's role becomes. He was not the dominant or controlling figure. Nobody was in that position. The openness and diversity of the movement were the source of his importance. Appendix D, page 301, Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer, New York, 1994.
People will use blogs as they wish, but their important role in directing the actions and messages of a political movement is becoming more and more undeniable. The liberal blogs that I read *usually make their assertions* in an open and pluralist way, not in a top down hierarchical fashion; independent and distributed, yet coordinated and overlapping. This is quite the opposite of our *conservative* adversaries. [I changed rightwing to conservative because the real conservatives hate to be painted with the Bush brush. Tough shit.]
Fischer's description of Revere as a 'linchpin, communicator, coordinator, and organizer of collective effort' seems also seems apropos (heh). It's pure teamwork, where each role is small, even miniscule, but in the aggregate can lead to an essential outcome, which in today’s political environment is the shedding of authoritative conservatism in favor of an open pluralism.
And wouldn't you give just about anything to sit in a place called, Bunch of Grapes? Or how about The Green Dragon Tavern or Cromwell's Head? With luck, maybe someday there will be an establishment called Bush's Head.
digby 12/25/2005 11:58:00 PM