The head of Boston’s Old North Church who gave Sarah Palin a history lesson about Paul Revere says she “misplaced facts” in her infamous video interview about Revere’s midnight ride.
I’ll confess that I’d never heard the word vicar before today. Apparently, a vicar is a clergyman in charge of a chapel. Yesterday Reverend Stephen T. Ayres, vicar of Boston’s Old North Church, wrote a letter about his experience hosting Sarah Palin the week before last.
In his letter the Reverend makes a confession of his own: he was the one who put the historical ideas about Paul Revere in Palin’s head. But, he said, “I will not take the blame for the odd order those factoids came out.”
In reflecting on the media storm that swelled around Palin’s version of the Paul Revere story, Ayres writes, “Lots of pundits berated Governor Palin’s grasp of history. Many of them have made their own mistakes.”
But make no mistake: she goofed. “Perhaps it was too much information in too short a period of time to digest properly,” Ayres wrote. “Maybe if we climbed to the top of the steeple and viewed the lanterns, the governor wouldn’t have focused on the bells. Who knows? [She] provided us with priceless free publicity by misplacing a few facts when quizzed on her visit.”
What exactly qualifies a vicar as an authority on Paul Revere’s ride? He’s not a history professor or even an academic. But as the steward of this historical icon, Ayres does seem particularly well versed in the legacy of his predecessors. “The truth be told,” he writes, “my predecessor, the Rev. Mather Byles, Jr. left the employ of the church the morning the lanterns were hung and cannot be blamed for the unfortunate rebellion that ensued.”
At any rate, according to Ayres, Palin was wrong in her claim that Paul Revere rode to warn the British that “we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free.” This directly contradicts Palin’s statement on Fox News the following Sunday that she “didn’t mess up on Paul Revere.” It’s understandable that she wouldn’t admit to such a dubious grasp on the kind of American history that every 5th-grader knows, especially when her entire campaign (or non-campaign, as the case may be) depends on laying unique claim to America’s founding—and therefore purist—principles.
In the end, this story of Palin’s revisionist history (and her fans’ attempt to subsequently alter Paul Revere’s Wikipedia page accordingly) is about truth and subjectivity. Ayres astutely points out that the facts surrounding Revere’s midnight ride have been colored by subjectivity for centuries. He claims Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who canonized Revere around the time of the Civil War, was himself a partisan with an agenda rather than a clear-eyed historian.
Ayres divulges a likely partisan slant by inserting a Stephen Colbert reference into his conclusion: “What is truth, or is it truthiness?” Absolute truths may be tough to divine, but there’s still no question that Palin takes special liberties with her history. And no matter what she tries to tell us, not all liberties are good.