Modern history

artThe Cold War: The Myth of the Capitalist Democrat

In 1949, a symbolic event occurred in Boston. Paul Revere’s “patriotic bowl,” commissioned by the Sons of Liberty in 1768 to commemorate the courage of ninety-two members of the Massachusetts legislature, was returned to the Commonwealth with high ceremony. The bowl had passed into the hands of private collector, Mrs. Marsden Perry. It was purchased from her estate for $56,000, raised partly from schoolchildren in Boston, in a campaign sponsored by Yankee social leaders, Jewish businessmen, and Irish politicians led by Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., then speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Paul Revere’s bowl with its libertarian inscriptions was placed in the Museum of Fine Arts as an icon of American freedom, and a symbol of a new society which was open to people of diverse origins.

With the beginning of the Cold War, Paul Revere began to appear as a personification of the linkage between capitalism and democracy, and the symbol of an open pluralist society in the “free world.” On the anniversary of the ride in 1950, the Boston Heraldwarned that “tyranny of Red Coats takes a new form—Communism. In saluting the patriots of Concord and Lexington we sound the alarm once again. The enemy is now in our midst.” 46

Much popular writing in this era stressed the connection between Paul Revere’s activities as a Son of Liberty and his career as a “businessman” and an archetype of “free enterprise.” The image of Paul Revere became increasingly prominent in commercial advertising. The Paul Revere Insurance Company reached its public with the slogan, “Revere, a name you can trust.” The Revere Sugar Corporation used the silhouette of the midnight rider as its advertising logo. The Revere Copper and Brass Company, which had grown from Paul Revere’s business, stamped a profile of its founder’s head on the bottom of each of its copper-clad saucepans, which it sold by the millions to American housewives.

The most widely read work in this period was a lively piece of popular history by Arthur B. Tourtellot, first published in 1959 as William Diamond’s Drum and reissued as Lexington and Concord: The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution (1963). Tourtellot was a specialist in public relations for Time, Inc., and director of its television productions from 1950 to 1952. He drew heavily on the British materials found by American Anglophiles to celebrate the minutemen and the midnight riders as defenders of a free society.

Another expression of this interpretative mood was an important and highly original work by John R. Galvin, a graduate of West Point in the class of 1954, who served in Latin America, Vietnam, and ended a distinguished career as Commanding General of NATO. Galvin was also a trained historian of high ability, with a master’s degree in history from Columbia University. During the early 1960s, while a junior officer stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, he wrote a book, later published under the misleading title of The Minute Men: A Compact History of the Defenders of the American Colonies, 1645—1775. Of the twenty-nine chapters in this work, twenty-three were devoted to events of 1774 and 1775, seventeen of them to the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Galvin’s interpretation was conceived in the context of the new military thinking about “unconventional warfare” that developed in the early 1960s. He found the battles of Lexington and Concord deeply interesting in that respect. At the same time, he studied the minutemen and the midnight riders as products of a deeply rooted American tradition, and in general celebrated their conduct on April 19 as a model of military preparedness and unconventional warfare, from which soldiers and civilians in the 20th century had much to learn. In the process, Galvin offered a revisionist account of the fighting, that corrected many myths. The book also gave new meaning to Paul Revere’s role as an active and highly effective leader who had a major impact on events, including the fighting itself. 47

The books of Tourtellot and Galvin were serious and able works of scholarship. At the same time, popular writers during the 1950s and early 1960s began to celebrate the midnight riders and the minutemen with unrestrained enthusiasm. One example was a children’s book of this period, William De Witt’s History’s Hundred Greatest Events (New York, 1954). It elevated Paul Revere’s ride to equal rank with the crucifixion of Christ, the discovery of penicillin, and the struggle against Communism in Korea.

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