BLOCK: We are going to fact-check Palin's Paul Revere history now with Robert Allison. He's chair of the history department at Suffolk University in Boston.So far the main "expert" who says Palin is wrong is not a historian but Joel J. Miller, who appears to have no history credentials, but has written three books in different subject areas, one a popular history of Paul Revere. Unfortunately for National Review, they chose him to write on Palin and Revere. Doesn't do much for their reputation or for Miller's. Usually a popular history isn't subjected to the glare of being reviewed by history professors. Poor Miller put himself up against commentary by real historians and doesn't do so well.
Professor Allison, welcome to the program.
Professor ROBERT ALLISON (Chairman, History Department, Suffolk University): Thanks, Melissa.
BLOCK: And let's review Paul Revere's midnight ride, April 18, 1775. He's going to Lexington, Massachusetts. And according to Sarah Palin, he's riding his horse through town sending warning shots and ringing those bells. True?
Prof. ALLISON: Well, he's not firing warning shots. He is telling people so that they can ring bells to alert others. What he's doing is going from house to house, knocking on doors of members of the Committees of Safety saying the regulars are out. That is, he knew that General Gage was sending troops out to Lexington and Concord, really Concord, to seize the weapons being stockpiled there, but also perhaps to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, leaders of the Continental Congress, who were staying in the town of Lexington.
Remember, Gage was planning - this is a secret operation, that's why he's moving at night. He gets over to Cambridge, the troops start marching from Cambridge, and church bells are ringing throughout the countryside.
BLOCK: So Paul Revere was ringing those bells? He was a silversmith, right?
Prof. ALLISON: Well, he was - he also was a bell ringer. That is, he rang the bells at Old North Church as a boy. But he personally is not getting off his horse and going to ring bells. He's telling other people - and this is their system before Facebook, before Twitter, before NPR, this was the way you get a message out is by having people ring church bells and everyone knows there is an emergency.
And by this time, of course, the various town Committees of Safety, militia knew what the signals were, so they knew something was afoot. So this is no longer a secret operation for the British.
Revere isn't trying to alert the British, but he is trying to warn them. And in April of 1775, no one was talking about independence. We're still part of the British Empire. We're trying to save it. So this is a warning to the British Empire what will happen if you provoke Americans.
BLOCK: And Sarah Palin also was saying there that Paul Revere's message to the British in his warning was: you're not going to take American arms. You know, basically a Second Amendment argument, even though the Second Amendment didn't exist then.
Prof. ALLISON: Yeah. She was making a Second Amendment case. But, in fact, the British were going out to Concord to seize colonists' arms, the weapons that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was stockpiling there.
So, yeah, she is right in that. I mean, and she may be pushing it too far to say this is a Second Amendment case. Of course, neither the Second Amendment nor the Constitution was in anyone's mind at the time. But the British objective was to get the arms that were stockpiled in Concord.
BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.
Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She's not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.
UPDATE: Link to Paul Revere's written account of his ride and warning the British Regulars.
UPDATE2: Some of Governor Palin's information came from the vicar of the Old North Church.
"[Rev. Stephen T.] Ayres said he welcomed Palin, her parents, and her daughter Piper to the church on the morning of June 2, as she traveled the East Coast on her “One Nation” tour. He gave them the usual “one if by land, two if by sea” lesson, but added in how Revere founded the church’s bell-ringing guild in 1750 as a teen and how he warned the British after being arrested on the night of his famous ride that the minutemen had been alerted."H/T Aaron Gee