The Spirit of ’76


These are the times that try men’s souls. No Revolution, but the remembrance of it disrupts the peaceful populace of every Middlesex village and farm, not to mention metropolitan Boston and, soon, the thousands of other officially designated Bicentennial Communities across the country. Patience is short, prices are high, traffic is congested; patriotic pride runs rampant. The Disney in us all has created a nationwide American Revolutionland and, at least within these borders, there is no place to hide.

In “Boston, where it all began,” it has begun again, with an enormously drawn-out and diffuse celebration marking the two-hundredth anniversary of Paul Revere’s aborted ride from the North End of the city toward the outlying towns of Lexington and Concord. Revere was delayed by drink and fell into the hands of the enemy before he finished his journey. But a hundred thousand followers in his hoofprints this year were not so lucky. They had to go all the way, and although many were similarly intoxicated, they were trapped in the ancient battlegrounds while orators lobbed volleys of rhetoric more deadening than any cannon’s shot. Boston, Arlington (formerly Menotomy), Medford, Lexington, and Concord all reenacted scenes of their past glories while thousands cheered. Massachusetts was graced by a visit from the President for the first time in eleven years, the territory being thought hostile to national leaders.

Ford seemed to suffer from a confusion of roles and played George III rather than Sam Adams, but he played it well enough for all the King’s wit and wisdom. No doubt he will turn up in other Bicentennial locales as the scene shifts. In the Old North Church on the night of April 18th, he kindled a “third lantern,” bettering Revere’s beacon by half again,* to symbolize the beginning of the Republic’s third century, and he delivered the first of his several weekend orations extolling the nobility of America’s imperial mission.

“American sea power now ranges to the most distant shores,” he boasted at the Old North Bridge in Concord on the next morning. Before him, the statue of the Minuteperson (in the obligatory non-sexist style of the day) gazed upon the presidential reviewing stand, still looking more like an insurance company advertisement than a patriotic symbol. Ford stayed on the “British side” of the bridge; across that rude structure, where once embattled farmers had fired their well-heard shots, sodden demonstrators jeered and taunted the President’s speech. Policemen and soldiers of all the available authorities provided a semblance of physical protection, but in fact the solemn celebrations were “marred” by protests, as the newspapers and commentators later lamented.

It was impossible for the People’s Bicentennial Commission—organizer of the protest rally at the national park—to avoid a kind of unintended collusion with the official celebrants. Every Bicentennial event will need its contingent of rabble, and who is better suited to fill that slot than the infantry of Woodstock Nation? Demoralized but not demobbed in the decline of the “counterculture”…

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