Founding myths Stories that hide our patriotic past

Ray Raphael

Book - 2014

Examines thirteen well-known American stories, including those about Paul Revere's legendary ride and Thomas Jefferson's pivotal role in the establishment of American equality, contending that many of their surrounding myths are not supported by recent scholarship.

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New York : New Press c2014.
Main Author
Ray Raphael (author)
Revised edition ; revised tenth-anniversary edition
Physical Description
x, 420 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 329-399) and index.
  • Introduction: Inventing a Past
  • Heroes and Heroines
  • 1. Paul Revere's Ride
  • 2. Sam Adams's Mob
  • 3. Molly Pitcher's Cannon
  • David and Goliath
  • 4. The Shot Heard 'Round the World
  • 5. The Winter at Valley Forge
  • Wise Men
  • 6. Jefferson's Declaration
  • 7. An Assembly of Demigods
  • 8. American Aristocracy
  • Doing Battle
  • 9. "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!"
  • 10. The Whites of Their Eyes
  • Good v. Evil
  • 11. Patriotic Slaves
  • 12. Brutal British
  • Happy Endings
  • 13. The Final Battle: Yorktown
  • 14. March of the American People
  • 15. Storybook Nation
  • Conclusion: Why We Tell Tall Tales
  • Afterword: Which Myths Persist, and Why
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Photo Credits
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

One would have thought that such notions as the singularity of Paul Revere's ride, the reality of cannon-manning Molly Pitcher, and the claim that the Revolutionary War started at Lexington and Concord and ended at Yorktown were long gone from the classroom, but not so, says Raphael. Most American history texts today repeat or don't debunk those falsehoods. Nor do they question Samuel Adams' radical firebrand image (he was really very cautious) and the authenticity of Patrick Henry's Liberty or Death speech (concocted by a biographer long after Henry opted for the latter). The problem with letting the lies and half-truths stand, Raphael says, is that they effectually blot out the real grassroots, democratic character of a movement that, after all, culminated in a nation that prides itself on democracy. While addressing teachers, in particular, Raphael relays so much forgotten or never-known history and argues so well why it, not the legends, should be remembered that virtually any American will profit from reading this lively, intelligent book. --Ray Olson Copyright 2004 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Ensign, director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, has compiled this primer for potential recruits and concerned citizens. Chapters by various contributors cover tactics used in recruitment and basic training, as well as the intricacies of policies on women and sexual harassment, minorities, "don't ask, don't tell" and exposure to hazardous materials. A 50-page compilation of letters from soldiers now serving in Iraq and their families makes up the book's third chapter of 10; chapters on "Military Justice: An Oxymoron?," a possible draft and the demographics of the infantry round things out. If it all sounds a little disjointed, that is because it is. Perhaps because of its many authors, the book lacks a common analytical thread, and there are far too many instances where Ensign or another contributor offers a litany of facts as if they speak for themselves. As the subtitle makes clear, Ensign sees many current practices as needing reform, and his analysis, when it occurs, is pitched toward mobilizing forces for change. While they may find it a challenge, dedicated readers will be able to use this book in that capacity or as a compendium of aspects of service that are less likely to be discussed by recruiters. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Author of A People's History of the American Revolution, Raphael once again turns to that period, aiming to punctuate popular perceptions deriving from the 19th century's penchant for solitary romantic agents. He focuses on 13 stories revolving around either mythical or genuine figures and events, including Paul Revere's ride, Molly Pitcher's battlefield heroics, Sam Adams as the supposed architect of independence, the shot heard 'round the world, the Valley Forge winter, the lauded generation of the Founding Fathers, and the presumed denouement at Yorktown of a global conflict that continued elsewhere. Curiously, the fabricated tale of flag-maker Betsy Ross is not included as a separate entry. Raphael buttresses his points by introducing each chapter with iconic illustrations by Jonathan Trumbull, John Singleton Copley, Howard Pyle, and others. Amply annotated, this anthology underscores the idea that knowing the truth about numerous anonymous players rather than holding to elaborate story lines is more empowering for a starkly realistic age. Especially recommended for all public library and undergraduate collections.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-If a high school history teacher were to ask his class when the Declaration of Independence was signed, he undoubtedly would hear a chorus call out, "July 4, 1776." But what percentage of students, or teachers for that matter, would know that as of August 1, only John Hancock had actually signed the document? And how many would know that at least 14 men who were not even in Philadelphia on July 4 are recorded in the Congressional Journal as signing it on that well-remembered date? But sign it they did, and what does it matter what the actual date was? Raphael thoroughly delineates the creation of the fictive July 4 signing, including intentional lies and omissions in the "official" Congressional Journal. The chief impetus behind this doctoring of history was simply to have a neat, unmistakable date for national celebration. The author goes on to expose numerous myths before, during, and after the Revolution revolving around Paul Revere's ride, Valley Forge, Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, the Battle of Yorktown, and several others. In each case, Raphael outlines the myth, reveals what really happened, and, most importantly, argues why we must move past historical nonsense so that a truer, more democratic national record can emerge. Academic historians have long known these truths. Raphael deserves praise for his efforts to have that knowledge trickle down to the rest of us. Toward that end, he offers a "Note to Teachers," including a Web site with grade-appropriate lesson plans.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A distinguished historian revisits the American legends he effectively debunked 10 years ago and discovers that they die hard.Over two centuries after the nation's founding, does the narrative change when we understand that Paul Revere didn't really ride alone, that Sam Adams wasn't a "one-man revolution," that the Declaration didn't spring full-blown from the mind of Thomas Jefferson, that Patrick Henry likely never said, "give me liberty or give me death," or that Molly Pitcher never existed at all? Raphael (Senior Research Fellow/Humboldt State Univ.; Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right, 2013, etc.) takes on a number of myths and legends that have crept unquestioned into our textbooks and popular histories, and he explains their persistence and the damage done if they remain uncorrected. He also highlights some stories we have failed to tell. How is our understanding changed if we discover that the tale of the cruel winter and patient suffering at Valley Forge has an unacknowledged twin, two years later, at the Morristown encampment, where the weather was colder and the soldiers mutinied? What if we learn that the American struggle for independence, itself only a small part of a worldwide conflict, was also a war of conquest in the West and featured a brutal civil war in the South? By slapping tidy beginnings and endings on stories, we distort a deeper, more complex history. By fashioning them into stick figures, we turn the Founders into an assembly of demigods. Worst of all, Raphael argues, we understate the central theme of the American Revolutionpopular sovereigntyand marginalize the contributions made by millions of common citizens. Overlooking this genuine heritage, he insists, takes the Revolution out of the hands of the people, without whom the entire enterprise would surely have failed.A persuasive argument in favor of evidence-based history, even if it means surrendering some of our cherished fabrications. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.