April 26, 2018
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The more Maine changes, the more it stays the same

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

It was 1867. The Civil War may have ended, but the country had far to go in its recovery. Every Maine resident had been touched in some way by the war, with 10 percent of the state’s population volunteering or being drafted to fight.

The inaugural speech Brewer-born Gov. Joshua Chamberlain gave to the Maine Senate and House of Representatives reflected on the war’s price, tallied in men and sorrow. Yet in that time of anguish, less than 50 years after Maine officially became a state, Chamberlain also spoke of a topic we continue to emphasize today: the out-migration of Maine’s young people and the pressing economic and social need to find a way to get them to return.

If Maine still hasn’t succeeded in its goals nearly 150 years later, it should probably try a different approach. Instead of aiming for massive changes, what if the state pursued smaller ones? Mobilize Maine is doing this, for example, by building on individual promising developments in specific areas of the state.

The following comes from Chamberlain’s remarks:

“Nothing is more obvious than that Maine has not developed her resources fast and far enough to afford a field for the vigorous and enterprising spirit of her sons, and hence they go forth, drawn by more inviting prospects abroad, and impelled perhaps by that restless energy of soul which has been the vital impulse of history, and has made the world what it is. The world is doubtless a gainer by this diffusion of energy and intelligence; but it is doubtful whether the State can longer afford to be a mere nursery for the missionaries of civilization. It is a serious matter to have five thousand a year in excess of the number we receive from abroad, and of the most valuable of our population, emigrate from the State. Yet a study of the last census returns will show that this was the balance against us for each of the previous ten years, and doubtless the proportion is even greater since the war.

“And yet Maine is a State of magnificent resources. Her three thousand miles of seacoast, her millions of acres of forest, primeval and renascent, the quarries and ores of her hills, her fertile valleys and broad pastures of hitherto untried capacity, the measureless power of her inland waters, covering one-tenth of her wide domains: these, to say nothing of her geographical position, holding the frontage of the continent, with more than the famed control of the outlets of the Mississippi, make Maine a field where great things should be, and yet will be wrought. Maine is comparatively new ground and should attract rather than repel civilization. But it presents the anomaly of sending forth an emigration such as might be expected only in old, over-worn and over-populated countries, and those where political or social despotisms depress and disperse their citizens. This is an evil so contrary to the common course of society and the laws of civilization, that we should look into the causes of it, and if possible apply a remedy.

“The spirit which prompts a man to go where he can prosper most is certainly pardonable if not praiseworthy. We would not imitate the example of despotic governments which restrain the ambitious spirits of their citizens from seeking better fortunes in other lands. We may adopt a policy which will be equally potent by making it profitable to others to live and labor and prosper with us. It is not necessary for this end to sacrifice the individual good to that of the State. These interests should be identical. We should not hesitate if at the outset this demand appeals to our generosity. Some of the seed thus sown may not indeed be quickened except it die, but the bloom and the fruit will come and bring better times.

“And through you gentlemen, let me say to the young men of Maine, that with a spirit and an energy like theirs devoted to her interests it is not difficult to foresee the day when the State shall be not merely the landing place of civilization and the gateway of nations, but in the arts of life and the fruitions of virtue shall have wrought a character of blended youth and maturity that will make her in the eyes of the Old world the ever young and vigorous West, and to the New the rich and teeming Orient.”

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