The political connexion, which had so long subsisted between Massachusetts and Maine being dissolved. … These citizens peaceably and quietly forming themselves into a new and independent State, framing and adopting with unexampled harmony and unanimity a constitution embracing all the essential principles of liberty and good government. – William King (1820)
I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul-searching — for us to weigh our consciences — on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America — on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges. — Margaret Chase Smith (1950)
Frederick Douglass, Old Orchard Beach, 1877
Item Contributed by
Maine State Archives
American history provides abundant examples of reform efforts, social and political agitations, charismatic leaders, and causes, both lost and won; indeed, it is possible to tell the American experience through these examples alone.
National reform movements included abolitionism, anti-prostitution, prohibition, and anti-poverty efforts, public education, immigration and tenement reform, health and safety improvements, utopianism, suffrage and civil rights, peace and environmental movements, and multiple other endeavors, each with American men and women championing their positions.
Maine has had no shortage of leaders – within the state and on the national scene – of these and other issues. From Maine native Dorothea Dix's work to transform prisons, mental institutions, and other asylums into humane institutions, to Portland resident Neal Dow's endeavors to eliminate the temptations of alcohol; from William Ladd's leadership of the American peace movement in the early decades of the 19th century to 11-year-old Samantha Smith questioning Russian leaders in the 1980s; from Hannibal Hamlin serving as Vice President of the U.S. during Lincoln's first term, to Congressional leaders like Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed (1839-1902); Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), the "conscience of the Senate;" Edmund S. Muskie (1914-1996), an environmental leader in the Senate from 1959-1990 and Secretary of State from 1980-1981; George J. Mitchell (1933- ), majority leader of the Senate and later peace ambassador to Ireland and the Middle East; and William S. Cohen (1940- ), a Senator from 1979-1997 and U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1997-2001 – Maine men and women have been in the foreground and fellowship of causes larger than themselves.
Woman's Library Club, Lovell, ca. 1901
Item Contributed by
Lovell Historical Society
The work of anonymous thousands through civic organizations, church groups and women's clubs supported the labors of the famous few to create the kind of society — free of slaves, free of alcohol, filled with health, full of choice — that specific organizations and movements desired.
Causes sometimes go beyond a desire for change, however, and a number of Maine leaders and groups have fought against reform. Choosing sides in any contest was not always clear-cut. Maine housed Loyalists and conscientious objectors as well as Patriots during the Revolution.
Abolitionism brought with it not just the desire of some to eliminate slavery, but that of others to protect and expand the institution, not to mention the competing ideas of what to do with the approximately four million slaves should freedom be achieved. Both women and men supported giving women the right to vote – and opposed it.
In all these causes, and more, Maine men and women applied themselves with zeal, some with distinction. The long-standing movement for statehood, and its long-delayed success, for example, occupied the interests and commanded the attention of more than one generation of coastal and backwoods families alike.
Letter concerning organization of new State of Maine, 1820
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society
To some in Maine, it seemed that the state had substituted Massachusetts rule for British rule following American victory in the Revolution. Others believed remaining part of Massachusetts would protect their interests and, hence, the interests of Maine. Economic interests played a large role in these debates. It took nearly 40 years of applications, petitions, compromise and debate before Maine finally achieved statehood.
William King of Bath was the most ardent spokesman for independence. King's father was a Scarborough merchant and ship owner, positions that provided his son an education derived from familiarity and connections. Progressing from sawmill laborer to owner, from ship builder to ship owner, from merchant to banker, King eventually became one of Maine's wealthiest shipping merchants.