Maine has a proud and storied history, and our bicentennial offers us the opportunity not only to honor that history, but to recommit ourselves to the values that shaped us as a state and as a people.
Good morning, I am Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.
You know our little state, jutting out of the northeast corner of our country, with a population of only 1.3 million, with four fulsome seasons of the year, and with its secret waterfalls, its forests, and hills and tablelands, its potato fields, its shores and mighty rivers…this place with many ancient eskers and glacial erratics, and kettles, and cirques and moraines, all of which give this state its physical character…there are no straight lines here.
This place is unique, this place we call home, and it offers so much to so many.
Maine is not just its natural resources and natural phenomenon, it is also its people.
For more than two hundred years, sons and daughters of Maine with courage in their souls, kindness in their hearts, an iron resolve, and an unshakeable, independent spirit have built this state and led the nation.
There are so many in this state who are “the unsung” as poet Wes McNair has called them.
They are the Wabanaki people like Joseph Attean, the legendary Governor of the Penobscot nation, a brave, open-hearted and forbearing individual, who guided Henry David Thoreau in his first moose hunt, through the vast and primitive wilderness to Chesuncook Lake.
They are the firefighters and teachers, the techies and hotel workers, the farmers and fishermen, and waiters and loggers, and the barbers and millworkers of our towns all across the state.
They are our friends, our neighbors. They are immigrants. They are laborers. Veterans. People with disabilities. People from away. People we rely on every day. And many who rely on us that make this state as great as it is.
Above my right shoulder in the Governor’s office hangs a portrait of one of those individuals, a farmer and mill worker, who championed our drive to statehood.
One of six children, William King was born to a poor family in Scarborough and worked in the sawmills and in the apple orchards and potato fields, and finally was a major general in the Maine militia.
The General, as he was known until the end of his life, became Maine’s first governor. As we finally shed the bounds of Massachusetts rule and embarked on creating our own destiny, General King spoke to the newly assembled legislature in Portland for the first time.
He said, “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.”
Born out of a compromise that allowed slavery to endure in another part of the country during the darkest days of our nation, Maine’s new constitution enshrined voting rights regardless of race and provided for absolute freedom of religion in the guiding principles of our new state.
That would not be the last time our small state defied expectations and shaped the world because of brave men and women who rose above impossible odds.
A young man from Brewer, the oldest of five children, urged his governor and his classmates to fight for liberty and justice during the Civil War.
General Joshua Chamberlain went on to defend our nation at the Battle of Gettysburg, one of 80,000 sons of Maine who fought for the Union. When ammunition was running low and the fate of his regiment was most dire, General Chamberlain led the bayonet charge at Little Round Top and saved his men and turned the tide of the Civil War.
Another Maine general, Civil War general, also shaped our state.
While the Penobscot River drew thousands of ships every year and while Bangor became the lumber capital of the world, it was on the shores of the Kennebec River that General Thomas Hyde hired seven men to power a small iron business and build steady ships.
That small enterprise ending up being Bath Iron Works.
Now out of the morning mist of the Kennebec, and through the sun, rain, and snow of Maine, men and women of Bath Iron Works build mighty ships, continuing their long-standing tradition of excellence and protecting our country, our interests, and our allies from dangers all over the world.
It is not only soldiers, and it was not only men, that shaped the history of Maine. There was Harriet Beecher Stowe of Brunswick who turned the tide of the Civil War, and it was Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby who became the first registered Maine guide, and it was Margaret Chase Smith, Senator Smith from Skowhegan, who was the first woman to serve in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the Congress of the United States.
As governor, it is my privilege to meet with Maine people from every corner of our state, and leaders are not simply those relegated to history books.
Leaders include people like 8th grader Morgan. She developed a Blood Glucose Test Strip Dispenser that is waiting for a patent and people like Sam who decided to become a doctor after he was diagnosed with a debilitating disease and young Mainers, the students, who chanted outside the State House, “There is no Planet B” when advocating for climate change action.
Some of these people are leaders of tomorrow who, like generations of Mainers before them, will rise above the doubts of others and find a new and better way to do things.
So, on the eve of our bicentennial, as we celebrate this milestone of our state and reflect on our history, let us also take steady, sure steps into our future.
A future where every person can live and work in the state they love with boundless opportunity for themselves and for their families.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you are with, tell them about the great place you come from. Tell them about Joseph Attean, about William King and “Fly Rod” Crosby and Margaret Chase Smith, tell them of the rocky coast, the rolling hills, the wide farms and clean rivers, the fresh foods, the coolest of lagers, and the jobs, the excitement and friendships we offer here in this state.
You will always be a son or daughter of Maine. Whenever you roam, if roam you will, upon your return, as upon your first arrival, and even if you never leave, we will greet you with a hearty hug and a loud “Welcome Home!”
Thank you for listening and Happy Birthday to the State of Maine.