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Governor’s Address: Happy Birthday to the State of Maine

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.

Our little state, jutting out of the northeast corner of our country, with its population of only 1.3 million, its four fulsome seasons, its forests, hills, tablelands, potato fields, shores, mighty rivers, and secret waterfalls, takes its physical character from ancient eskers and glacial erratics, kettles, cirques, and moraines. There are no straight lines here. This place we call home is unique, and it offers so much to so many.

But Maine is not just its natural resources and phenomena. 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, 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 on his first moose hunt through the vast and primitive wilderness to Chesuncook Lake.

They are firefighters and teachers, techies and hotel workers, farmers and fishermen, waiters and loggers, barbers and millworkers. They are our friends and neighbors. They are immigrants, laborers, veterans, and people with disabilities. People from away. People we rely on every day, and those who rely on us. They make our 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. He worked in sawmills, apple orchards, and potato fields before becoming 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 in the guiding principles of our new state voting rights regardless of race and absolute freedom of religion. 

That would not be the last time our small state defied expectations to shape the world through the efforts of brave men and women who rose above impossible odds.

A young man from Brewer, the oldest of five children, urged his governor and classmates to fight for liberty and justice during the Civil War. One of 80,000 sons of Maine who fought for the Union, General Joshua Chamberlain went on to defend our nation at the Battle of Gettysburg. When ammunition was running low and the fate of his regiment seemed most dire, he led the bayonet charge at Little Round Top, saving his men and turning the tide of the Civil War.

Another Maine Civil War general also shaped our state. While the Penobscot River drew thousands of ships every year and Bangor was the lumber capital of the world, General Thomas Hyde hired seven men to power a small iron business and build steady ships on the shores of the Kennebec River. That small enterprise eventually became Bath Iron Works.

Today, out of the morning mists of the Kennebec and through the sun, rain, and snow of Maine, the men and women of Bath Iron Works build mighty ships, continuing their long-standing tradition of excellence and protecting from danger our country, interests, and allies around the world.

Of course, it was not only soldiers, and not only men, who shaped the history of Maine. There was Harriet Beecher Stowe of Brunswick, who turned the tide of the Civil War; and Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, who became the first registered Maine guide; and Senator Margaret Chase Smith of 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 I can tell you that our leaders are not simply those relegated to the history books. They include people like eighth-grader Morgan, who developed a Blood Glucose Test Strip Dispenser that is waiting for a patent; Sam, who decided to become a doctor after he was diagnosed with a debilitating disease; and the Maine students who chanted “There is no Planet B” when advocating for climate change action outside the State House.

Some of these people are the leaders of tomorrow, who, like generations of Mainers before them, will rise above the doubts of others to find new and better ways of doing 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 sure, steady steps into our future. Let’s make it 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, William King, “Fly Rod” Crosby, and Margaret Chase Smith. Tell them about our rocky coast, rolling hills, wide farms, clean rivers, fresh foods, and coolest of lagers. Tell them about the jobs, excitement, and friendships we offer here in this state.

You will always be a son or daughter of Maine. Wherever you roam, if roam you will, upon your return, we will greet you with a hearty hug and a loud “Welcome Home!”

Happy Birthday to the State of Maine.

Thank you

Janet Mills 

Governor

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