Happy birthday, Maine.
Your life story is pretty compelling. You were born as a twin. Don’t worry; you’re the good one. Congress “compromised” to let Missouri enter the union as a slave state. You were the balance, the detente. Here, men and women — of all colors and creeds — were free. Both sides got two senators out of the deal.
You played a major role in correcting that national stain. One of your leading educational institutions — Bowdoin — hired a professor from Connecticut. He and his wife moved to the Pine Tree State. She was an author in her own right. She wrote a serialized story that later became a book.
Its 19th century sales were second only to the Bible. Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” galvanized the disparate camps in our country. Slave states like Missouri loathed it, while the abolition movement in places like yourself lauded it.
That started in 1851. A scant 10 years later, the United States became embroiled in a great civil war. You had a big role to play there as well.
Your sons marched off toward the Mason-Dixon line. In fact, proportionally, you sent more than any other state. About 80,000. Compare that to your 317,000 men (of any age) recorded during the 1860 census. So a quarter of your male population left to defend the Republic.
They acquitted themselves well. Indeed, another Bowdoin professor earned eternal glory on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Then-Col. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment famously held the flank of the Union lines, fighting off Alabamian troops from Little Round Top.
The colonel became a general and later came home to become your governor. After he left office, 1880 brought a massive dispute between Democrats and Republicans over the results of an election. Your body politic was torn apart. So Chamberlain returned to the State House to defend your constitution, awaiting word from your Supreme Judicial Court.
Fast forward to the end of your first century. The world was pulled into a great war. Again, you sent men off to defend your ideals. But something else was afoot. A disease known as “Spanish influenza” began to sweep the world. Your own “Queen City” saw 1 percent of her population die over a three-month period. It was awful.
But you bounced back.
Your second century saw incredible change. At its beginning, towns like Millinocket and Rumford flourished as your lush forests supported a robust paper industry. Textile and footwear mills dotted the landscape, bringing Maine-made goods to other markets. Fishing and farming provided food at home and abroad.
At the close, it is hard to explain the change. You have high-tech financial businesses growing by leaps and bounds in Portland. Your homegrown companies have become world leaders in animal health. But don’t worry, there is still plenty of Maine lobster, potatoes, and blueberries to go around.
I’m sorry your 200th birthday party might be a bit more subdued than it deserves. You fought off “Spanish flu” right before your last party, and I know you’ll beat back this coronavirus problem. You have great health care providers; no way Bangor suffers the same fate as it did during that earlier pandemic.
Republicans and Democrats are still fighting. Fortunately, we haven’t had to call any old generals out of retirement to keep the peace. And it doesn’t look like 25% of your sons will need to head out to remove some moral stain from the fabric of our nation.
In short, and to be perfectly honest, you look pretty darn good for 200. You aren’t perfect, and you probably can’t reach that lofty goal. But you are the way life should be. You’re special. Those of us fortunate enough to be born here know that; those who came later in life have learned it.
So happy birthday, Maine. You’re off to a good start.