Philosopher George Santayana famously said in 1905 that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill liked the lesson so well that 43 years later he intoned, “Those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Either wording, we get the idea. Would that Donald Trump were as respectful of our history and its articulated values! The 250th anniversary of the American Revolution is still more than six years off, but the Massachusetts Historical Society and a consortium of other organizations are already planning to commemorate Massachusetts’ pivotal role and reaffirm our commitment to its lessons.
Revolution 250 will focus on developing programs linking the Revolution with contemporary civic education and engagement. On Sept 17, 1774, Gen. Thomas Gage wrote to Thomas Hutchinson, Gage’s predecessor as Massachusetts governor, floating the idea of the Crown hiring German mercenaries since “these provinces must be first totally subdued before they will obey.” Well, they were not subdued, and we did not obey. Even today, we are more inclined to lead than submit.
Ever since the McGovern landslide loss in 1972 (when Richard Nixon won all but one state), some critics have mocked us as “Massachusetts the one and only.” History teaches us to take pride in standing for what we believe in and acting on common principles. Revolution 250’s account of our history will reflect the often-overlooked but important roles of women, people of color, and Native Americans in the fight for independence.
Events here from 1765 to 1776 informed our values, shaped the U.S. Constitution and had an impact beyond national borders. In addition to traditional lectures, special events, teacher and volunteer workshops, Revolution 250 will develop digital tools and apps so users can learn on site about historic buildings and locations.
According to historian and Suffolk University professor Bob Allison, other states are cashing in on the nation’s revolutionary past. Utah is spending $70 million to build a replica of Mount Vernon. The Philadelphia Museum of the American Revolution offers visitors the opportunity to throw tea into Boston Harbor and stand under Boston’s Liberty Tree (the huge old elm that once stood at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets, where colonists protested the Stamp Act and other British wrongs.) The city of Montevallo, (population 6600) Alabama is recreating the Old North Bridge in Concord. Importantly, the Revolution 250 consortium seeks funds to endow the preservation of our original historic sites to counter their being appropriated by other places for purposes of tourism and economic development.
Certainly there are many possible uses for our discretionary dollars, not the least of which is revitalizing our democracy in the 2020 elections. Supporting the birthplace of that democracy by donating to Revolution 250 is another option. Their already-rich calendar of events offers ways to reeducate ourselves and enrich our appreciation of the centuries-old history and traditions that permeate our environment and add meaning and understanding to our lives. Given the ignorance and twisted impulses of Donald Trump, such validation is more important than ever before.