Friday, January 7, 2022

Insight: Century old words a prophetic guide for 2022

Maine Governor Percival Baxter and his dog,
Garryowen, sit for an official portrait at
the Governor's Mansion in Augusta in 1924.
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently ran across a gem republished by the Maine State Archives and thought I’d share it with you here in case you might have missed it.

Percival P. Baxter was born in Portland in 1876 as the son of a six-time mayor of Portland, James Phinney Baxter. He grew up in wealthy circumstances and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1898 and then earned a law degree from Harvard University. Instead of establishing his own law practice, Baxter chose to work in his family’s successful real estate business.

At the age of 29 in 1905, Baxter was elected as a member of the Maine House of Representatives and served for several years in the legislature before returning to work for his family’s business. In 1909, he ran again and was elected to a seat in the Maine Senate for one term.

Politics held his interest, and he was elected once more to a seat in the Maine House in 1917 and then in the fall of 1920, voters elected Baxter to serve a term in the Maine State Senate where his fellow senators thought so highly of him that they chose him to serve as Senate President.

On Jan. 31, 1921, Maine Governor Frederick H. Parkhurst suddenly died, and state succession law mandated that Baxter, as president of the Maine Senate, would assume the duties of state governor. In the elections of 1922, Baxter was voted in as Maine governor in his own right and served in the position through January 1925.

In 1926, Baxter was defeated in his final political race to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate and then never ran for public office again, choosing to focus entirely on business and philanthropic pursuits. 

But his record as Maine’s 53rd governor was filled with accomplishments. During his term, a new state prison was established, funding for public education in the state was boosted, new public land conservation laws were enacted, and as governor, he appointed the first women ever to serve in the cabinet and other prominent positions in state government.    

As a private citizen, Baxter donated more than 200,000 acres of land to Maine which now bears his name as Baxter State Park, and he also donated his summer home in Falmouth for an initiative now known as the Baxter State School for the Deaf, and an island in Falmouth known today as Mackworth Island State Park. He also created a foundation to help hearing challenged students to obtain a college education.               

But in reading this 100-year-old typewritten note by Baxter, I was struck that despite the passing of a century and the events that have unfolded since then, including the Great Depression, all the lives that were lost in World War II, the Civil Rights movement, the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, and the COVID-19 pandemic, how pertinent Baxter’s words from 1922 are to life here on this very day. 

Proclamation by the Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter, issued Jan. 1, 1922

New Year’s Resolutions for the State of Maine

As the individual is accustomed to pause upon the threshold of a New Year to review the past and survey the prospect before him, so may we the people of Maine on New Year’s Day 1922 look back upon the year that has closed and resolve upon a course of action for the year that has begun.

Let us as a people, whatever our origin or creed, and regardless of our station in life enter upon this New Year with the determination:

** To recognize honest differences of opinion and to make serious effort to get other people’s point of view.

** To give other people credit for good intentions.

** To give and speak well of others.

** To ask no privileges for ourselves we are not willing to accord to others.

** To remember that true personal liberty goes hand in hand with self-control.   

** To appreciate the great privilege that it is to be a citizen of Maine, a state that has no peer among its sister states.

** To make Maine a law-abiding state that will serve as an example to our country.

** To add the “Golden Rule” to the state’s motto “Dirigo.”

For those who’ve ever wondered what the Maine motto “Dirigo” actually means, it comes from the Latin term “I lead.”

Back in the 19th century and into the 20th century, a maxim existed for decades in American politics that exclaimed, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” harkening to state voters successfully choosing the eventual winner in 22 of 29 presidential elections spanning from 1820 to 1932. That maxim fit perfectly with “Dirigo” for residents of the Pine Tree State.

Baxter died at the age of 92 in June 1969, leaving a legacy of advocacy for the humane treatment of animals, a passion for nature and a love for his fellow Mainers of all walks of life. 

In this crazy, mixed-up and often divisive world we live in today more than a century after Governor Baxter’s New Year’s 1922 proclamation, wouldn’t it wonderful if we all read and pledged to follow his words in 2022? < 

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