The American Heritage, as seen from A.D. 1955, was the focus of a group called ‘The Newcomen Society’ in Vermont. Their goal was, as best I can understand it, to preserve the ‘American Heritage’ by promoting interest in it and preserving tangible remains of the past.
In 1955 the Newcomen Society hosted a luncheon in Shelburne, Vermont. The following are some brief excerpts from the address given.
“As we forge ahead…in our marathon of Progress to provide the common man with automobiles, television sets and automatic garbage disposals, the gap yearly widens between our civilization and that of the uncommon men who settled the Atlantic Seaboard and the far prairies.
[…]It is true that the average man in this Country is living better from the standpoint of material possessions than he ever has in the history of the world, and I suppose we owe it to the assembly lines. But I am sure that if Henry Thoreau were alive today, he would be gloomier than ever, and Emerson would be moved to expand his essay on Compensation. We have admittedly gained much, but have we not at the same time lost a great deal? We are so frantically busy building a new environment that may not necessarily be any better, or in some ways as good, as the one we have been living in, that I am sure we have all frequently wondered if we are not indeed going too far.
Psychological requirements, of course, do not change. People still seek to put roots down and to express themselves. Yet the gadget civilization of today tends to frustrate these needs. We cannot put roots down while gales of change are buffeting us about.
We cannot mechanize and standardize everything without blunting individuality and self-expression. The Constitution of Vermont reminds us “that frequent recurrence to fundamental principles and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty and keep government free.”
The men who wrote these words found in their environment many values that we cannot share in a society that has become so commercial, so mobile and so highly organized. But the conditions of the Twentieth Century do not prevent us from seeking these values, and there is no better way of seeking them than to cultivate a sense of the past. For years we have tended to be disdainful of the old. We have chided the British for their poor plumbing and emphasis on tradition. However I am sure that many Americans, straining to keep up with the ever-increasing tempo of life, have from time to time suspected that our English cousins may have something there.
Fortunately the pendulum always swings the other way. During the past few years there have been symptoms of a tremendously renewed interest in the American Heritage. This may be because we are now old enough as a Nation to look back at our beginnings with real perspective and appreciation, yet I think there is a deeper reason, a psychological one. If we do not know where we are going today, it is at least reassuring to know where we have come from. It is comforting to sense our kinship with the pioneers, whose burdens were far heavier than ours, but who nevertheless seemed to know where they were going.”The Newcomen Address was delivered on 28 September, 1955, at the Vermont Luncheon of the Newcomen Society, at Shelburne Harbour Inn, Shelburne, VT
In 1955 there seemed to be an air of optimism about what the writer of the speech saw as a renewed interest in American Heritage on the part of these New Englanders. Sad to say, it seems as if there is little of that interest today, but then in our own defense it may be that most of us recognize that we are in a dire situation, and our immediate fate concerns us more at the moment than does our past, our historic heritage.
Can we learn useful lessons from our Pilgrim or Puritan forebears? They were hardy and resilient people. I am not sure how true that is of us, their descendants. But maybe we can take some inspiration from them and perhaps we might learn something. There is so much doomsaying and black-pilling these days on the Internet but I don’t think we can afford to give in to that spirit.
And as the writer refers to the ‘gales of change’ that were buffetting the people of that era; we are being buffetted ourselves, in our day. Some of that can-do spirit is essential.