Looking back

The New England Historical Society here offers a brief history of the New England Town Meeting, which exerted quite an influence on colonial ideas of how the early settlers were to govern themselves — or be governed.

“Town Meeting only took root throughout New England after a struggle, but it refused to die. Some of the old Town Meeting traditions, like eating meetinghouse seeds and daylong discussions, disappeared. But their original impetus continues in New England – as does the republic they created.

During the earliest days of Town Meeting, “the cardinal principles of political equality, opposition to tyranny, and freedom of speech were taught, and taught in such a way that they were never forgotten,” observed historian Daniel Ward Howe.”

Among the early colonists of New England, ideas differed as to how the colonies should be governed, with John Winthrop’s colony being more conservative than Connecticut, for example. The writers of this piece make it clear that they find the more ‘democratic’ colonies superior to Winthrop’s. From the vantage point of 2020, especially in the wake of a troubled and disputed national election, I am not sure that the ‘democratic’ alternative has worked out as expected 400 or so years ago.

Regardless, even now many of us look back at early New England and its much-admired Town Meeting tradition as being the ‘good old days’: New England then had something much closer, it seems, to the ‘direct democracy’ in which everyone had their say, and in which a much-smaller government was still accessible to the ‘little people’. How quaint; now, with a bloated government apparatus at every level it seems, and given that we have a much larger population, direct democracy or anything like it would be an impossible ideal.

The article quotes Daniel Ward Howe as saying, in 1879,

“The cardinal idea of the New England town system was tht the nearer government is brought to the people, the more clearly it shows their sentiments and reflects their will.”

New England Historical Society website

The writer also notes the ways in which the Town Meeting tradition was essential to the organizing and the close-knit nature of the communities of New England; it enabled them to better defend themselves against Indian onslaughts by means of the local patriotic groups such as the Minute Men, (my ancestors were part of that movement). Because of the colonists’ incentive to be well-organized and to prepare for the common defense, they were better able to prevail in the Revolution.

It’s well worth a read if you have New England roots, or even if you don’t, it’s of interest simply as American history.

One of my favorite old films is one from the 1950s (released in 1958), called “It Happened to Jane.” The movie starred Doris Day and Jack Lemmon. What has it got to do with early New England, especially as the movie was set in 1950s Maine? Well, it shows us that even in the 1950s, some of the old traditions lingered on, though weakened. The film was set in a small town supposedly on the Maine coast, though filmed on location in rural and small-town Connecticut. The viewer actually gets to see what a small New England town looked and felt like in 1958. The scenery was beautiful and everything looked very unspoiled; no traffic congestion, no overcrowded streets, no air pollution and smog was evident. The townspeople were not professional actors, at least in the smaller roles; they looked like ordinary, nice folk, not Hollywood denizens.

I am sure that much of that idyllic New England is gone, as it is in so many places, thanks to the globalists’ obsession for overpopulating our countries and especially those areas that have somehow escaped the damage until recently.

But as I watched the movie, I noticed that there were scenes in which the lead character, Jane (her surname is one of my family surnames, interestingly for me) takes a news reporter on a guided tour of the town, showing him the Town Hall, and we get to see a Town Hall meeting with most of the citizens in attendance. It was a little over-idealized probably, but it still makes us feel as if we were seeing a glimpse of the real thing, as it existed in those fabled good old days.

And when we hear about the American ideals, as all of us once upon a time were taught in our classrooms, it brings a wistful and bittersweet feeling, to ponder that we once had a very different America, one which is in all likelihood a thing of the past. At times that feeling is not wistful as much as rueful and angry because either we let it slip away, taking it for granted, or it was stolen away from us by people with their own motivations.

Shall we, being ‘black-pilled’ these days, merely say ‘oh well, it was never as good as they told us it was; it was always flawed and it would have failed anyway, so good riddance” or shall we honor it, and our ancestors who made it what it was, realizing we were lucky to have had the old America as long as it lasted?

I do recommend seeing the movie ‘It Happened to Jane’; I don’t know how hard it is to find, as Netflix et al don’t favor wholesome movies, but it might be available on YouTube or some other such outlet. It’s worth seeing if you are interested in the America of our forebears and of our history books.

2 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. The description of town meetings reminds me how much has changed in twenty years. Before social media, we use to have local civic-political groups that attended and pressured the city council or particular issues as they popped up in our neighborhoods. Since the rise of the proto-‘matrix’, these parochial citizen groups have altogether disappeared. Now, on every issue surrounding, say, local questions on growth, we instead find fb pages and anonymous webpages that you ‘join’ and are simply kept abreast by messages on developments that are evidently being led by lawyers or other admins who somehow have bureaucratic expertise and contacts. It’s become very specialized, technocratic, and atomized compared to teh voluntary citizen groups we used to enjoy about 15 or 20 yrs ago. Astro-turf and extra-bureaucracy seems the take of the day. The lockdowns have only exacerbated the problem. It’s much like replacing physical face to face ‘church’ with zoom worship. I’ve noticed we’ve lost the art of town halls and actual citizen voluntary activism. We often speak of demographic alienation, but technology certainly adds to the problem. I can tolerate blogs and email, but social media is a disease.

    Liked by 2 people

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