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Why this state is number one.

The other day I got to thinking about Massachusetts and what makes our state exceptional. Is it our long history, our scenery, our enduring commitment to progressive causes, or something in the air? That led to thoughts about our political traditions and our pioneering efforts down through the generations.

We began as a Calvinist Puritan autocracy that had little interest in such things as democracy, toleration, and free speech. But over the centuries we developed into almost a consistently progressive society.

From John Endicott, the persecutor of Quakers, heretics and Ann Hutchinson, to Elizabeth Warren is quite a journey, but here we are.

Ann Hutchinson (1591-1643) was driven out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony because she, a woman, asked too many questions about church teachings. Her strong Christian beliefs may not jibe with current feminist thinking, but her liberal legacy has long since overridden the grim Calvinism of John Endicott and his colleagues.

The Puritans left a lasting impression on Massachusetts and American society, in the way they used government power to control human behavior. Even today, remnants of the old Blue Laws still influence state legislation in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

The people of Massachusetts have lived through any number of theories, faiths and fads -- paper money, Whiggery, Abolition, water therapy, temperance, women's rights, etc. over the years. New ideas have often caught on here. As a result, we have been first in many things and in many ways.

We were the first state to produce a family whose father and his son were both presidents of the United States (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). And JQA was the first former president to be elected to the House of Representatives.

The Lincoln family of Worcester chalked up a number of firsts. Levi Lincoln Jr. was the first to win nine straight elections for Massachusetts governor (1825a1835). And when his brother, Enoch, was elected governor of Maine. It was the first time that brothers had governed more than one state simultaneously.

Massachusetts was long a leader in the battle for women's rights. It hosted the first national Woman's Rights convention (here in Worcester) and it was also here for the first time that women were married without pledging "obedience'' to their husbands (Lucy Stone (Blackwell) and Abby Kelley (Foster).

Ann B. Earle was the first woman elected to public office in Massachusetts (Worcester School Committee) in 1868, even before she could vote. More recently, a woman rocket scientist, Dr. Laurie Leshin, has been inaugurated president of WPI, one of Worcester's signature institutions. That surely is some kind of first.

The Civil War produced some significant firsts for our state. Thomas Wentworth Higginson commanded the first regiment of southern blacks in the Union army and Robert Gould Shaw commanded the first regiment of blacks enlisted in the North.

So it's not too surprising to learn that Massachusetts was out ahead of other states in other ways. We produced the first female mountain climber to top 22,000 feet (Worcester's own Fanny Bullock Workman), and also the first female cabinet member in the U. S. government (Frances Perkins) who also came from Worcester.

Massachusetts was the first state to send a Jesuit priest (Robert Drinan) to Congress and the first state to lose a representative (Robert Drinan) because of a decree from the Vatican.

So it's not too surprising that our state elected the first African-American senator since Reconstruction, or that we produced the first Catholic president. The first openly gay congressman came from Massachusetts. We were the only state to go for George McGovern in 1968.

When it comes to breaking new ground, you just can't beat the good old Bay State.

Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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