This past March the Society held a Hands-On History Workshop on the Declaration of Independence. It featured Danielle Allen of Harvard University and used AAS collection materials to explore how Americans first learned about and celebrated independence in 1776 and how the Declaration was represented and interpreted in the nineteenth century.
Our Hands-On History Workshop was also the first program in a region-wide initiative sponsored by AAS and Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area entitled Declaring Independence – Then and Now. Recognizing that the Declaration of Independence is not only a beloved statement of our nation’s embracing of liberty and equality, but is also a living document, whose values continue to shape our lives today. Declaring Independence –Then and Now explores how the Declaration of Independence came to be, how we can find its roots in our own towns, what it meant to the founding generation, and how it continued to inform the generations that followed, including our own.
In the spring of 1776, the Massachusetts assembly sought to know the hearts and minds of the people. They charged each town with debating and resolving a critical question: Should the colonies declare independence from Great Britain? Declaring Independence –Then and Now engages Freedom’s Way towns in uncovering the evidence of responses to this challenge, through town debates, resolves, and local declarations of rights and liberties, as detailed in Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Towns also actively engaged in affirming, disseminating, and publically performing their assertions of independence. Their deep commitment to the public act of declaring liberty and equality continues to shape our local and national conversation today.
Mary Fuhrer, a public historian and AAS member, worked with communities in Massachusetts to uncover this evidence and to shape it into a performance piece. These will be presented at the Bullfinch Meetinghouse, 725 Main Street, Lancaster, Massachusetts, on Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 4 p.m., and on Saturday, July 2, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the Minute Man Visitor Center, Minuteman National Historic Park, 250 North Great Road, Lincoln, Massachusetts. The Lancaster program is presented in partnership with the Bulfinch Fund and is part of the Bulfinch 200th Anniversary Celebration. The program is also part of the church’s Annual Strawberry Festival and participants are invited to stay for chicken salad and all things strawberry, including ice cream and shortcake. The Minute Man National Historical Park is a collaborating partner of the presentation in Lincoln.
I will act as narrator for both programs and will be joined by citizens of Lancaster and Lexington who, in addition to reading sections of the Declaration of Independence, will also discuss the mindset of their town leaders in 1776 and how the ideas in this seminal document continue to impact American government today.