Rev. Stephen Ayres of Boston’s Old North Church spoke at a recent State House hearing in support of establishing a commission to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.

As Senator Nick Collins is testifying, Professor Robert Allison stands behind him and Rev. Ayres third in line.

The petition, listed as Bill S.1813 under the M.A. legislature, requests a commission that would develop a comprehensive plan for promoting and celebrating the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, identify opportunities for everyone across the state to participate, and promote underrepresented voices in the American Revolution including women, native peoples and persons of color.

Rev. Ayres presented his testimony cleverly outlined by Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Read his full statement below.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Honorable Senators and Representatives, my name is the Rev. Stephen Ayres and I am the vicar of the Old North Church. I come before you today to urge the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to “remember that famous day and year” as we approach the 250th anniversary of the founding of our nation.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” to unite a divided country on the eve of the Civil War. Longfellow understood that the core civic values embedded in the story of Paul Revere must be celebrated and reinforced if the American experiment in democracy was to survive and flourish.

In 1976, a divided America, recovering from an unpopular war and a failed presidency, celebrated the Bicentennial as a means to reunite the country around commonly held values of patriotism, freedom and justice. Here in Massachusetts, we welcomed the National Park Service to help in preserving and interpreting our historic sites. Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market were renovated, bringing new vitality to downtown Boston. New school curricula were created to teach our children the basic lessons of history and civics.  President Ford and Queen Elizabeth led millions of visitors to see the Cradle of Liberty and learn about the sacrifices made by our forebears to establish the freedoms we enjoy.

In 2019, once again we see a divided America, with our common civic and constitutional values under great stress. We are entering a decade of major milestones commemorating the birth of our nation. Next year is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. 2023 brings the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. 2025 brings the 250th anniversary of Paul Revere’s Ride, the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

As our legislative leaders, you have the opportunity to use these events to teach American history and civics. Other forces have and may continue to use these events to teach a divisive and false narrative about our country’s founding history and principles.  

Last year the legislature wisely recognized the need to strengthen civics education. The 250th anniversary of the founding of our nation presents an opportunity to reinforce our common civic values for all citizens of the Commonwealth and for the millions of visitors who come to Massachusetts each year. I urge you to establish a 250th Commission to remember that famous day and year and to renew the civic bonds that make us one nation. For,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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