University of Maine presents the 3D-printed Dirigo Star to the Maine Bicentennial Commission for Maine Bicentennial Time Capsule. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

I love Maine.

Seriously. In grade school I loved singing the “Sixteen Counties” song. Learning our state’s history — the Battle of Machias, Chester Greenwood, and the Twentieth Maine! — was fascinating.

And obscure trivia? Love it. We are the only state that shares a land border with one other state. Maine has more Atlantic shoreline than any other member of the Union, while we stand alone as the only single syllable state.

These are the things, together with countless other facets, that give rise to our unique culture. Yes, sometimes that is expressed through the phrase “from away.” Yet there is a reason the idea of “Maine” can capture the imagination.

It is good to remember this week. March 15 was the one year anniversary of Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency declaration related to the coronavirus pandemic. But it was also the one year anniversary of Maine’s 200th birthday.

The party was a bit of a bummer. “Social distancing” meant we couldn’t gather together. But if we were going to be stuck home, it was a chance to get some good reading in.

Downeast Magazine did just that, diving into “The Debates, Resolutions, and Other Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates” recording the history of the Maine Constitution. Believe me, it’s a page turner.

The magazine pulled out one particular anecdote from the annals. Most of us know Maine gained its freedom from Massachusetts. Fewer would be able to identify 1820 as the wonderful year in which it happened.

However, while our identity as “Maine” was never really in doubt, our forefathers wondered what else we would call ourselves. Should we be a “commonwealth,” like our brethren from Boston? Or would we cling closer to our national name and become a “state” of the United States?

The debate raged. “Commonwealth” was favored as a more fulsome title, which we richly deserved. Yet our federal Constitution spoke of “states;” that appellation would, maybe, help bring unity and conformity.

But we are Maine, and an argument that would appeal to many of us today won the day. Establishing a new government meant that a lot of signs would need to be repainted. And “state” was quite a bit shorter than “commonwealth,” so it would save plenty of time and money to keep it short.

Thus, on a 119-113 vote, the “State of Maine” was christened. Call it Yankee frugality.

That part of our character remains today. There is a large contingent in Augusta worried about profligate government spending. And even those inclined to increase the state budget — like Gov. Mills — do so with a wary eye towards our tax code.

There are other gems in “The Debates, Resolutions, and Other Proceedings” that resonate today. Page 95 shows that Mr. Vance moved to exclude Black Mainers from counting in the apportionment of representatives.

Mr. Holmes shut that down unequivocally. Maine’s fledgling Constitution declared “all men” — without regard to color — “were born equally free and independent.”

Vance’s motion failed.

That heritage continues. Last week saw Craig Hickman — a gay, Black farmer from Winthrop — overwhelmingly won a special election to the state Senate. In a district which Joe Biden eked out a victory and Susan Collins won handily.

The very next day Hickman was sworn into office by Mills. And the day after that, on March 11, Hickman joined a GOP-led effort to terminate Mills’ emergency declaration on the eve of its first anniversary.

Our past informs our future. The great debate between “commonwealth” and “state” is echoed by the battle over the state flag raging today. Maine’s original Constitution did not exclude people from legislative representation based on the amount of melanin in their skin. And a Black legislator won a special election and immediately bucked the leader of his party to do what he thought right.

Maine’s a different place. We try to find practical solutions to real problems, like choosing “state” to help save on paint costs. And an electoral district can vote heavily for a Republican U.S. senator and then turn around to send a Democratic state senator to Augusta.

Happy 201st Birthday, Pine Tree State. You’re easy to love.

Avatar photo

Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.