Vermont History Day
Secretary of State, Deborah L. Markowitz
Being Secretary of State entails many responsibilities, great and small.
Few, however, have given me as much pleasure as being here with you today.
As a parent, I am pleased that history, as evidenced by your great work, is
alive and well in Vermont's schools. As the constitutional officer
responsible for the State's archives, I am encouraged that a rising group of
citizens, yourselves, understand the value, and joy, of history. As a public
official, I am aware of the need for an informed citizenry able to weigh
today's issues against the experience of the past.
There are those who will tell you history is not relevant; that we cannot
spend our time looking in the rearview mirror as we drive into the 21st
And yet we have review mirrors for a reason. Sometimes we need to
back-up; we do not move forward in an unswerving straight line. Afterall,
the topic you all explored is "turning points."
You also need to check the rearview mirror to see what is catching up
with you. Those flashing blue lights may alter your future, but they were
turned on because of something you did back there a ways.
You do not have to look far to see the power of history and how it is
used, misused, and shaped for ends noble and otherwise. Misapplied history
stalks the land in Kosovo, in Rwanda, and throughout the Middle East with
tragic results. Reassessed history, such as the Pope's recent apology to the
victims of Church policy or indifference, promises greater dialogue about
our shared past. A promise offered even as others pervert history to deny
events such as the Holocaust ever occurred.
And, in the next few weeks, history will once again shape the
expectations of Red Sox and Yankee fans as the baseball season opens.
History, whether we recognize it or not, is embedded in Vermont's
headlines. We hear of traditional marriage. What does the history tell us
about that tradition? In 1783, for example, Vermont passed a law to preserve
the sanctity of marriage, setting the age of consent for marriage at
fourteen for boys and twelve for girls. Which traditions do we seek?
And beneath the debate over marriage lie some of the core issues that
have marked turning points throughout our history as a country and state.
Though not always apparent in the words chosen by adults today, we are once
again asking the very questions that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ira
Allen and Thomas Chittenden pondered as they shaped our federal and state
constitutions. In a democracy, how can the rights of minorities be protected
from the interests of the majority? How, indeed, do we define a minority?
What is the balance between direct and representative democracy?
Thomas Young, Ethan Allen's old neighbor and the person who gave Vermont
its first constitution, argued that the people were the "supreme
constituent power" and as soon as the people's representatives
"get too far out of the hands of the constituent power, a tyranny is in
some degree established."
Yet Young's contemporary Edmund Burke argued that "Your
representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he
betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your
It is sad, but there are audiences in Vermont right now where I could not
discuss such issues without evoking anger. There are adults who cannot, who
will not, hear the music of history struck from the balancing of divergent
viewpoints. They are without history, though they often evoke it.
But here, among those who have done historical research, who have read
and evaluated works of history, and who have shaped those evaluations into
presentations; here, we can have such discussions.
Whether you studied Jackie Robinson running or Rosa Parks sitting, you
have learned something about historical research; you have learned something
Your success will encourage others to learn history and to exchange ideas
through History Day. Your enthusiasm can help re-integrate history into our
public dialogues. And someday, whatever path you follow, you may look back
at your experience here and see your own personal turning point. Thank