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New England Anniversary Orations

Udo Hebel, University of Regensburg

The DFG project presents the first comprehensive documentation of New England Forefathers’ Day orations. Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Forefathers’ Day orations were the cornerstone of anniversary performances dedicated to the commemoration of the arrival of the Mayflower and the so-called Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth in 1620 and the ensuing foundation of the first Puritan colony in New England. The Forefathers’ Day celebrations of December 22, and the oratory of these festivities in particular, contributed significantly to the construction of a national U.S. American myth of origin and the invention of a national U.S. American historical and political tradition. First established in Plymouth in 1769 and flowering in Massachusetts and other New England states well into the nineteenth century, Forefathers’ Day followed the expansion of the U.S. to the South, Midwest, and West until the Civil War. In antebellum times, Forefathers’ Day was frequently seen to equal the Fourth of July in cultural and political significance. The annotated edition of thirty Forefathers’ Day addresses from 1770 through 1865 collects representative examples from a known total of some 130 orations and comes from different historical contexts and from different regions of the U.S. The selection of speeches, together with the introductions to the respective celebrations, orators, and contexts and with a selection of reprints of historical paintings and popular prints of early colonial New England history, documents the use of early New England history for the purpose of national identity constructions in a crucial period of U.S. American cultural history. The innovative form of annotating the orations by means of commentary blurbs along the margin of the pages is to recover the cultural knowledge, political implications, and historical contexts stored in the texts of the speeches but no longer fully available to the present audience.

John F. Kennedy Institute