In June Baltimore’s Sailabration kicked off the War of 1812 commemoration (see page 10). What a defining moment it was 200 years ago when our our tiny democracy was threatened by the world’s most powerful army and navy, hardened by 20 years of global warfare. Over a span of two years, 110 British warships would wreak havoc up and down the Chesapeake Bay.
Our forefathers showed future generations that the only nation then governed by free citizens could survive, and thrive, and become a beacon of hope for people around the world.
What more poignant symbol for our nation is there than the tattered 15-star battle flag Mary Pickersgill stitched together that the defenders of Fort McHenry flew defiantly in the face of 18 British warships and that Francis Scott Key saw in the morning light after 25 hours of deadly bombardment?
Who, I wondered as I watched ships sail past the fort, could be against funding restoration of the original Star Spangled Banner? Or saving George Washington’s battle tent, the papers of Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln’s Cottage, the Acoma Pueblo, or the bus in which Rosa Parks sat down for her rights?
Such symbols of our heritage matter immensely. And yet the program that provided that funding for those vital projects, Save America’s Treasures—the largest federal program supporting historic preservation—has been completely eliminated, along with the Preserve America program.
New generations are not born with knowledge of our heritage; they must learn it. And yet at a time when civic literacy seems at an all-time low, the Teaching American History grants—the largest federal program supporting history education—were completely eliminated. And funding for We the People program—which has touched some 30 million students and 90,000 teachers over 25 years—was also completely eliminated.
You would think it obvious that citizens should be encouraged to get out, visit, and learn from our historic sites. And yet, unbelievably, Congress has completely eliminated the National Heritage Areas and Scenic Byways program, whose mission was to promote travel to such places as Philadelphia, the Erie Canal, the Mississippi Delta, and the hallowed ground from Gettysburg to Monticello.
Never has there been a greater need for a national organization devoted to informing about these issues. As automatic members of the new American Heritage Society, you and 220,000 other subscribers can help advocate for reinstatement of important heritage programs. Financial contributions—large and small—will also help the Society launch digital projects benefiting teachers, students, and historical organizations in your communities. Please feel free to write to me at our Rockville, Maryland, address or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edwin S. Grosvenor, Editor-in-Chief