By Marie Parente/Daily News columnist
Milford Daily News
Posted Oct 21, 2009 @ 12:26 AM
During my second term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I received a call from then Speaker Thomas McGee to meet with him regarding legislative matters. He got to the point quickly. "There is a State House Library Board of Trustees comprised of members from various learning institutions and prestigious libraries.
Members include the secretary of state or his designee, governor or his designee, director of JFK Library, state librarian and Haverhill library director and other archivists. Two of the seats on that board have been assigned to the Speaker and the Senate President or their designees. I have noticed that you make extensive use of that library, so I am asking you to serve as my designee to that board."
As a fairly new legislator, I was stunned but appreciative. I accepted and served from 1982 to 2006 having been appointed and re-appointed by succeeding Speakers. Eventually I was elected library chair and served in that capacity from July 1991 to December 2006.
The board conducted regular meetings regarding state library budgets, acquisitions, personnel, and maintained the security of the second oldest library in the country. Our duties included the preservation of the commonwealth's one million book collection, special collection of documents, e.g. Mayflower Compact and the Bradford Manuscript.
The Bradford Manuscript is often described as the diary of the Mayflower's personnel and passengers and is stored in the State House vault whose exact site is shared with very few individuals. Once we allowed the Plymouth Historical Society to "borrow" it for their 350th anniversary. After six months of negotiations to insure its safety, we sent the document to Plymouth escorted by state troopers. It is now ensconced in the State Archives, Dorchester - under 24-hour guard.
Probably the shortest term served was by a library director who "purged the collection" by throwing out leather-bound books because "we have several copies of those books."
"What a waste," I thought. So when I spotted the leather-bound books in a State House hallway Dumpster, I climbed in and retrieved them. I donated several to local collectors and libraries. I confess, I kept one for myself. "The Acts and Resolves of 1779." Occasionally I would thumb through the book to experience the mind set of legislators in 1779. It was there I learned why the Legislature is often referred to as "The Great and General Court." There was no court system in 1779 and a wide variety of issues were brought before the Legislature for resolution.
Some years later, the recurring argument of gun control surfaced. A new legislator proposed additional controls on gun ownership.
The debate went on for hours. I remembered the old leather-bound "Dumpster" book . I rushed to my office, found the book and rushed back to the Chamber to join the debate.
The proponent of new gun ownership controls was in hot pursuit of his opponents. I joined the fray. "Mr. Speaker."
"For what purpose does the lady from Milford rise?"
"To debate, Mr. Speaker."
And there I was at the podium, "I object to the proposed changes to our gun laws," I said.
My opponent roared, "On what basis?"
"The second Constitutional amendment... the right to bear arms." I stated, firmly.
My opponent was relentless. "And where is it written, that a man has the right to a private weapon? Where is that written?"
"I thought you would never ask." I responded and read from the book's withered pages:
"Whereas by a Resolve of the General Court of this State, past the 2nd of April 1778, for raising 1300 men for North River, it was among other Things resolved that every person who supply himself with a good firelock and bayonet, cartouche-box, haversack and blanket ... shall receive, agreeable to a resolve by the Congress, ... two dollars for the use of his firelock, bayonet and cartouche and two dollars for the use of his blanket and four dollars in like proportion for either of them."
According to the Acts and Resolves of 1779, "after producing proper vouchers they were so provided. It is my considered belief the farmers earned tacit approval of private gun ownership." In conclusion, I said, "Had not the farmers brought their private weapons to the Revolutionary War we might not be standing here today."
I called for a roll call vote. The proposal to restrict ownership of private weapons went down in flames.
Speaker McGee leaned over the rostrum, and said, "where did you find that one?"
I smiled and said, "The Dumpster, sir."
I still have the book. It is a trove of common sense legislation that became the bedrock of freedom. The right to bear arms was incorporated into the Bill of Rights and enacted circa 1791.
Since we had no army, per se, in 1775, the farmer with his firelock, and his blanket helped us win our freedom! Tacit approval of private gun ownership, I say!
Marie J. Parente of Milford is a former state representative and town official.