We come here on this occasion to honor the past, and in that honor render more secure the present. It was by such men as settled Westfield, and two hundred and fifty years ago established by law a chartered and ordered government, that the foundations of Massachusetts were laid. And it was on the foundations of Massachusetts that there began that training of the people for the great days that were to come, when they were prepared to endorse and support the principles set out in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Here were planted the same seeds of righteousness victorious which later flourished with such abundance at Saratoga, at Gettysburg, and at the second battle of the Marne. Stupendous results, the product of a people working with an everlasting purpose.
While celebrating the history of Westfield, this day has been set apart to the memory of one of her most illustrious sons, General William Shepard. To others are assigned the history of your town and the biography of your soldier. Into those particulars I shall not enter. But the principles of government and of citizenship which they so well represent, and nobly illustrate, will never be untimely or unworthy of reiteration.
The political history of Westfield has seen the success of a great forward movement, to which it contributed its part, in establishing the principle, that the individual in his rights is supreme, and that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is the establishment of liberty, under an ordered form of government, in this ancient town, by the people themselves, that to-day draws us here in admiration of her achievements. When we turn to the life of her patriot son we see that he no less grandly illustrated the principle, that to such government, so established, the people owe an allegiance which has the binding power of the most solemn obligation.
There is such a disposition in these days to deny that our Government was formed by, or is now in control of, the people, that a glance at the history of the days of General Shepard is peculiarly pertinent and instructive.
The Constitution of Massachusetts, with its noble Declaration of Rights, was adopted in 1780. Under it we still live with scarce any changes that affect the rights of the people. The end of the Revolutionary War was 1783. Shays’s Rebellion was in 1787. The American Constitution was ratified and adopted in 1788. These dates tell us what the form of government was in this period.