Maine, formerly part of Massachusetts, faced a complicated journey to become the 23rd state of the Union. At the time of Maine’s request for statehood, there were an equal number of free and slaveholding states. Pro-slavery United States congressmen saw the admission of another free state, Maine, as a threat to the balance between slaveholding and free states. The pro-slavery wing of Congress would only grant statehood to Maine if Missouri, a slaveholding territory, would be admitted to the Union as a slave state. MaineExternal became a state on March 15, 1820, following the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave-holding state and Maine as a free state.
Congressional representative John Holmes, a delegate to the Maine constitutional convention, explained his position on the Missouri Compromise in a letter to the people of Maine. Maine’s admission to the Union revealed the United States’ sectional conflict over slavery.
Maine is noted for its picturesque coastline and dense woodlands. Even today, ninety percent of Maine remains forested.
Explorer Samuel de Champlain reached the coast of Maine in 1604 and claimed it as part of the French province of Acadia. France and Britain disputed ownership until 1763, when the region was ceded to the British during negotiations ending the French and Indian War.
In the nineteenth century, jobs in the timber industry lured many French-speaking Canadians to Maine. Vital Martin, a Canadian who moved to Maine in 1898, found the woods of Penobscot County crowded in comparison to rural Canada. “Me, I don’t like to go out in the woods to hunt here,” Martin admitted in a 1938 American Life Histories interview. “It is too dangerous,” he continued, “You never can tell when someone will kill you for something else.” For the most part, the French speaking Martin preferred the civilized comforts of Old Town, Maine to the isolated country life he knew as a child in Canada:
I wouldn’t want to go back there,…This is a much better place…This job is steady the year around, an’ she’s not hard. I have a little garden there an’ I Keep the hen…The work is much easier now for the womans. She have the washer, the Frigidhaire [sic], an’ the electric light, an’ she have the water on the sink. Yes sir, the world has improved very much since I live in Canada.
“Personal History of Vital Martin.” Robert Grady, interviewer; Maine, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
Maine is the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi. Over the years, city dwellers have sought solitude in its forests and along its rocky coast. A fashionable resort since the early twentieth century, Kennebunkport remains a favorite vacation destination of former president and first lady George and Barbara Bush.
- The twenty-nine WPA Life Histories from Maine touch upon a broad array of subjects, including folklore, religion, industries, French Canadians, bilingualism, and Native Americans. Search the collection on Maine and one of these keywords to find material on Maine related topics.
- Search on the term Maine in Map Collections to access approximately forty-five maps pertinent to the state. See, for example, an 1875 bird’s-eye view map of Bangor, Maine.
- To locate additional pictures of the state, search on Maine in Panoramic Photographs, and Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs.
- Read Today in History features about two nineteenth-century sons of Maine—poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and martyred abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Or, see the Today in History feature on Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi.