The above quote was written by Theodore Parker, a minister and fiery abolitionist from Lexington. He was also, as noted, the grandson of John Parker, local wheelwright and the captain of the Lexington training band, who stood up on Lexington Common in 1775.
After the events of last Wednesday, January 6, the Historical Society carefully considered its response. We went dark on our social media sites and communications channels until Friday 1/8 to give us time to process the historic events and properly craft a response. We recalled that there is a poignant connection between Parker's words and those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. We knew that these words have given Americans hope before and will do so again.
The full quote, from Reverend Parker's 1853 sermon, Of Justice and the Conscience is "Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Dr. King summoned fellow minister Parker's words in Selma, Alabama in 1965 as he declared that justice and equality were long in coming for many, but that he believed they would come. He said, in response to the question of how long will it take to see social justice, "How long? Not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long."
Lincoln's Gettysburg address also borrowed from Parker's writings. The sentence "Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people" from Parker's sermon The Effects of Slavery on the American People inspired Lincoln's "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
It's also particularly relevant that President-Elect Joseph Biden referenced Parker's moral arc quote in his November 2020 acceptance speech. Both he and Senator Tammy Duckworth relied on the quote to calm nerves and tempers on the evening of January 6 and the morning of January 7.
After the appropriate quote from Parker was selected, staff and Board members prepared a written statement (reproduced here below). These are historic times - as our statement says, "We must stand for our Constitution, our laws, and our principles. Thank you for standing with us."
Full statement in response to the events of January 6, 2021
246 years ago this April, the fight for American independence began on Lexington Common. Though it would be a long and brutal war, the hard-won prize was a young republic that, ideally, would allow its citizens to have a voice.
That republic has not been perfect - it has been nearly broken apart by civil war; it has been bruised by violence; and not all citizens have had access to the same rights. Amidst these challenges, though, the democratic ideals for which it stands have remained. America has done its best to ensure that its elections are free and fair and that “government by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Lexington Historical Society exists to teach the public about the fight for this American republic and its democratic ideals as represented by our Capitol building. Its tragic desecration on January 6 showed us that we have more work to do, and that our mission has never been more crucial.
We must continue to study the past to learn about our present and shape a better future. We must stand for our Constitution, our laws, and our principles. Thank you for standing with us.
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.