To the Editor:
Let us think about the Princeton that might have been had the partisans of expansion of the Battlefield Park prevailed almost two hundred years ago.
In 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette returned to America on the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution. There were giant celebrations everywhere the old warrior went, and a tremendous upwelling of pride in the battles which gave us our freedom. Most of Lafayette’s comrades in arms were gone or in fragile condition, but they, with he, were honored for their achievement.
Imagine if the good people of Princeton, swept up by these emotions, had raised a subscription to purchase the considerable open lands over which the battle had ranged, and had created a grand memorial park to honor those who had helped to make it possible for them, and us, to live in liberty. What we would now have would not be Princeton as we know it, but a Gettysburg, looking backwards to a great moment a quarter of a millennium ago, and thriving on tourist dollars.
What we would not have would be much of the Seminary and the residential neighborhoods of the westerly part of town, the Graduate College, McCarter, much of Princeton University’s undergraduate campus and parts of the Central Business District.
We would have no Institute expansion problem, because we’d have no Institute. And we wouldn’t have a dinky/Arts District problem, because we’d have no campus there and no dinky. (No railroad tracks over sacred ground!)
The emotional demand for greater and greater honoring of the dead and their legacy can of course divert resources from the living and the future of a community. Princeton could be Gettysburg now had things played out differently. Is that what we would wish?
We do the patriots of 1777 an injustice to believe that that is what they fought for. They fought for a better future for their families and their people. Let us honor them by continuing to build a community which is a light to the world, with great and thriving institutions such as the University, the Seminary and the Institute.