It’s really great to see all of you. Thank you for coming to Annapolis. That was an impressive list of people from all over the country. Albert and Shirley Small, Steve and Max Phillips – I didn’t see Steve here, did I? Tell him I said hi.
I was in an airplane about a month ago, I forget where I was. I was in an airport and I looked up and there was a picture of Brice and Shirley Phillips there on the wall. I think it was in Louisville or someplace I can’t remember. Tom and Kitty Stoner, are there other Maryland people? Marylanders? Well, my staff did right by golly, putting all the Maryland people on there for acknowledgement.
It’s a beautiful day here. Look, Albert and I have come to know each other through our mutual love of history. Albert has probably one of the most impressive collections – certainly, the most impressive collection I have ever seen outside of Washington, DC at his office, where it is hermetically sealed and the temperature is absolutely perfect in his office there. He has really done a tremendous service in some of the things, Albert, that you have preserved and also the contributions you have made to extending the knowledge of history to our students.
In Maryland, we study Maryland history here in fourth grade so, every fourth grade class – they come through like clockwork, and I always pretend, when I see them on the street that I’m finding out for the first time: “Oh, you are in fourth grade? Are you studying Maryland history right now?” They say, “Yeah, how’d you know?”
Now, they all studying Maryland history in fourth grade. We are a state with a very, very proud history. A state that has always looked upon herself as central to this great, on-going story of the United States of America and so I just wanted to share with you very, very briefly in my welcoming of you to Annapolis, this great chocolate box of a town. For how many of you is this your first visit to Annapolis? A few of you? It is great. It is a very walkable city. And as you walk around this city, I wanted to share some fun facts.
In fact, Albert might not even know this. Initially, our capital as a State was actually down in St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland. And, this State was founded as a Catholic colony, and that’s what the State Capital was. Around about the mid-1600s, the capital was moved here to Annapolis. And, at the time, the Royal Governor, in laying out this new city – and Dr. Papenfuse, our state archivist, is here, so if I misstate any of this, please don’t correct me in front of these people, just do it afterwards. [Laughter]
But, the story is: And, I learned this from a Naval Academy class in architecture that was paused outside of the iron gates where they keep me as the crowned jewel of the state penitentiary system. [Laughter] But, the original plans for the city were based on plans that had been drawn up for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. In that era, the celestial bodies were considered something very important and to be imitated and copied in architecture.
So, the big circle in the center, where the State House is – well, that represented the sun, and the State House is in that big circle of the sun. Rotating around the sun is the established Church – the Episcopal Church, which is that next circle over. Down by the docks, yet another planet – mainly commerce that rotated around the state. It is a unique English colonial city in this respect because it has those circles which you typically think of being more French-influenced, but, it was because of those plans. Now, London itself went back to the simple grids and they didn’t use those plans for London. But they used them here which give this city a real charm and a real character – the angle of the streets and the layout of the circles and of the buildings.
As you walk around State Circle, you are walking in places where some great Americans have also walked. Within a stone’s throw, you can go visit the Paca House . Four of the – Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence – their homes were all right around this area, including the only Catholic signer of the Declaration – Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was born just down there where you see the big spire of St. Mary’s.
I also understand that when Thomas Jefferson came here as a delegate from Virginia to the various gatherings of the National Assembly, that he would actually wake up in the morning and walk laps around that State House Circle to greet the new dawn of the day.
Up on that balcony that you see – well, actually you can’t see it, it’s draped in burlap in honor of the not-quite-as-young-as-they-used-to-be President’s Association. It’s actually being painted, it’s not in honor of you. [Laughter] But, also, there on the balcony, Madison and Jefferson once debriefed each other for about three hours watching the sun set on this vast expanse of green to the west. Of course, George Washington resigned this commission, gave power over the Army of the Republic back to the people of the Republic and their representatives.
Another fun fact for you, and I tell you these things so you can win the bar bets here at the Loews Hotel at night. [Laughter] Maryland has a nickname. We are known as the “Old Line State,” and some people think that comes from the Mason Dixon Line. But, it actually comes from a true and pivotal moment in the Revolutionary War when Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island was “this close” to being totally annihilated by the British Army and British Navy.
And, the Maryland 400, some of the leading sons from some of the leading families of Maryland who had gone to join up with Washington and the new Continental Army. Rather than retreating in the face of the British attack, they instead fixed bayonets – they were one of the few militias who actually had bayonets – and charged directly into the British. Well, the British actually had no idea what the hell was going on – they assumed that they had other people behind them. But there weren’t. The other States were falling back. And, three times that Maryland 400 charged there and bought Washington an additional half hour or twenty minutes in order to get his troops off of Long Island.
And, there is a plaque to this day in New York over the mass graves of the 256 of the Maryland 400 who fell that day. And, it says simply, “In Honor of the Maryland 400 who on this battlefield on August 27, 1776 saved the American Army.”
Now, Dr. Papenfuse and I have a debate over what flag they fought under. And I believe that they fought under a flag that had 13 stars and 13 stripes. The stars were arranged in a circle – except there was one star was in the center. And that star was us. [Laughter] That central State. That middle State. That State around which other States rallied in times of adversity.
And, that is, I think, one of the more enduring – for any of you who love our nation’s history – I think, one of the more enduring aspects of the character of the people of this middle and central State is that we do believe that we are in the center of this ongoing story of America.
Albert and I have being doing work together on the bicentennial of the birth of the Star Spangled Banner. And, that War of 1812, as we call it now, was called the “Second War of Independence” at the time. And, once again, it was a pivotal moment – a central moment in that war – just up the road here in the Battle of Baltimore.
Washington had been burned to the ground and we had no federal government whatsoever to back us up. And, they knew it was just a matter of time before the shock and awe force of its day descended upon Baltimore. And, the British general at the time said, after he sacked and burned Washington, he said, “I’m going to march on Baltimore, I’m going to dine there” – because even then we had good restaurants in Baltimore. [Laughter] “And, then, I’m going to burn Baltimore to the ground.”
Well, the people of Baltimore had something else in mind. There was a whole series of signals that were set up along the Chesapeake Bay to alert when they saw the sails coming up the Bay – to alert the town folks of Baltimore. A tremendous defense was organized in Baltimore, the most famous aspect of which was Fort McHenry – that fort that guarded the Port, which was built, by the way, primarily by the investment of private merchants who knew well enough that since the British had burned most of the other colonial ports during the Revolution, that were they to come back, they would likely come to Baltimore. So, they had built that fort there at Fort McHenry. The lesser well-known were the trench works that black and white people with their mayor had dug in what is current day Patterson Park. And, that was the landing back then. Really the Fort was kind of the right hook. And, the big earthworks were right there in Patterson Park.
A little known fact about that defense of Baltimore: 60% of the defenders of Baltimore were immigrants, who hadn’t even been born in the United States of America. And, one out of five of the defenders of Baltimore, though we look in retrospect and imagine it to have been a white powdered wig affair – one out of five were actually black citizens – half of them free, half of them slaves that defended their country at a time where there was no federal government – when nobody could even find the President or the Cabinet because they had scattered.
But Baltimore was quickly transformed from this grip of fear and terror into an amazing force of resilience and defiance. And people starting streaming in from the countryside as far away as western Pennsylvania and current-day West Virginia in order to take part in this defense of Baltimore. Among the signals, Joshua Barney, Commodore of the Chesapeake Flotilla had sent his, I believe, 16 year-old son and his position was at the top of that State House Dome where when he got the signal that the fleet was coming, he was to pass that on up the way.
Well, you know the rest of the story – we have all sung it at baseball games and football games. Baltimore held and Francis Scott Key, who had gone to negotiate a prisoner release, if you will, found himself held on those British ships during this bombardment that went on all night – for 22 hours before it finally stopped. He didn’t know whether the bombardment had stopped because of the capitulation of the Fort or what the reason was. So you can imagine him straining through that early-morning mist to see if there was a white flag on top of that Fort that he had watched through the night. And, instead of a white flag when the commander, General Armistead, saw that the British were weighing anchor and were giving up and were turning around.
By the way, that British general who wanted to dine in Baltimore, was taken out by sharpshooters as the land forces advanced. So, demoralized by the loss of their general and unable to force the capitulation of the Fort, when Armistead saw that they were weighing anchor and bombardment had stopped, he turned around to his fellows and said, “Put up the Banner.”
And, he had made this giant flag that had 15 stars and 15 stripes and that’s the lapel pin I always wear – 15 stars and 15 stripes. You can immediately know that it’s the banner because right underneath the blue field of stars, you see the red stripe. That was Armistead’s way, when the British were weighing anchor. He said, “Take down the small battle flag.” And, in fact, they had a smaller flag there. He said, “Put up the Banner.” And, they hoisted up this giant banner and the contemporary account at the time, the British admiral said that when they weighed anchor and looked around and they saw the commander of the Fort put up a “rather handsome emblem.”
And, that ‘rather handsome emblem’ then inspired Francis Scott Key as he saw it coming up and was so relieved that instead of a white flag, it was his country’s flag, it was the quickening of our soul, if you will, as a nation. And, out of that tremendous pain, a wonderful beauty was born of this country.
And people sing that song all over the nation, and with Albert’s help, maybe they’ll know that the story behind it is more than one of fireworks. It’s about people that came together and found strength in their diversity and were able to overcome odds that few of them thought they were capable of overcoming at the time. Thank God that they did have trust and carried the day.
Look, I know that you have other things to do tonight. It was just my job to give you a little bit of taste there. We hope you come back for the Bicentennial. The United States Navy has been terrific in all of this. I know you’ll be the Naval Academy tomorrow, right? And, they are going to be having tall ships coming in here for 2012, and they will be back here for 2014, which was when the Battle of Baltimore actually took place.
Is anybody here from New Orleans? Okay, I know that you all think that you won that war. [Laughter] We want you to know that we appreciate what you did even if it did come after the British signed peace terms and had fallen in Baltimore. But, you all have a great story, too. And we’ve always had a tremendous affinity for New Orleans and Baltimore.
So we hope that you all are going to come back. They are going to have tall ships and blue angels and all sorts of great stuff. I am trying to convince Albert for a small, small contribution that he can actually rebuild the Chesapeake Flotilla and we could have a whole team of Midshipmen come down and harass the British tall ships as they come up the Bay, and it’ll be just like old times. [Laughter]
So look, thank you all very, very much.
Tags: Maryland history