Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Thank you all very, very much. It is a great honor and a privilege to be with all of you on this 200th anniversary as we commemorate the War of 1812 and, in particular—with a little bit of hometown pride—the courageous and pivotal role, decisive role, that the people of Baltimore played in its outcome.
To Ambassador Doer, to Ambassador Westmacott, to Secretary Ray Mabus, to Tina Orcutt, their superintendent, to Senator Ben Cardin and also Senator Barbara Mikulski, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Bob Schieffer. I thank all of you for your presence here today.
And it gives me pleasure to welcome –I understand Mrs. Hazel Manning, former First Lady of Trinidad, is with us somewhere today. Ms. Manning, I understand is a descendant of the Meriken community in Trinidad, which was settled by former slaves who left Maryland and the Chesapeake during the war.
And she recently participated in a collaborative project between the United States Embassy and the British and Canadian High Commissions, which documented the cultural heritage of the Meriken community.
And I also want to thank all of the members of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Chip Mason, who is with us, Senator Paul Sarbanes, also Mark Fetting with Legg Mason and all of our friends from Under Armour, Ballard Spahr, Gallagher Evelius and Jones, so many other people, including our sponsors, who’ve made this weekend such an outstanding kickoff.
On behalf of the people of Baltimore and the people of Maryland, we are honored as a City and a State to usher in this international bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. And very shortly, we will sign a declaration, appropriately, a declaration of peace, of our peoples coming together, as we have for the better part of our more than 200-year history together with our neighbors in Canada, our neighbors in Great Britain.
And I especially want to thank the commanders of nine other nations whose people sent their beautiful tall ships and crews to be a part of this commemoration and I would like to thank each of you.
We are kicking off what will be a two-year celebration. And I want to especially thank the United States Navy, Secretary Ray Mabus. We could not be more proud of our men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. And the demonstration you have made here, with your personal involvement and commitment, has really been outstanding.
There are many moments I will remember spending time at this fort. Dutch Ruppersberger, Congressman Ruppersberger, Congressman John Sarbanes, who are with us, I think we share a love for this place.
One of the memories I will always cherish is looking over those ramparts and looking at that Star-Spangled Banner and seeing the United States Navy Blue Angels roaring over these ramparts. What an outstanding moment.
And in that crowd I’d never seen, Superintendent, so many people here at the Fort. Moms and dads, black and white, grandparents, little kids, it was really outstanding.
I’d like to make just two points. So much has been said, and said so eloquently, by the Ambassadors and by our Secretary.
From a Baltimore perspective and a Maryland perspective, there are a couple of lessons that we clearly see having emerged from this experience, from this sacrifice, from this conflict.
The most important one of which is that freedom is not free. It was not the federal government that paid for this Fort. It was the townspeople, the merchants, the business community of Baltimore that paid for our defense.
It was also a time that made us realize that we could not be a free nation, that freedom is not free, that the United States Navy is not some luxury that we can only afford when our coffers and pockets are completely filled. It is something essential for the liberty and the freedom of our country.
And, to paraphrase Robert Frost, I suppose, clear borders make good neighbors. As our Canadian neighbors also realized in that war, that freedom is not free.
The second point I wanted to make is this—and it is the very e pluribus unum nature of this defense. From many people, different people, came this defense. The defenders of Baltimore, Secretary Mabus, were, at least 50 percent of us were immigrants, or the sons and daughters of immigrants. In fact, 60 percent of the army garrison of 100 army soldiers stationed inside this fort were immigrants.
One out of five of the defenders of Baltimore, including some of the uniformed army soldiers inside that Fort, were African American citizens of a still as yet very imperfect country, who nonetheless saw the sort of great republic that their children and grandchildren might one day inherit and become a part of.
There were people like Will Williams, uniformed African American soldier inside that Fort, who died as a result of injuries sustained in the conflict. Across at Lazaretto point, you had the able Lieutenant Charles Ball of Joshua Barney’s men. And that very flag itself, sewn together by Mary Pickersgill and her daughters, also sewing that flag with them was a thirteen-year-old black indentured servant named Grace Wisher.
This was very much an integrated defense. A Baltimore defense. From many different people came one great nation.
And the common thread that held those stars and stripes together, sewn together by black and white hands, defended by black and white lives, was the thread of human dignity. The dignity of home. The dignity of place. The dignity of neighbors helping and defending neighbors. The dignity of every individual.
This is our story. This is a story worthy of a great people. And this is the story that we will tell together and sing together in the years ahead. Thank you very, very much.