If Annapolis, Maryland was a person and not a city, I’m guessing it would feel kind of left out and ignored. And that’s not to say it’s not important…a thousand times no. It’s just that when you’re located in a relatively small state, the rest of the country probably sees only Baltimore, your much bigger brother. And a goodly number of people incorrectly think that Baltimore is Maryland’s capital. Carson City shares a similar fate out west in Nevada, completely blinded by the lights and casinos of Las Vegas. By the way, if you want a fun refresher on U.S. capitals, go to Sporcle’s website and take their U.S. Capitals quiz. Once you have it mastered, try one of their thousands of other quizzes on nearly every subject known to man (for dedicated fans of Bob Ross, try the “name-the-colors” quiz).
But there was a time when “smallness” and “out-of-the-wayness” was a benefit for Annapolis, and that was in 1786, when it served as a figurative pathway to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. America, just barely out of diapers, was struggling immensely with interstate commerce. Disputes had broken out over navigation of the Potomac River, and states were fighting over border and trade issues. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson (then a minister to Paris), James Madison (shown above, much later in life) described the current situation as “the present anarchy of our commerce”, using the word “anarchy” to put it in the most negative light possible.
The squabbles over the Potomac River had been addressed (and solved) by commissioners from Maryland and Virginia at Mount Vernon in 1785. The Virginia commissioners believed that a similar gathering might be able to address the problems of commerce, so they called for a convention “for the purpose of framing such regulations of trade as may be judged necessary to promote the general interest.”
Their desired location? George Mann’s City Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland. They chose George Mann’s place because of the wonderful celebration it laid out when George Washington had resigned his military commission a couple of years earlier. And they chose Annapolis because…it was small!! Hooray for smallness!! The ever-quotable Ron Chernow writes, “By choosing the relatively secluded town of Annapolis, Madison explained, the conference organizers had purposely bypassed the main commercial towns and congressional precincts to guard against any accusations that the commissioners were in the thrall of outside parties.”
Alexander Hamilton set out from New York on the 1st of September. His state had originally planned to send a half-dozen delegates, but in the end, just he and his friend Egbert Benson would participate. James Madison left Virginia in August, having spent much of the preceding time studying books (sent by Jefferson) about politics, history, and government structure. On the way, he looked at the countryside and, seeing beyond the beauty to the underlying troubles, wrote, “[N]o money comes into the public treasury, trade is on a wretched footing, and the states are running mad after paper money.”
And as was typical of Madison, he got there early, arriving in Annapolis on September 4, 1786 (a week early, as it turned out), ready to discuss, debate, and decide. Events would see a different outcome, and…well, I think we’ll discuss some of that when the proper day is here.
Recommended Reading: James Madison