Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

On September 14, 1786, the Annapolis Convention came to a close.

Well, sort of.

The reality is that it never really got started.  Only five of the states were represented by just a dozen delegates.  And that wasn’t nearly enough representation to really get any business done.  But that’s not to say nothing was accomplished at this non-Convention.

First off, the small number of people kept the meeting short…the Convention lasted just three days.  Second, sparse attendence allowed for a greater comraderie and intimacy among those present, which meant the discussions freely ranged far beyond just those listed on the itinerary (interstate commerce and trade problems) to more fundamental issues, like the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

In fact, the focus came to be on the Articles themselves, and this was probably the most important result of the gathering.  Chernow writes, “The Annapolis attendees soon agreed that the commercial disputes among the states were symptomatic of underlying flaws in the political framework, and they arrived at a breathtaking conclusion:  they would urge the states to send delegates to a convention in Philadelphia the following May to amend the Articles of Confederation.”

It fell to Alexander Hamilton (shown on the left) to write the appeal urging states to attend, but it was so strongly worded that Edmund Randolph asked him to tone it down.  Hamilton bristled at the request, but James Madison (shown on the right) took him aside and urged him to give ground, warning him that such stout language would alienate Virginia (whose support would be essential).  Hamilton took the advice and softened the letter’s tone.

As it turns out, the legislature in Hamilton’s home state of New York was absolutely opposed to the recommendations of the Annapolis address, thanks in large part to Governor George Clinton’s strong stance against it.  In Madison’s (and Edmund Randolph’s) state of Virginia, however, the letter was welcomed with enthusiasm and, early on, George Washington was selected to lead the delegation that eventually attended the Constitutional Convention.

The other good thing…well, great thing…that came from Annapolis was the renewing of the friendship between Hamilton and Madison.  They probably hadn’t seen each other since their congressional days, and this time together put them on the same page concerning the need for a change in the governmental structure.  And while they would eventually become intense rivals, that was several years down the road.  In the meantime, there would be Philadelphia (where both play crucial roles), and together they would pen nearly all of the Federalist Papers, quite possibly the finest collection of essays that has ever defended a national charter.

The Annapolis Convention may have been brief, and it may have been sparsely attended, but its effects are (thankfully) still with us more than two centuries later.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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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

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Fort McHenry was still standing when the sun peeked over Baltimore’s horizon on September 14, 1814.  And that was something of a surprise in light of the relatively large array of firepower that was stacked against it the night before.  As you recall, British ships of the line had set up camp just beyond a line of merchant ships that had been sunk by the Americans as a water defense in Baltimore’s harbor.  And throughout the night, they had lofted cannon balls and rockets at the fort.

But whether it was the distance, or the not-so-nice evening weather, or that British gunners were terrible at hitting static targets (or some combination of all three), Fort McHenry survived the night not only intact, but largely undamaged.  Arthur Brooke, the newly-appointed leader of the British assault team situated to the east of Baltimore (following the death of General Ross), saw McHenry in a “non-rubblized” state and realized that its capture would be impossible.  He and his men withdrew from the city and made their way back to Cochrane’s ships.

The Battle of Baltimore is most famous for Francis Scott Key and The Star-Spangled Banner, which he penned on the morning of September 14th.  But a couple of things should be noted.  First, Key’s composition was called The Defence of Fort McHenry, and the lyrics of our national anthem comprise just the first part (I don’t know the exact literary term) of the larger piece.

Second, Key was sitting in a boat to write our national anthem (in fact, The Star-Spangled Banner didn’t become our official anthem until President Hoover made it so in 1931).  Though a budding poet, he was first and foremost a lawyer, and his job was to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes (which he succeeded in doing).  Forced by the British to wait out the attacks before returning to the city, his boatside view of the night’s spectacle gave inspiration to the prose he produced.

Finally, and most important of all, the British lost the Battle of Baltimore, and a major port was saved.  Admiral Cochrane and his men would turn up again later in the year…in New Orleans.  And their struggles there with General Jackson would see the end of fighting with the British.  The Battle of Baltimore was, for the Americans, a resounding victory in the face of recent defeats, and a victory that accomplished much in the way of ending the War of 1812.

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As summer turned to autumn in 1814, things weren’t looking too good for the United States in its war with Britain.  Having begun more than two years earlier, the early flush of exchanging musket and cannon fire war with the former homeland had given way to the realization that the British were a very tough foe.

By mid-September of 1814, the nation’s capital lay in smoldering ruins, its brand-new buildings the victim of British torches.  President James Madison was wandering around Maryland and Virginia homeless, the victim of British pursuit.  And the important ports of Georgetown and Alexandria were either threatened with surrender or had already done so, the victim of British naval power.

And now it was Baltimore’s turn.  The British came up with a two-pronged attack on Fort McHenry, which protected Baltimore’s harbor.  General Robert Ross and 5,000 of his men were landed and would head towards the target from the southeast.  Admiral Alexander Cochranes’s 20 ships would pour cannon, rocket, and mortar fire into the Fort from the harbor itself.  It was assumed that, based on previous outcomes, the Fort’s occupants would panic under the constant shelling and simply abandon it.

But Ross will killed in the Battle of North Point, fought just to the east of the city on September 12th against General Sam Smith’s 12,000 American soldiers.  Ross’ attacking men halted, waiting for the British Navy to simply beat the enemy into submission.  The fight against Fort McHenry began in earnest on September 13, 1814, and for the next 24 hours the British pounded it.  On the American side, Major George Armistead and 1,000 troops were holed up in the Fort enduring the onslaught and manning the 20 cannon there.

As night fell, Admiral Cochrane off-loaded another group of soldiers from his ships.  Their orders were land west of Fort McHenry.  Cochrane’s hope was that this group would draw Smith’s men off from the east and allow that force, now under Arthur Brooke’s command, to move in.  The idea failed badly as the boats were spotted by the men behind the American cannon, and they subjected the diversionary assault to a withering fire.

But still the British cannon raged.  During the night, more than 1,500 cannon balls left the ships in anger.  The explosions gave quite a spectacle to those watching the action from their homes (if they were brave), the harbor (if they were very brave), or from the ships themselves.  One such man was a lawyer (and budding poet) named Francis Scott Key.  Key, along with two other men, had been negotiating the release of a prisoner when the battle began.  They returned to their boat, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore, and so they watched the action from the harbor.

The next morning would reveal the result of the night’s bombardment…

Recommended Reading:  James Madison

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