…our fellow Citizens in Arms are ready to do their duty
and believe with me that the Liberties of America
can never be lost while every citizen is a Soldier
and every Soldier the Sentinel of his own…”
Governor Robert Wright to the Honorable General Assembly, November 7, 1807.
American Revolution, 1776-1783: Prelude to 1812. – Following the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia in October 1782, the last major campaign of the American Revolution, that General George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental army within Maryland’s Old State House Senate Chamber on December 19, 1783. Following the ceremony, private citizen-farmer from Virginia, George Washington, left the State House, mounted his horse and left for Mount Vernon for Christmas Dinner. On January 14, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified here, officially ending the Revolutionary War. Twenty-eight years later in a declaration of war on June 18, 1812, America once more was at war with England.
On May 7, 1784, the chamber was the scene of Thomas Jefferson’s appointment as the first United States minister plenipotentiary to foreign governments. In 1786, what became known later as the Annapolis Convention was convened, a gathering of the delegates from the thirteen states of the Union to consider better regulation measures of commerce; but only the mid-Atlantic states came. Without the full support of all the states a resolution was called to meet in Philadelphia the next year. It would be in Carpenters Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed that the assembly of states drafted and approved the Constitution of the United States in 1788.
Prologue to War – The news reached the capitol within the day. The Annapolis Gazette, July 2, 1807 informed its readers that HM frigate Leopard had fired a warning shot, then boarded in force the U.S. frigate Chesapeake. “The Chesapeake is lying in Hampton Roads [Virginia] without any colors! And strange to tell, the Leopard is triumphantly riding at anchor within our waters near the [Virginia] capes.” The Republican Star reported that “We do not, indeed, that this savage outrage has a precedent in naval annals.” For the residents of Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore it was personal. One of the three American crew taken off and impressed into service was John Stachen, a native Marylander who had enlisted on board the Chesapeake two years earlier. This infringement on an American frigate brought the impeding crisis of America’s sovereign neutrality into a ready state of war. Five years later on June 18, 1812 the United States of American declared war on Great Britain.
A Maryland Declaration of War – The response to war was not unexpected. During the autumn of 1811 the Maryland State Senate introduced six resolutions that were unanimously adopted, with the house of Delegates following three weeks later with the resolutions adopted by a vote of 34 to 23 in support of President James Madison in the impeding crisis.
“That in the opinion of this legislature, the measures of the administration with respect to Great Britain have been honorable, impartial and just; that in their negotiations they have evinced every disposition to terminate our differences on terms not in compatible with national honor, and that they deserve the confidence and support of the nation…”
On November 23, 1812, Levin Winder was elected Governor of Maryland. A federalist, Winder opposed the war. The House delegates voted for him, but the majority of the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. For the remainder of the war, without federal support, Winder depended, as the U.S. Secretary of War responded, to depend on the resources of the state.
Sources: The Governors of Maryland, 1777-1970, by Frank F. White, Jr. (Annapolis: Hall of Records Commission, 1970)