Maryland Life contributing writer Jason Tinney sat down with Governor Martin O’Malley to discuss the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the state’s significant role in the conflict, and the modern-day lessons learned. What follows is an unabridged transcript of their conversation.
Jason Tinney (J.T.): As a state, and as a nation, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Why is it important that we commemorate this anniversary?
Governor Martin O’Malley (G.O.): It is important that we commemorate this anniversary because it is one of two decisive battles that Maryland played an indispensable role in, that allowed our country to continue to move forward, that allowed this great republic to continue to exist and grow and be the force for freedom and for good that we have been in this world. Were it not for the Defense of Baltimore, there would probably not be a United States of America. (Asterisk: the other one being the charge of the Maryland 400 in the Battle of Long Island.)
So, there are a lot of lessons that come out of this war. Certainly, one of the practical ones is the importance of actually providing for the common defense. It was something we thought we had the luxury not to do any longer after winning the Revolution. As a practical matter, one of the big lessons here was the importance of providing for the common defense and maintaining a navy and an army to defend the nation.
The other important lesson that came out of this was really sort of a national awareness, that we are one, that we are one nation, and notwithstanding our rugged individualism and notwithstanding the important traditions and prerogatives of the individual states, that we’re stronger together.
There’s a third lesson, only now being really understood, and that is the tremendous diversity that came together in the Defense of Baltimore. Sixty percent of the defenders were immigrants who had not even been born in this country. And one out of five of the defenders of Baltimore were black citizens. Some free, many slaves. But included among the free were some enlisted black soldiers in uniform inside that fort, and so that story is one that, especially in this time of disconnection and fear of the other, and people that are ‘not like us’—it’s important to remember that…‘E pluribus Unum,’ ‘from many comes one.’ And it’s not only applicable to the individual states coming together, it’s really more a statement about the diversity of cultures from all over the planet that want to live in this land of the free and the home of the brave.
The other thing I wanted to share with you that I think is important. Now, this is a tremendous re-branding opportunity for Baltimore. I mean, we went on a very tragic and sad detour when we allowed ourselves to become the most addicted and violent city in America, but our truer character is seen in the longer history of Baltimore, and there has always been an echo from that Defense of Baltimore, where, notwithstanding the fact that we had no federal government to back us up, notwithstanding the overwhelming odds that were against us, we rose to the occasion. We came together as one people and we carried the day against what would have been seen as sort of a shock and awe attack [at that time]. So, there is, I think, a tremendous long-term value after the years of television series and movies that portray, you know, our days of failure. I think there is great opportunity here for all of us to tell the story to the nation about our truer selves and to come back to our truer selves.