Presidential moments in Maryland

UP FRONT

February 14, 2002|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

GEORGE Washington not only slept in Maryland, he wined, dined, danced and bet on the races here - and, of course, resigned his commission as commanding general of the Continental Army at the State House in Annapolis.

Abraham Lincoln slipped through Baltimore incognito to avoid a suspected assassination plot en route to his first inauguration in 1861 - dressed as a woman, his enemies say.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt plotted World War II strategy with Winston Churchill at Shangri-La, the Catoctin Mountain retreat now called Camp David, and went fishing with the British prime minister in the camp's Hunting Creek.

Maryland is a grand old state in which to celebrate presidents on Presidents Day. The Free State abounds with presidential lore and legend, trivia and ephemera, mythology and solid historical fact.

Presidents can hardly avoid Maryland, even if they want to. They land in Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County. They still camp out at Camp David (in Frederick County), and occasionally fashion an international accord there. They throw out the first ball at Camden Yards, as they did earlier at Memorial Stadium. They go duck hunting on the Eastern Shore and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. They sit in tiny chairs for photo ops in Maryland elementary schools. The District of Columbia itself was carved partially out of Maryland.

In the heyday of the railroads, you had to pass through Maryland if you came from the north or west.

Abe's Address

Lincoln perhaps wrote his Gettysburg Address rolling through the Maryland countryside toward the Civil War battleground on a Northern Central Railroad train. Hikers and bikers and the occasional horseback rider now ply the same route on the Northern Central Railroad Trail.

Lincoln was nominated for his second term in Baltimore at the National Union (Republican) Party Convention, which he didn't bother attending. After his assassination, his body lay in state here at the Merchant's Exchange on Gay Street, where the Custom House is now, while 10,000 mourners filed past.

The funeral train then proceeded toward Harrisburg, Pa., once again on the Northern Central line, and on across a sorrowing nation.

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president (1829-1837), was the first chief executive to ride a train while in office - from Baltimore to Ellicott City in 1833.

Jackson was also nominated for president in Baltimore in 1832, the first year party nominating conventions were held in the United States. The next five Democratic national conventions were also held in Baltimore, nominating three men who became president, Martin Van Buren, James Polk and Franklin Pierce.

The last time the Democrats met in Baltimore, they nominated Woodrow Wilson after a grueling 46-ballot battle in 1912 at the 5th Regiment Armory.

George Washington came often to Annapolis because he liked horse races and theater and dancing. Then one of America's more sophisticated cities, Annapolis had the finest race course in the country, the first brick theater and splendid hosts.

Goodbye, George

At the reception on the night before Washington resigned his commission, the celebrants played cards, danced and consumed 98 bottles of wine and 2 1/2 gallons of spirits, not to mention grog and punch.

Annapolis, of course, served as the nation's capital from November 1783 to June 1784, when the Continental Congress met there. That's why Washington retired from his command of the Continental Army there.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe were active delegates from Virginia. Jefferson even helped arrange the ceremonies for Washington's resignation.

Maryland, in fact, has a faint claim to have provided the nation's first president. John Hanson, a Charles County planter whose farm, Mulberry Grove, was just across the Potomac from Washington's Mount Vernon estate, was unanimously elected first president of the Continental Congress in 1781, when the new nation was governed by the Articles of Confederation. Lots of people, mostly Marylanders, claim that makes him the first president.

Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States, which you can see on every dollar bill, and created Thanksgiving Day, which is still celebrated, as he proclaimed, on the fourth Thursday of every November.

The nation was again briefly governed from Maryland when James Madison fled the British attack on Washington in 1814. Madison took refuge in Brookeville, now a village of vintage homes just north of Olney in Montgomery County.

For two days in August 1814, the president ran the government from a stately brick house that still stands. The British, meanwhile, torched the White House after sitting down and eating the dinner left warm in the state dining room.

A couple of days earlier, James Monroe, then Madison's secretary of state, had tried to rally American militiamen at the Battle of Bladensburg, on the banks of the Anacostia River in Prince George's County.

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