The legacy of the Battle of Baltimore [Commentary]

Maryland's governor reflects on what the defense of the city against the British said about our national character then — and today

September 11, 2014|By Martin O'Malley

Two-hundred years ago, a Maryland-born lawyer watched as British forces bombarded Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore. At dawn, against all odds, the massive star-spangled banner flew over the fort, signaling America's triumphant defense of Baltimore. As the flag waved, Francis Scott Key penned the words that would become our National Anthem.

This week, as we celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the defense of Fort McHenry and our National Anthem, we celebrate more than Maryland's special sacrifice in the defense of American independence that September dawn.

This week, in celebration, we reaffirm the virtue of our inter-dependence.

Two-hundred years ago, as Maryland encountered the shock and awe of its time — an unforgiving invader of unrivaled military power — it was our shared belief in one another, more than force or firepower, that repelled the enemy.

This week, we remember the black and white hands that worked together as Mary Pickersgill and her indentured servant, Grace Wisher, sewed the stars and stripes of the banner. We remember people of all ages, black and white, with no distinction of class or wealth, digging trenches together to fortify their city against invasion.

Baltimore rose to the challenge with a deeply held belief — the belief that we are all in this together, and together there is no challenge too great for us to overcome. And when the British army burned our White House and Capitol to the ground, their fires only forged our stronger resolve.

It's a resolve that resonates deeply with us today.

Ours is the first generation since the War of 1812 to see Americans killed in an assault on our nation's capital; we, too, have witnessed our government buildings in Washington under attack and burning. And this generation — black, white, young, old, immigrant and native, tied together by the common thread of our shared human dignity — has stood in solidarity under the colors of the Star Spangled Banner.

Our shared story reminds us that our lasting freedom depends on the belief we have in one another.

So as we celebrate our National Anthem, and as we reignite in our imagination the living stories of American virtue and courage under the red fire of rockets and the bursting of bombs, we also remember that there will always be more that unites us than divides us.

This is why we remember. This is why we celebrate. We are all in this together, and each of us is needed — there is no such thing as a spare American.

This week, Maryland is hosting a number of events commemorating the state's role in the war of 1812 and the bicentennial anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. For more information about these events, please visit http://www.starspangled200.com.

Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is Maryland governor. His email is governor@maryland.gov.


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