Oct. 14, 2011
The rest of American is watching this fall as thousands of demonstrators flood into Manhattan, blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, and calling on their brethren to Occupy Wall Street. As columnist George Will wryly notes: these OWS folks think Washington,D.C.is (a) hopelessly corrupt and (b) ought to be given a lot more power over our lives. Some fun.
A number of conservative activists charged into the crowd of aging hippies with signs that said Unions Destroy Jobs and Capitalism is Great. Hopefully, they didnt get stoned. And hopefully, too, they didnt inhale.
In my placid hometown, nobody is talking about making this an American Fall. Nor are they yet planning to occupy anything except the usual orange formica booths at Chick n Ruths Delly. There, on Main Street just down from the historic Maryland State House, you can take part every morning in the Pledge of Allegiance (8:30weekdays,9:30Saturdays). There, too, along with your ketchup and eggs, you might brush elbows with a former governor. Yes, governors and state legislative bigwigs regularly hold court at Chick n Ruths.
So, whats the big controversy in Annapolis? Its White or Yellow. The fight is on over whether our beautiful Old State House dome should be painted white or yellow.
The State Archivist has been called in to help referee the fight. In a front-page story in the local paper, affectionately called the Crabwrapper, Dr. Edwin C. Papenfuse
is shown way up in the domes scaffolding. He stands where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stood on the balcony. There, they pondered the future of the country in 1790. Now, thats mild language. There, in truth, they plotted how to counter Alexander Hamiltons first attempt to occupy Wall Street. Only Hamilton wanted to help the banks, and bind them to the new federal government, not abolish them.
The debates were hot and heavy then. The 1790s were an era of political passions. The Whiskey Rebellion threatened to put an early end to our experiment in self government. That it, until President Washington showed up at the head of 13,000 troops. He put down that revolt of those unhappyPennsylvaniafarmerswith overwhelming force. Whenever the federal government appears in arms,Hamilton advised George Washington, it should appear like a Hercules.
Ed Papenfuse thinks the Old State House dome ought to be re-painted white, the color it has been for the past 180 years. Gov. Martin OMalley seems to agree. That would seem to settle the matter.
Ah, but Annapolis architect Fred Fishback counters these arguments. He provides some convincing points that the Old State House dome was originally painted a golden hue. And, after all,Marylands state colors are black and yellow. I kind of like this approach, too. Marylanders might be inspired to sing: Black and yellow/red and white/They are precious in his sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.
What was the color of the Old State House dome when Congress met there in 1783-84? It seems were not sure. Thats when Gen.Washington came to Annapolis to resign his commissiontwo days before Christmas, 1783. He gave the power back to the Congress that had first given it to him.
Well, we do know that the dome was white when President Lincoln strode through Annapolis in early 1865. I had the pleasure of joining hundreds of Annapolitans as we re-traced the route the long-legged president took as he strode between the train depot and the boat dock at theNavalAcademy. That wasAnnapolis celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial. He was headed for a peace conference to end the Civil War. Too bad the Great Emancipator couldnt stop in, for the Maryland Legislature was at that moment debating Lincoln's greatest measurethe Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the abolition of slavery. (It passed.)
All this history makes Annapolis a great home town. But it reminds us, too, that the states should not be mere administrative units of the federal government, not branch offices ofWashington, D.C. The states can and should play a vital role in our federal system. They should, for example, resume their role in setting education policy. Thirty years of federal intrusion in this area have achieved nothing and wasted billions.
The AnnapolisCapital reports theres still some doubt whether the governor will sign off on a white dome. Happily, this is a decision were still allowed to make in our own state. Unless we change the current way of doing business in our country, more and more of the decisions of government will be made in Washington, D.C. That great city is only 32 miles from Annapolis, but Id still like to see us keep our distance. White or yellow? I dont have a strong preference. But I want Maryland to make the decision.