At Fort McHenry, War of 1812 enemies sign 'declaration of peace'

By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | The Baltimore Sun | Published: June 19, 2012

BALTIMORE — On the 200th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war on Britain and its colonies, representatives of the United States, Britain and Canada gathered at Fort McHenry to sign a "declaration of peace."

"Much … has changed in 200 years," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a crowd of politicians, diplomats and military leaders Monday. "Today, we stand together as inseparable friends, as we have for decades. We work together. We advance together. We fight together."

The War of 1812 was the last conflict among the United States, Britain and Canada. The three nations were allies in both world wars, the Korean War and the Gulf War, and now fight side by side in Afghanistan.

"Our leaders today at the G20 meeting are discussing how we can keep our world safe with the conflict in Syria," said Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States. "They're looking at what the positive results were in working together in Libya. And we are also together in dealing with the potential threat of nuclear capacity in the country of Iran."

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to the United States, spoke of the "many positive things" that came out of the War of 1812.

He said these included not simply "The Star-Spangled Banner" — which he described as having been written "in response to some minor skirmish … just sort of off the coast here" — but "this extraordinary sense of union" that emerged within the young United States.

"And from that, after the trials and the tribulations and the awfulness of the Civil War later on, emerged this extraordinary union of the United States of America, which became the strongest, the most prosperous, the most important democracy the world has ever known."

Still, Westmacott said, "we Brits find it a little bit difficult to understand why you declared war on us and not on Napoleon."

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski also spoke during the ceremony, held at the fort where U.S. forces successfully defended Baltimore from a British attack in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write his poem.

They convened under a light drizzle, prompting Westmacott to thank his hosts "for honoring us with a bit of English weather."

President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper contributed videotaped messages.

Obama said the war gave the United States a sense of unity and independence, and made icons of the American flag and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"But the end of the war also laid the foundation for the growing relations between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada — bonds we now celebrate as the strongest of allies and closest of friends," he said. "As our three nations mark this milestone, I'm confident our alliance will continue to be a force for good and that together we will leave this world a better, safer place for generations to come."

Cameron said the relationship between the United States and Britain "is not just a security alliance."

"It's also in business, education, research and personal ties where you can see the strength of our bonds," he said.

He cited the world's largest foreign direct investment between two nations, at nearly $1 trillion; transatlantic partnerships in research that won eight of nine Nobel Prizes in the sciences two years ago; and the thousands of American and British students each year who study in the other country.

"In education," Cameron said, "14 of the top 15 universities in the world are either in the U.S. or in the U.K. — including Maryland's own Johns Hopkins University."

The ceremony concluded with the signing of the declaration of peace, affirming the shared history and enduring friendship among the three nations.

Robin Davis brought sons Lars and Everett, both 10, to watch the ceremony.

"I feel as though our country is fighting for our freedom still," the Beltsville woman said, and named global warming and economic struggle among the current threats to liberty. "I want to celebrate our determination."