- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 19, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Today is Charter Day in Maryland, not that you would notice.

There will no parades and ceremonies and no Charter Day sales at shopping malls.

“I suspect there are few Marylanders who even know that June 20 is Charter Day,” said State Archivist Edward Papenfuse.

But Mr. Papenfuse believes the day deserves a little attention. It commemorates what he said is an extraordinary document — the charter signed June 20, 1632, by which King Charles I of England granted Cecilius Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, title to the colony the king decreed should be known as “Mariland or the province of Mariland in memory and honor of the Queene.”

The document is important for several reasons. It was the first legal document from the king of England requiring an assembly of freemen “who would be gathered to advise the governor on legislation and on any administrative responsibilities that the governor had,” Mr. Papenfuse said.

There is a direct line from the charter to the writing of the state constitution, with its Declaration of Rights and its formation of government into three branches, he said. “It’s a continuum, and one we should be proud of.”

A brief ceremony marking the event is scheduled in St. Mary’s City, near where the first settlers of Lord Baltimore’s colony landed.

Susan Wilkinson, director of marketing and communications for the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, said a portion of the charter will be read in the old State House, followed by a round of musket fire from the St. Mary’s City Militia.

The first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, began work on establishing a colony in the New World. His first attempt in Newfoundland was a failure, and he abandoned it after one year, writing King Charles in 1629 that the cold winter weather was “so intolerable as it is hardly to be endured.”

He pleaded for lands in a warmer spot, preferably near Virginia, and the king approved the new land grant around the Chesapeake Bay. But George Calvert died before the charter was signed, and it was left to his son, Cecil, to establish the new colony.

The second Lord Baltimore saw the colony “as a way to enrich himself and his family,” Mr. Papenfuse said.

He also had an important second reason for establishing a colony in Maryland. As a Roman Catholic in England when there was widespread discrimination against Catholics, Cecil Calvert also wanted to establish a place where people of his religion “could come and feel safe and secure,” Mr. Papenfuse said.

“As a result, there was tolerance not only for Catholics but … for some fairly radical Protestant sects” and Jews, he said.

The charter gave broad powers to Calvert to rule the new colony. He stayed in England and sent members of his family to run his new empire.

“Maryland was in many ways a principality unto itself,” Mr. Papenfuse said. “They did owe a fealty to the crown, and the requirements were that every year, they were supposed to present some arrowheads at Windsor Castle to show that they were still in allegiance to the king.”

But it was mostly left to the Calverts and the assembly of freemen to run Maryland, and that arrangement quickly produced some disagreements, Mr. Papenfuse said.

Because of the charter, Maryland in many ways was “the founding place for the concept of a general assembly that would advise the governor on laws and had a legal standing within the colony,” he said.

Given the opening, the freemen let the Calvert family know they were not going to settle for just giving advice. They wanted a hand in making the laws.

“The first conflicts were really over lawmaking,” Mr. Papenfuse said. “The legislature won some, and Lord Baltimore won some.”

From that early role as adviser, the assembly took on more and more power until it joined the rest of the young nation in declaring independence from British rule.

“I think it’s useful for us to pause and pay tribute to the efforts of those who came before us, with all of their flaws, all of their successes and failures,” Mr. Papenfuse said. “This is just one of those turning points in history that we should pay a little bit of attention to.”

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