The Lessons of Annapolis

Pity poor Annapolis. This quaint little city has a remarkable history and lessons to teach. These, however, will not be the focus of the world’s attention when, one week from now, the Bush Administration convenes its long-awaited but ill-prepared, and apparently less than consequential meeting.

Annapolis has already entered the world’s lexicon, signifying something other than the city itself. Like the lovely name "Katrina" which, for reasons underserved, is now associated with disaster and folly, the hyperbole used to discuss Annapolis has already taken a toll. Last week’s press, for example, screamed out headlines, like, "The Unreality of Annapolis," "The Annapolis Trap," "Annapolis Insanity," and my favorite (from the King of Hyperbole, Benjamin Netanyahu): "Annapolis Will Bring Death and Destruction."

Travel down Annapolis’ cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways, lined with quaint shops and restaurants of all types, look at its magnificent capitol building and many of its homes, and you will see a city that is neither "unreal," "a trap," nor "insane." Instead, you will see a community proud of its early history. Founded 350 years ago (old, in American terms), Annapolis served, for a time, as the nation’s capital, and was witness to important foundational events in U.S. history.

These ought to be the focus of our attention, raising as they do interesting lessons and instructive reminders. So interesting are some of the events that occurred in early Annapolis that if I hadn’t known better, I might have thought that the Bush Administration deliberately chose the site of this meeting because of the rich symbolism the city evokes.

Treaty of Paris, 1783

First and foremost was the signing of the Treaty of Paris which, though negotiated in France the year before, was signed in Annapolis in 1783. The Treaty ended the war between the American revolutionaries and Great Britain, and included the following provisions:

It begins by indicating the agreement of both Britain and America to "forget all past misunderstandings and differences" "and to establish between the two countries" "a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse" "and to secure to both perpetual peace and harmony."

In Article One of the Treaty, Britain recognizes the United States to be "free sovereign and independent," and it "relinquishes all claims and territorial rights." In Article Two, the boundaries of the United States are delineated, with Britain’s pledge of respect for those borders. In Article Six, there is an agreement "that there be no future confiscations made nor prosecutions of any persons" for their role in the war. In Article Seven, Britain and the U.S. agree that "all prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty."

(One might have hoped that with proper preparation, something similar might have been tabled at this year’s Middle East meeting.)

Annapolis Convention II, 1786

In 1786, the city hosted what came to be known as the Annapolis Convention, a meeting of the Continental Congress, the elected revolutionary government of the newly formed United States. The purpose of the meeting was to resolve issues that had arisen from the lack of a strong central government, and inconsistent and competing policies among the many states. While there was not a quorum sufficient to address these issues, the Convention closed with a charge that these matters should be resolved at its next session – a charge which resulted in the writing of the American Constitution in 1787. A commentator, at the time, expressed the hope that the charge of the Convention would be heeded in order to "secure the dignity and harmony" of the nation, because he believed that experience should have taught the different states that the unity of the whole nation was of greater importance than competition and friction between its different parts.

(Since this is what Saudi Arabia attempted in Mecca in 2006 – an effort not supported by Israel or the U.S. – it would have been too much to expect that the Bush administration, realizing that a full peace agreement was not in the offing, would have used the Annapolis meeting to work for much-needed Palestinian unity, or even Israeli unity, in support of peace.)

Annapolis Convention I, 1775

In 1775, there was also an earlier Annapolis Convention. It took place during the "war of independence" and resulted in the "Declaration of the Association of the Free Men of Maryland." In the Declaration, Maryland’s representatives denounced the British occupation for its "arbitrary and vindictive statutes" which are "destroying the essential securities of the lives, liberties and properties" of the Americans. The Declaration resolves that "the inhabitants of Maryland, firmly persuaded that it is necessary and justifiable to repel force by force;" and declares that "we do unite and associate, as one band, and firmly and solemnly engage and pledge ourselves to each other, and to America."

(Clearly a lesson the Bush administration does not want the Palestinians to learn from American history.)

Despite the best efforts of some to sully the name of dear Annapolis, the events and lessons described above are the ones I will remember. It is my hope that the proud little city’s grand ghosts haunt the upcoming meeting with reminders of the lessons they can teach, which are:

  • Tyranny and occupation are intolerable;
  • Unity for the sake of the nation trumps any other ideological or regional loyalty; and
  • When a conflict ends, each side must respect the territorial integrity, and full sovereignty within that territory, of the other.