Remarks by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse to the National Conference of Chief Justices at Government House, Annapolis

Monday, January 22, 2001, 6:00 p.m.

As Secretary of the Government House Trust, it is my privilege to welcome you to the public rooms of Government House and to provide you with a brief historical introduction to the residence of the Governor.

You dine this evening in the first building constructed specifically to house the Governor of Maryland.  Its predecessor, formerly on the grounds of what is now the U.S. Naval Academy, was appropriated from the last Royal Governor of Maryland, Sir Robert Eden, after he was sent packing back to England in 1776.  After the war he tried valiantly to be compensated for the loss of his house, but it proved to be a case of winner take all.

As the first Government House, Governor Eden's private residence became a public building where many notable events were held until, after the Civil War, it was given to the Federal Government in a successful effort to keep the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  During its heyday, the first Government House saw the likes of George Washington, who once escorted the governor's wife home from the State House and a dance in his honor, and, on two occasions separated by forty years, the Marquis de Lafayette.  During one governor's administration, the house became very well known as the nursery of the long robe, for the governor used its parlor to conduct law classes.  Indeed that particular governor, William Paca, went on to serve on the Federal Bench on the appointment of George Washington, despite the fact that he had opposed ratification of the Constitution without amendments and indeed was responsible for proposing the first printed agenda for the Bill of Rights which James Madison later shepherded through Congress.

Tonight we remember one occupant of the first Government House in particular, because of his connection to one of the honored guests tonight, Chief Justice E. Norman Veazey of Delaware.  On the easel, you see the portrait of Governor Thomas W. Veazey who served from 1836-1839.  Governor Veazey was the last governor to be elected by joint ballot of the Legislature.  He had a far from easy time as governor.  His council was abolished, he was left without staff to run his office, and there were bank riots in Baltimore which threatened to spill over into Annapolis.  With regard to the difficulties of running an office without staff, Governor Veazey would write:  "And now Sirs what is my situation?  I am here in this empty chamber without council, without clerk, without any friend to whom I can turn to ask advice or ask for papers, which I often am.  I cannot tell [even] where to find them ...."  And then there were the riots, which resulted in several anonymous letters threatening the lives of lawyers and legislators who dared to suggest that the State reimburse some prominent Baltimoreans for their losses.  In the end, the State did reimburse Reverdy Johnson for the loss of his library which was burned in the riots.  Johnson was one of the most prominent lawyers of his day and possibly is the only ghost associated with this house.  In 1876, after over indulging himself in food and drink one evening here at Government House, Johnson went out for some fresh air, never to return.  He was found dead outside one of the large open windows, having hit his head on the curb.  The coroner's inquest found no foul play, but a degree of mystery as to how it actually happened lingers.

This Government House was first occupied in 1868, and, as it has always been the Constitutional responsibility of the governor to appoint the judiciary, even though the Maryland  judiciary must face the electorate for confirmation, has undoubtedly been the scene of many long and interesting discussions about the bench and the bar.  If only these wall could speak.  At times, if there were a particularly interesting trial in town, the governor would take time to visit the Anne Arundel County Court House.  In fact the first occupant of this house, Governor Oden Bowie, became so intrigued by one very famous murder case involving a woman accused of poisoning a Civil War General, that he invited the prosecutor and other dignitaries back to the mansion for dinner where they sampled the poison (in very small doses, to be sure) to see if it in fact left tell-tale blisters on the tongue.   Apparently only Governor Bowie's tongue blistered, and the woman was acquitted.

We could recount a number of prominent visitors to this house ranging from Mark Twain who sought refuge here after being arrested for smoking on the Naval Academy grounds, and delivered an after dinner speech on the perils of stealing watermelons, to President Franklin Roosevelt for whom a special ramp had to be built to permit him access to the front door.

Probably the largest, and possibly one of the most distinguished jurist to dine at Government House, was William Howard Taft, who stopped by for lunch in 1912, while he was still President, but as far as we can determine, tonight is the first time that so many great legal minds from so many distinguished courts have ever assembled here.

On that auspicious note, let me close, and present to you Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who will introduce our host Governor Glendening.  It is my privilege to work with Judge Bell and for Governor Glendening in their efforts to ensure that the historical legacy of Maryland is preserved and made accessible on the web and at the Maryland State Archives.  I am also honored to serve as Judge Bell's representative on an informal association of Court Historical Societies to which a number of you have also sent delegates.

I first encountered Judge Bell in the literature of the civil rights movement, having read a poignant interview with him about the Supreme Court case that bears his name, and which we later made into part of a document packet on line, that helps the students of today remember the singular efforts of Marylanders like Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Mitchell, and Robert M. Bell, to bring simple justice to us all.

Judge Bell.

Return to Agenda

Copyright Maryland State Archives