Maryland under pressure to change its state song

A state advisory panel is calling on Maryland to change its state song (“Maryland My Maryland,” sung to the tune of “Christmas Tree, My Christmas Tree”) because the lyrics “do not reflect the feelings of all Marylanders at the time they were written or today.” Actually, the lyrics, which called on Marylanders to rise up against the Union during the Civil War, don’t reflect the feelings of anyone in the state today except possibly a few crackpots.

The song goes on for nine stanzas, but I’ll confine myself to the first three — the ones we were required to learn and sing in elementary school:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland, My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son’s appeal,
Maryland, My Maryland!
My Mother State! to thee I kneel,
Maryland, My Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird they beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,-
And all they slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

The “despot” is Abraham Lincoln. The “patriotic gore” in the streets of Baltimore was spilled by gang members and others sympathetic to the Confederacy after they threw stones and other objects at Union troops passing through the city on the way to protect Washington, D.C. from rebel attack. In this mini-battle, it is said, four soldiers and at least a dozen civilians were killed. (Baltimore was so pro-South that Lincoln made sure the train carrying him to his inauguration didn’t pass through during daytime.)

None of this was explained to us when we were taught the song in school. I assumed that the despot in question was King George III. I was puzzled, though, because we had learned that Charles Carroll and John Howard were figures from the Revolutionary War era, so making appeals to their “sacred trust” and “warlike thrust” seemed out of place in a song about that era.

Only much later did I learn that Maryland’s state song was basically a call to treason.

Not surprisingly, there have been several past attempts to change the state song. All have failed. But with political correctness now ascendant, it’s possible that this latest effort will succeed.

Should it? I think so. I’m not in favor of tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers. But Maryland shouldn’t honor the concept of disunion — or declare those who prevented it “despots” and “scum” (see the last stanza) — in its official song.

What, if anything, should replace the song? One idea is to use the Stars Spangled Banner, which commemorates England’s unsuccessful attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. In my view, it makes no sense to have a state song that’s identical to the National Anthem.

Another idea is to use a poem about Maryland’s scenery that reportedly fits seamlessly into the current tune. That’s better, in my opinion, than retaining the current song, and I like the idea of keeping the well-known melody. But hymns to scenery leave something to be desired as official state or national songs. They are too antiseptic.

The best solution, I think, would be to write new lyrics based on the events at Fort McHenry to replace the words in the existing song. I’m not betting on this outcome, though. Odes to military herosim aren’t likely to cut it in the Age of Obama.

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