Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is it still Maryland, My Maryland?

Perhaps you have seen the most recent iteration of the long time controversy over Maryland's state song "Maryland, My Maryland." Del. Pam Beidle (D-32) has proposed changing the lyrics to the state's song after receiving letters from a bunch of fourth graders. Let's break this down a bit.

The common sense reaction to this is no different than those mentioned in the well stated objections to efforts to outlaw "beer pong" namely there are more important problems yet to be solved that should garner Delegate Beidle's attention. But this is a cultural issue and provides a teaching moment for both the failure of our public schools to properly teach the history of this state and to demonstrate the indoctrination of public school children led by the close knit cooperation of teacher's unions and liberal politicians. Also, I cannot ignore the exhortation of our friends at RedState to act. To paraphrase our state song "RedState should not call in vain, Maryland My Maryland."

I am fond of saying that someone walking into the General Assembly in session will never mistake it for a MENSA convention. But Delegate Beidle's statement that she "never thought much about the lyrics" of our state song shows an astounding ignorance, nay disdain, of the history of this state from someone who sits in a citizen legislature nearly four centuries old. Should I be surprised when I hear her colleagues refer to the Maryland Supreme Court (our Court of Appeals predated the SCOTUS by about a century) or their own chamber as the Maryland House of Representatives (which has about a century and a half over Congress)? Probably not but it still irks me.

Luckily for Delegate Beidle, a plucky and apparently historically precocious group of 9 year olds in Glen Burnie has en masse enlightened her about the state song and urged her to change it. What serendipity? Having an elementary school age daughter I know how much kids that age really care about 150 year old folk songs.

The more cynical of us, however, might just say that these kids were indoctrinated with a false portrayal of the history of our state and its song and, prompted by their teacher, wrote their local commissar, I mean Delegate. The fact that Delegate Beidle wants to change the words to those composed by a former head of the State Teachers' Union might lead these same cynics to see a contrived effort to justify a change to what has been our official state song for 77 years and which has weathered such annual challenges for decades.

The "new" lyrics are insipid and pointless. They have no relevance to anything of historical or cultural note in Maryland. Rather they are mindless pablum which now have the imprimatur of political correctness.

Our state song was composed at a time of great crisis for our state. Precisely like our national anthem, it encapsulates a period in Maryland's history when she was under assault by those who sought to impose their will upon her citizens.

For those of you who were also not taught this period of history let me give you the highlights.
Marylanders were certainly not of one mind but tended to have a great deal politically and culturally in common with Virginia and other border south states. In 1860, Marylanders voted for John Breckenridge for President (the same guy who won in Mississippi, Alabama, and the other original Confederate states). Lincoln, got only 2.5% of the vote (who says the Republicans have not made strides in this state.).

Knowing perhaps that 97.5% of Marylanders voted against him, President Lincoln was acutely concerned about the possibility of Maryland secession. While historians have debated the issue, most Marylanders recognized the futility of secession and it was unlikely to ever happen. Taking no chances, however, Lincoln arrested prominent Marylanders suspected of secessionist leanings and imprisoned them in Fort McHenry (yes, ironic) without charge, due process or writ of habeas corpus for years. General Benjamin "Beast" Butler landed troops at the Naval Academy and occupied Annapolis along with the rail line to Washington. This caused the General Assembly, of which Delegate Beidle is now a part, to flee to Frederick. Guns were placed on federal hill in Baltimore with orders to fire if unrest arose (the Washington Monument was among the first targets).

It was in the midst of this that our state song was penned. It encapsulates the fear and dread of real Marylanders who saw their fellow citizens jailed by an oppressive Federal Government for no good reason, who saw Federal troops occupy their land and property like they were in rebellion, which they never were.

Invoking the zeal for liberty of the "Old Line State", Randall called for what I think most Marylanders would call for today under the same circumstances, resistance.That is why the song resonates and has relevance to 21st century Marylanders. Its theme is not slavery (which Lincoln never touched in Maryland) or white supremacy but the impassioned plea of a free people to resist an oppressive national government. The original words of this song also speak to a real time in Maryland's history which should never be forgotten, whitewashed or assailed as wrong or evil.

Sadly, too many citizens of this state have no real connection here and even too many native Marylanders have never been taught or taken the time to learn about this critical period of our state's rich history. That is why we are so vulnerable now to the PC thuggery of ignorant, vapid politicians.

Let us defend our state song and our inherent resistance to oppressive government which is so deeply rooted in Maryland, My Maryland.

(By the way, a great book on this period is A Southern Star for Maryland and my favorite rendition of Maryland, My Maryland is by Bobby Horton which is on my 11 year-old daughter's iPod.)


Rob said...


Great post, but the name of the author of our State song is James Ryder Randall. Also, a long overlooked element of the song is that it contains 9 stanzas, which is significant because at the time the song was published, 8 states had seceeded from the Union. There is a school of thought that the structure of the song was a not so subtle hint that MD should be #9 (read the ninth stanza and I think you'll agree that it's a pretty strong call to action).

Chester Peake said...

Good Job Greg!

Are you going to testify against the attempt to ransack the state song? I hope so, but be prepared to sing it for the committee. Del. Tony McConkey can sing backup. I know he knows the words to the song, but can't vouch for if he (or you) can carry a tune!

Greg Kline said...

Rob -Thanks for catching the typo (now corrected). The words are pretty cleary without looking at the number of stanzas.

Chester - I would hope this nonsense never even gets a hearing but I guess I would testify. I doubt singing would help our cause unless perhaps Del. McConkey would accompany me on the banjo.

Lori said...

I sent an email to Beidle and Forehand this morning before I read your post. I guess great minds think alike! I pointed out several of the historical facts you laid out in your post, and then drew the conclusion that many of the issues facing Marylanders then still face us today.

While the president hasn't jailed any us yet for our views, at least I don't think he has, the federal government continues to run roughshod over state's rights and self-governance. The recently passed stimulus bill provides a case in point: Yes, you can have billions of dollars in tax dollars (money that your citizens helped to contribute), but you must spend it precisely the way we dictate. As far as I'm concerned, "the despot's heel" remains "on thy shore."

Matt said...


What a fantastic post! Well articulated and an excellent argument in defense of America's most martial poem!

I clicked the link to the Maryland Senate Bill 892 and noticed yet another instance of legislative ignorance. Page 3 Line 18--Stanza VI "That baffles minions back AGAIN," is incorrect and skews the meaning significantly. The correct word is AMAIN which means "With might; with full force; vigorously; violently; exceedingly."

Some people refuse to see our song as a candid snapshot of American history. The poem captures anger, disdain, hope, fear, injury, and inspiration and at times is very outspoken. But it resonates one thing above all--passion. There was a love for this state that our author, an "exiled son," could not distance himself from--though distant from her he was. There was a belief that the people of Maryland should uphold the Constitution and defend thier state from enemies foreign AND domestic. And there was a passion to fight with both words and--if need be--weapons to preserve one's home and family.

We are still in a Civil War, constantly trying to find our identity as Americans. If our destiny as a country is to become some working example of unity, cultural competence, and altruism, wouldn't it be all that more glorifing if, in achieving such goals, we can admire such progress instead of taking it for granted.

Maryland, My Maryland.

frank said...

Did the bill pass? I can't seem to find any more info about what happened with this bill?

Kevin said...

60,000 marylanders fought for the union vs 25,000 for the CSA. The song could celebrate the steely determination of Frederick Douglass or the heroics of Harriet Tubman but instead expresses the views of only secessionists. The song is one-sided and does not justly represent all of Maryland. A state song should be more encompassing.