Abolishing American History
Maryland legislators are fighting over whether to abolish "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state song.
What's the fuss all about?
The song contains, for example, the following two stanzas which Montgomery County Democrat Peter Franchot finds contrary to "21st century values" (whatever those are):
The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!Avenge the patriotic gore That flecked the streets of Baltimore,And be the battle queen of yore, Maryland! My Maryland!
I hear the distant thunder-hum, Maryland! The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum, Maryland! She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb — Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum! She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come! Maryland! My Maryland!
For those who are unclear on the identity of "the despot," it is Abraham Lincoln. The first shots of the war were not fired at Fort Sumter. They were fired in Baltimore, where citizens resisted after Lincoln moved large numbers of federal troops ("the Northern scum") into the city.
As the Washington Times reports,
Maryland, though it remained loyal to the union, contributed thousands of troops to the Confederacy and Baltimore was a particular hotbed of Confederate sympathy. The song, written in 1861 by Confederate sympathizer James Ryder Randall, was an appeal for secession, urging Maryland to avenge "the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore."
Randall wrote the song, then, as a direct response to the occupation of Baltimore by federal troops.
What the Times — which used to run a special civil war section in every Saturday paper — fails to mention is the fact that Maryland "remained loyal to the union" because Abraham Lincoln imprisoned members of the Maryland legislature who were preparing to vote to recognize the Confederate States of America.
(As an aside, Lincoln's conduct cannot be justified by the argument that he acted to prevent a "national emergency" by imprisoning members of the Maryland state legislature. Lincoln was the national emergency. Those tempted to disagree should ask themselves what sort of policy dispute might justify George W. Bush's imprisoning state legislators — without charges — until he gets his way with their state. The answer is "exactly nothing.")
Once the Maryland legislature has obliterated the state song, perhaps they will pick a new state flag. This is demanded by consistency, since the red and white botony crosses in the flag (see above) originated as insignia worn by Marylanders fighting for the Confederacy. There would be precedent for this. As the web site of the Secretary of State for Maryland observes "People displaying these red-and-white symbols of resistance to the Union and to Lincoln's policies were vigorously prosecuted by Federal authorities." So much for the First Amendment.
In 1997, the Commonwealth of Virginia voted to remove "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" as its state song. The tune was first made the state song in 1940.
reference to "this old darkey's" desire to return to Virginia, where he had worked "so hard for old massa," was offensive in its portrayal of a freed slave's nostalgia for the plantation life.
Apparently lost on the Virginia legislature was the fact that "The song was written by James Bland, a free black New Yorker who wrote more than 700 songs after quitting Howard University to become a minstrel."
I suppose that Virginia next will pass an omnibus consumer protection and racial sensitivity law to ban advertising by Mastercard.
The Bible will have to go next, what with all those references to the Hebrews living as slaves in Egypt. Yet more offensively, while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the Hebrews reportedly longed to return to Egypt. Clearly, this portrayal of nostalgia for a life of slavery must be stricken.
Perhaps state universities in Maryland and Virginia will also ban books by Hegel and Nietzsche, since both philosophers write at considerable length about the relations of masters to slaves.
As one woman told the Times, "It's a shame that they're trying to rewrite history. It's like saying we should go back and erase every event that may have hurt someone."
Yes, it's exactly like that.
March 15, 2001
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman