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 the 77 year old established state song which has weathered annual such 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, they encapsulate 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 a 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", Ryndell 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.)