Maryland, My Maryland

(October 9, 2017) Recently the University of Maryland ordered that the school’s marching band discontinue the tradition of playing the state song, Maryland, My Maryland, during its pre-game performance at each football game. The decision was triggered by a feeling that the lyrics should be censored because they suggests that many—perhaps most—of the state’s 1861 residents were opposed to coercing the seceded states back into the Union and that they objected to the dictatorial methods used to force Maryland to remain in the Union.

The first verse lyrics are provided below, excluding the “Maryland, My Maryland” refrain:

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

William Safire explained in a 1984 New York Times column why the anthem should be retained even though the “despot” allusion in the first line is to an ever-sacred Lincoln.

Maryland was a slave state with strong anti-Union sentiment. Detective-bodyguard Allen Pinkerton had to slip the new President through Baltimore in the dead of night and in disguise on the way to his inauguration in Washington. In cracking down on the disloyal element in Maryland, President Lincoln usurped Congress’s power to suspend habeas corpus and authorized arbitrary arrests, and went on to dispatch General McClellan to arrest Maryland legislators before they could meet to vote secession.

These Presidential actions may be described in history classes as having been necessary and in a good cause, but if practiced by a Central American ally today would rightly be denounced as ”despotic.”

If some student, lustily singing the state song in school assembly, is inspired by the once [and future] incendiary words to ask his teacher who the supposed despot was, or what the trouble in Baltimore was all about, does education suffer? Of course not; in our art and artifacts can be found the vestiges of the issues that aroused our ancestors, and we should do all we can to preserve rather than obliterate them.

Safire’s explanation that Lincoln’s actions in Maryland “if practiced by a Central American ally today would rightly be denounced as despotic,” also applies to elections during Reconstruction that took place under the glitter of Federal bayonets.

Although Maryland never joined the Confederacy, the story of why she didn’t merits scrutiny.

Shortly after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the cotton states rebellion, Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks convened a special session of the legislature on April 26, 1861. Since Hicks was a Union-loyal man he did not want the session held in the state capital at Annapolis because of the prevailing Southern attitudes in the eastern part of the state. Therefore he chose Frederick, which was a strongly pro-Union town northwest of Washington.

The session starting on April 26 adjourned on August 7 without voting to secede but agreeing to reconvene again in Frederick on September 17. However, the April-to-August session did approve two items hostile to the federal government. First, it voted to refuse to reopen railroad connections to the Northern states that were cut when bridges north of Baltimore were destroyed four days after Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Second, it passed and delivered a resolution to President Lincoln protesting Union occupation of the state.

After the Confederate victory at First Bull Run on July 21, Southern sentiment gained potency in Maryland. Another Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri the following month strengthened the impression that the Confederacy would win its independence. (It would be another six months before a significant Union victory would suggest otherwise.) By mid-September many legislatures increasingly believed Maryland could join the winning side by seceding whereas picking the winning side earlier appeared to be a more speculative matter.

Although Maryland voters had previously chosen their legislators in free elections, President Lincoln concluded he would selectively prevent those representatives suspected of harboring pro-secession attitudes from attending. Consequently, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and arbitrarily arrested legislators presumed to be pro-Confederate. He never brought any of them to trial for the simple reason that they had not committed any crime.

Thirty-one legislators were arrested. Many others were prevented from attending because they realized that if they journeyed to Frederick they too would be jailed if Lincoln suspected them of Southern sympathies.

While nobody can know whether Lincoln’s “intervention” (usurpation?) prevented Maryland’s secession, at least one authoritative participant said that it did. Specifically, Assistant Secretary of State Fred Seward—son of Secretary of State William H. Seward—who was directly involved in the arrests, wrote that he believed the 17 September session of the Maryland General Assembly would have voted to secede if legislators had been permitted to freely attended. It was only by illegally blocking them that Maryland artificially remained in the Union.

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3 thoughts on “Maryland, My Maryland

  1. Valerie Protopapas

    Mr. Leigh, I reproduced this in its entirely giving you full credit, of course, and posted it as a note on my Facebook Page. I believe that the dissemination of accurate history should be as wide and far as possible. If you wish me to remove it, of course, I will. But it is my hope that you will see it to be a positive thing under the circumstances. I am one of three people involved in a professionally produced documentary, Searching for Abraham Lincoln and this issues was touched on in that documentary.


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