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Maryland Moves to Finally Scrub 'Northern Scum' From State Song

Maryland could change its Confederate-themed state song of its references to "Northern scum" and Abe Lincoln as a despot after a Senate vote Thursday.
IMAGE: Maryland state flag
State of Maryland

The tune is familiar — it's "O, Tannenbaum"/"O, Christmas Tree." But the words to Maryland's state song are anachronistically odd:

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!

And later:

I hear the distant thunder–hum. Maryland! My Maryland! The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum. Maryland! My 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!

It's a Southern Civil War anthem. The "despot" in question is President Abraham Lincoln. And the "Northern scum" are the Union and its army.

Calling it a crude Confederate cri de coeur, Maryland lawmakers have tried and failed to dump "Maryland! My Maryland!" several times, the state Department of Legislative Services said.

But state icons are big deal in Maryland, which also has a state dinosaur (Astrodon johnstoni), a state insect (the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly) and a state crustacean (the blue crab, of course). And each time — in 2001, 2002 and 2009 — the measures were voted down in committee.

Now, they're on the verge of finally scrubbing the poem, which was written in 1861, became a Confederate marching song during the Civil War and was adopted as the state song in 1939.

The state Senate voted 38-8 Thursday to approve a compromise bill that would keep the song — but with the lyrics from an alternative version that has often been used at functions across the state. They're about trees, streams and hills, and they hammer home the point that Maryland sure is a pretty state.

Some lawmakers, led by Democratic state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, had sought to ditch the whole song — which she has called "shameful" — and hold a statewide contest for a new one. But Kagan said Thursday that she could live with the compromise.

"It's not the solution I sought, but this legislation will finally address the Confederate-era lyrics," she said.

The House must still consider the measure.