ANNAPOLIS — When it comes to the official song “Maryland, My Maryland,” state lawmakers are ready to sing a different tune — specifically, one that incorporates fewer secessionist elements of the Free State’s past.
The nine-stanza song, sung to the tune of “O Tannenbaum,” was written by James Ryder Randall in 1861, urging the state to follow the lead of Virginia in joining the Confederacy. Particularly irksome to many Marylanders is the ninth verse’s call to spur “Northern scum” and the references in the first and fourth stanzas to the “despot” and the “tyrant’s chain” — both deemed to be insults aimed at Abraham Lincoln.
The move is part of a nationwide Confederate cleansing that’s gained steam after last summer’s tragic shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the wake of the shooting, the Confederate flag came down from the grounds of South Carolina’s statehouse, state flags that pay homage to the Confederate banner are under siege in the U.S. Capitol, and a Baltimore commission this week recommended removing statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the author of the Dred Scott Decision.
In December the University of Maryland removed Harry C. “Curley” Byrd’s name from the football stadium because the school’s president from 1936 to 1954 opposed racial integration. It is now Maryland Stadium.
The state song, with its deep ties to the Confederacy, has also become a natural target.
“Our state is very important,” Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. said Thursday. “But our song contains some offensive verses.”
Mr. Miller had previously been an opponent of changing the song, but said he’s coming around on the issue and thinks it’s time the legislature take the matter seriously.
Randall, a Baltimore native, wrote the nine-verse poem in 1861 while living in Louisiana. The poem was a reaction to the April 19, 1861, Baltimore riots when pro-Confederate mobs attacked Union soldiers traveling through the city.
Only the innocuous third verse is generally sung in public, including by the Naval Academy’s glee club before the Preakness Stakes.
State Sen. Ronald N. Young, Frederick County Democrat, introduced legislation this year to rewrite the song by keeping the third stanza and adding another stanza written by John T. White, a Middletown poet, in 1894.
“We’re not looking to change history,” Mr. Young said. “They will still exist as poems.”
Meanwhile, State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, Montgomery County Democrat, introduced a bill to retire the current song entirely and to conduct a statewide contest to replace it.
That was the same approach tried in 1974, which marked the first major attempt to ax “Maryland, My Maryland.”
Subsequent efforts were launched in 1980, 1984, 2001, 2002 and 2009. State Archivist Timothy D. Baker said those failed because lawmakers didn’t settle on a replacement.
The song was controversial from the start. The General Assembly tried to make it the official song in 1935, but then-Gov. Harry W. Nice vetoed the bill, opposing the “objectionable verses” that he said were divisive.
“I see nothing to be gained by such legislation,” he said, according to the advisory committee’s report. “The song has, for many years, been played and will continue to be played as long as it appeals to the people, irrespective of legislation on the subject.”
After he lost his re-election bid, the song was made official in 1939.
Finding a suitable replacement could be even tougher than agreeing to ditch the current song.
Some delegates suggested that the state adopt the national anthem, since it was written by Francis Scott Key, a Marylander, about an event in Baltimore.
“I think we have the best song in the world in the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and I fall on the side of making that the state song,” Del. Eric Bromwell, Baltimore County Democrat, said.
Meanwhile, Del. Kirill Reznik, Montgomery County Democrat, said he wanted something more contemporary for a song, not putting together two older poems.
Maryland could learn from Virginia, which nixed its state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” in the 1990s and established a competition to pick a new song. The effort was a disaster, with charges of favoritism and contest-fixing. The state still hasn’t come up with a replacement.
Some Maryland lawmakers wondered why their legislature would go through the hassle.
State Sen. Gail H. Bates, Howard County Republican, said only the third verse, the inoffensive one, is sung anyway.
“I wonder how many other people even know these words exist. Being offended at something you never read is troublesome to me,” she said.
While legislators went back and forth over whether to change the song, or what they should change it to, state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican, was fighting to change the state motto — or, more specifically, the translation of the state motto.
The accepted translation of the Latin motto, “Fatti maschii, parole femine,” is “Manly deeds, womanly words.”
Mr. Simonaire said that his high regard for his wife and five daughters — one of whom is a delegate — led him to think the motto was sexist.
He suggested that the translation be changed to “Strong deeds, gentle words,” which he said would be a more accurate translation.
“I’m not trying to rewrite history with this,” Mr. Simonaire said. “The state motto is the state motto. This has nothing to do with political correctness.”