Maryland Senate Votes to Dump State Song Calling Abraham Lincoln a Tyrant After 45-Year Fight

After 45 years and 10 unsuccessful attempts by the state legislature, Maryland's Senate unanimously voted on Friday to no longer sing "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state song. The song's full version referred to former President Abraham Lincoln as a "tyrant," a "vandal" and a "despot."

Though the Senate voted on Friday, the House had previously passed a companion bill also scrapping the song. As such, the bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Larry Hogan. Hogan hasn't said if he'll sign it, but his office has promised to review it, The Hill reported.

If Hogan signs the bill, it will finally discard the song after numerous legislative attempts to do so stretching back to 1974. Maryland's General Assembly adopted the tune as the state song in 1939. Legislative attempts to discard the song or revise its lyrics have occurred in 1974, 1980, 1984, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

The song was adapted from a nine-stanza poem written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall, a pro-Confederate poet. Randall wrote the poem in response to the death of his friend during the 1861 Baltimore Riot, according to Alice Fahs, author of a 2001 book about Civil War-era literature.

Maryland state song Lincoln tyrant Confederate poem
After 45 years, Maryland's state legislature has voted to scrap the song “Maryland, My Maryland" as the state song. The song's full version referred to former President Abraham Lincoln as a "tyrant," a "vandal" and a "despot." This official portrait of Lincoln shows him seated with his hand to his chin. It was completed in 1869 by painter George PA Healy and is part of the White House collection. GraphicaArtis/Getty

The 1861 Baltimore Riots broke out near the start of the Civil War after Lincoln summoned northern troops to the U.S. Capitol. He summoned the troops to guard the Capitol and prepare for battle against southern forces.

But first, the troops had to pass through Baltimore, a major train hub at the time. Though the city had the nation's largest Black population, many Baltimore residents sympathized with the Confederacy and objected to war, according to the Maryland State Archives.

As a result, riots broke out between city residents and soldiers. The riots resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 12 civilians. Additionally, 36 soldiers and hundreds of civilians were also wounded.

Randall's friend, Francis X. Ward, was one of the 12 civilians killed. In response, Randall wrote the poem as an impassioned plea for Maryland to secede from the Union and join the Confederate battle to continue slavery, Fahs wrote. In April 1861, the state legislature decided against secession in a 53 to 13 vote.

Nevertheless, some of the song's lyrics state, "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."

Its later lyrics implore Maryland to "burst the tyrant's chain" and references "Sic semper tyrannis," the Latin phrase meaning "Thus always to tyrants." The phrase is understood to mean that bad things should happen to tyrants. John Wilkes Booth uttered it after he assassinated Lincoln in 1865.

"[The song's lyrics] glorify the actions of a mob as a patriotic gore," Maryland historian Edward Papenfuse told WBAL-TV. "They enshrine a world in which slavery was considered righteous."

The bill's sponsor, Democratic state Delegate Sheree Sample Hughes, echoed Papenfuse's sentiment.

"Today, we are at a different place and time in the community, the state, the nation," she told the news station. "So, it's time to take a comprehensive look at the issue and see how we want to move Maryland forward and by moving Maryland forward means the repeal of the song."

It's unclear what song might replace "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state song.

Newsweek contacted Hughes' office for comment.