Leftist online site Salon, went on the attack against the playing of America’s national anthem at sporting events, calling the tune an example of “neo-Confederate” ideology.
The writer of the piece, Jefferson Morley of the extremist left-wing website Alternet, began by discussing the history of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court Justice infamous for the Dred Scott decision. Taney’s 1857 ruling said that slaves were legal property and could not be U.S. citizens. Taney was in the news recently when his statue was removed from Maryland’s State House grounds.
From there, Morley proceeded into the history of the author of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key. He characterizes the words as containing a “neo-Confederate” ideology, despite the fact that the song was written during the War of 1812, nearly a half-century before the founding of the Confederacy.
Morley goes on to insist that Key’s lyrics, “with its lyrics deriding black people,” became a “point of pride for Southerners” after the Civil War.
Specifically, the writer cited an attack on the anthem published last year by The Intercept which claimed that the words “hireling and slave,” in the song’s original but little sung, third verse, represented a “celebration” of chattel slavery.
The claim has been ridiculed by many historians who say that the words actually referred the British Navy’s practice of impressing American sailors into serving the Crown, essentially making them slaves to the British Navy. That practice, known at the time as impressment, was one of the main causes of the war.
Even a Snopes article from 2016 said the claim that the verse is a celebration of chattel slavery is hardly a foregone conclusion and that many historians dismiss the connection to America’s “peculiar institution.”
A further point tends to debunk the “slavery” claim about the song. Indeed, the version of the song officially enshrined as our national anthem does not even contain the purportedly offensive verse. The verse had been written out of the song over the decades following the Civil War, and up to the time it became our official anthem in 1931.
Morley also maintains that the creation of Memorial Day “implied equality of respect” for the causes both the Federal and Confederate armies fought for. Instead of merely a way of respecting those who died, in the service of their various causes. Morley further dismisses the possibility that the holiday was aimed at reunifying a nation still riven by mistrust and dissension. Northerners certainly weren’t interested in approving the Confederate cause in any of the decades following the war. Indeed, all the way until the 1900s, northern politicians made their political careers “waving the bloody shirt” to attack the southern cause.
Morley offers many anecdotal or incidental examples asserting that southerners were “racist” during the era but does not establish a link between the “Star Spangled Banner” and that racism.
He writes, for instance, of an incident in 1931 where ex-Confederates and southerners carried Confederate flags in a Maryland parade, a fact that some northern supporters didn’t appreciate at the time. In fact, the old federal soldiers were upset enough at the inclusion of the flag to quit the parade, Morley wrote. Still, he did not attempt to prove that the anecdote has anything to do with the anthem.
In another place, he writes that the campaign to make the “Banner” the nation’s song was “a sectarian movement” and then says, “That sect was the white supremacist South.”
As Morley chronicles the other songs that were brought into competition with the “Star Spangled Banner,” Morley exclaims that “Confederate sympathizers responded by taking their cause” for making the “Banner” our anthem to Congress.
“In the 1920s, as blacks and white liberals denounced Jim Crow laws and lynchings, the campaign for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ became a way to wrap the ideology of the Confederacy in the red, white and blue bunting of American patriotism,” he wrote.
Throughout his piece, Morley repeatedly proclaimed that those who supported the song were “white supremacists,” said the song was “a way to wrap the ideology of the Confederacy in the red, white and blue bunting of American patriotism” and conflated the racist sentiment of the day to the song that would become our national theme song.
However, nowhere did the writer show any quotes or proof that the song was pushed by supporters specifically because the song itself is “racist,” he simply asserts the claim as a given.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.