Baltimore Police responded to a call of vandalism at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. On the 203rd anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner," some social justice vandal defaced the Francis Scott Key monument, spilling red paint on the marble statue and writing "racist anthem" on its base.
By the time a Baltimore Sun photographer arrived, the dripping red paint had turned the water in the fountain an ugly neon pink, the color of Pepto-Bismol. What was dramatic and daring in the middle of the night began looking increasingly pitiful in the light of morning, and in light of history.
While the identity of the vandal isn't known, their message is obvious. The national anthem must be racist because its author owned slaves and because its third verse, which was scrawled in sloppy spray paint on the statue, mentions "the hireling and slave." It's the sort of sophomoric and stupid argument made by insufferable undergraduates with bad grasps of history.
If the national anthem is racist, if it's really a chorus celebrating chattel slavery, no one told Frederick Douglass.
Born a slave in Maryland, Douglass escaped to New York and later became one of the nation's leading constitutional abolitionists. He felt real racism. He also understood that America is an idea, not the sum of her slave-owning citizens. And Douglass loved "The Star-Spangled Banner."
After the Civil War, Douglass was known to play the song for his grandchildren on his violin. At Arlington National Cemetery in 1871, he explained that so long as "The Star-Spangled Banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization."
Douglas didn't care that Francis Scott Key was a repugnant racist. Why would he? The anthem has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with the idea it communicated. That "The Star-Spangled Banner" waves as a cloth manifestation of the promises of the Declaration of Independence, the principle that all men are created equal.
In short, Douglass understood what the social justice vandal refuses to admit. Specifically, the personal sins of Francis Scott Key, and any other long-dead Founding Father for that matter, cannot eclipse the public principles of freedom and equality.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.