Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer Reading List: Maryland A History

By Marc Korman.

So you have finished reading the Great Society Subway? Why don’t you take a peak at Maryland: A History by Carl Bode.

The book was published in 1976, part of a 51 volume set about each state and the District of Columbia published for the bicentennial. Many people who read MPW probably know all about current and recent events in Maryland, but they may be less familiar with some of the rich history Bode shares. For example, did you know that Maryland was the only state to give its electoral votes to Know Nothing Presidential candidate (and former president) Millard Fillmore in 1856? Or that the Maryland colonial legislature met for only six weeks once a year? Or that a deal once existed between the Eastern Shore and the rest of the state that one of two US Senators would always come from the Eastern Shore, or else the Eastern Shore would threaten to merge with Delaware? These and many other interesting tidbits that make up Maryland’s history, political and otherwise, can all be found in Bode’s book.

Bode tells the historical story of Maryland through biography. The early chapters covering the 1700s and 1800s are largely told through the stories of two men. The first is Daniel Dulany, an immigrant who arrived in Maryland as an indentured servant and rose to legal, business, and political prominence as a vast landowner and one of the founders of Frederick. The next is Severn Teackle Wallis, another prominent businessman and politician who spent a lifetime working for political causes in Maryland, including advocating that Maryland join the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The second half of the book introduces such notable Marylanders as Arthur Pue Gorman. Gorman is one of a breed of Senators from the late 1800s who was both the state political boss and a US Senator, similar to the better known Marcus Hanna from Ohio. Before the 17th Amendment established direct election of Senators, political bosses could ascend to the Senate with ease since they were appointed by state legislatures beholden to them for their elections. Gorman, along with Baltimore political boss Freeman Rasin ruled the state with an iron hand. Another is Johns Hopkins, a bookkeeper who rose up in the banking world and established “The Johns Hopkins University for the Promotion of Education in Maryland” and “The Johns Hopkins Hospital” and eventually left $7 million to them upon his death in 1873. The book closes with the story of James Rouse, who established the corporate-run planned community of Columbia which he envisioned as a utopia that could enhance happiness and turn a profit. Interestingly, Rouse was in many ways following the model set by the New Deal, which established Greenbelt as a planned community in the 1930s.

There is much more in Bode’s book then can be recounted here. Bode chose to only share a few post-World War II stories, so the book primarily ends long before most readers of the blog were born. But the book is still worth a read to learn about the state’s history and how we came to be what we are today. It will also provide answers to trivia questions, for instance where the state nicknames of “Old Line” and “Free” state came from. One downside to the book is that it largely overlooks Montgomery County in favor of areas the author views as more vibrant historically. Still, you cannot understand Maryland politics without understanding the Eastern Shore and Baltimore, and Bode’s book offers plenty to improve your knowledge.