O’er the land of the unfree

My fellow Americans, it’s time to change the words of our national anthem.

I don’t know what Francis Scott Key, born on a plantation in Maryland, meant when he referred to his nation as “the land of the free.” According to Wikipedia, he seems to have had a conflicted relationship with slavery. He owned slaves, but freed some of them; as a lawyer he “represented several slaves seeking their freedom in court (for free), as well as several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.” One source is quoted as writing “Mr. Key convinced me that slavery was wrong–radically wrong.” But he actively opposed abolitionism and “remained […]  a strong critic of the antislavery movement until his death.”

But this is, by American standards, ancient history. At present, the United States has the greatest number of unfree people — those in prison — in the world, in both absolute and relative terms. “Land of the free” sounds like a bad joke.

Besides, o’er the land of the unfree, with the extra syllable, fits the music better.

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