J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coopting the Pine Tree Flag

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish highlighted the meaning of the “Appeal to Heaven” motto in the photo above from this weekend’s “Million Vet March” demonstration by, oh, hundreds of people in Washington, D.C.

As I quoted back here (and here), that banner is based on descriptions of a flag that Connecticut troops raised outside Boston in July 1775. It was flown by the Continental Army’s ill-fated floating batteries and then by the armed schooners Gen. George Washington sent to sea in the fall. The motto “Appeal to Heaven” (in some sources “An Appeal to Heaven”) was John Locke’s euphemism for armed revolution.

The same demonstration involved waving a Confederate flag outside the White House, haranguing the White House security staff, and a speaker demanding that our twice-elected President “put the Quran down” and resign.

Shameful displays like that are sullying the Revolutionary-era flags people bring to those rallies. As one of Sullivan’s readers wrote in identifying the banner above:
Alas, just like the Gadsden flag and it’s famous “Don’t Tread on Me” snake, it has now been appropriated by the Tea Party movement. I am a liberal Democrat who used to regularly fly those historic flags outside my home on the Fourth of July to commemorate the American Revolution – when there was a real, not imagined and hysterical, reason for revolt – but now I’m afraid I have to confine them to the closet. The idea that my neighbors might affiliate me with these crazies is too much to bear.
It should be easy to have a political demonstration without also demonstrating bigotry, and without threatening to overthrow the republic that the Revolution established.


Gary said...

THIS is why I keep coming back to your blog, JL. Relevant commentary from someone who understands WTF he's talking about.
P.S. I love your blog, but the Captcha thing for commenting is a PITA!

Al J said...

Any demonstration draws kooks and fanatics.

The Tea Party's opposites, Occupy Wall Street for example, featured as a counter to the lone Confederate Flag among a sea of American and patriotic type banners, a demonstrator defecating on a Police Vehicle and several Hammer and Sickle Flags. During the Occupy movement security and Police forces were routinely "harangued" by so called Progressives and anarchists.

Prominent Hollywood types such as Jenine Garafoldo and Tony Benton are on the record as referring to Obama's predecessor as Adolph Hitler. The Assistant majority senate Leader has referred to some members of the military as "Nazis".

The point of this comment is that we should not fully demonize one side of the political spectrum because of the irresponsible actions of a minority of their members. Both sides have there share of nuts.

My academic and business aexperience is that proportionately more of the Tea Party members are interested in the topics that you post on then their progressive opposites.

Like most people, both sides emphasize the points that support their viewpoints and ignore anything that distorts their would view.

In discussions with people on both sides much of these discussions get into topics revolving around American Exceptionalism. It often goes somewhat like this; Conservatives often take the view that; "America has some faults, BUT is a great country.", while Liberals would say that there are some good things about America, but there are some basic flaws about the country."

The more I study the Founders, their genious stand out on an overall basis.

Don N. Hagist said...

In your title, you spelled "corrupting" wrong.

Steve Janoski said...

I was trying to think of what to write my newspaper column about this week, and I do believe, my dear friend, you have given me the subject.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I had once even considering getting the Gadsden rattlesnake tattooed on me because I love the simple but fierce message.

Now, the radicals who have abandoned all sense and reason have commandeered and ruined it - with complete disregard for its original meaning was.

Thanks for this post.

Joe Bauman said...

Coopting is a misspelling for corrupting? I don't think so. A blog about misuse of the Pine Tree Flag is a good excuse to rant against the Occupy movement and "progressives"? I don't think so. A statistic that Tea Party types care more about this period? Prove it.

JJ said...

I have to agree with Al J here. This is an informative blog and I enjoy reading it but sometimes (and it seems to be more and more lately) the political stuff seems too one-sided. To state that Obama was twice elected without balancing that Bush was also twice elected and had to endure some of the same nonsense from the other side's fringe is self-serving. Frankly, if the history part of this blog wasn't so good, I'd no longer read it. Can we stick with history? And if it is to be linked to modern movements, can we do without the biased, self-serving editorials? We all have CNBC and Chris Matthews for that.

Diane Mayr said...

Well done, John!

J. L. Bell said...

It's true that many demonstrations draw "kooks and fanatics," Al J. But that's an obvious attempt to create some sort of false equivalence.

The photograph above shows one of the main speakers at this weekend's "Million Vet March," a former Republican governor and Vice Presidential candidate, standing in front of a flag designed to call for armed rebellion. A Republican Senator also spoke at the event. The man who told President Obama to "put down the Quran" and resign was not a kook who had wandered into the scene but another speaker. Those messages weren't on the fringes of the event; they were the event.

The Occupy movement has not, to my recollection, made claiming the heritage of the American Revolution part of its message. In contrast, the Tea Party that arose in the wake of President Obama's election is trying to stake a claim, and often an exclusive claim, to what they see as the values or tradition of the Revolution. All American political movements can claim that heritage. Those who do while tying it to modern bigotry sully that heritage. And how we remember the Revolution has always been a topic of this website.

To John, I would refer to President George W. Bush as twice-elected if he were. In his first term he lacked what the Declaration of Independence called "the consent of the governed." I've pointed out the problem of the Electoral College on this site many times. (Bush also has no connection to this posting, so your suggestion that I should have mentioned him makes no sense.)

I'm amused by the perception that Presidents Bush and Obama faced the same level of criticism. Republicans in Congress have shown forms of disrespect for President Obama that historians say have no precedent. The attempts to delegitimize President Obama on the mythical bases of citizenship, religion, ideology, and other matters have come not just from "kooks and fanatics" or comedians but from Republican elected officials and candidates.

Protesters likened Bush to Hitler because he ordered the invasion of a country that hadn't attacked the U.S. using false evidence, created the surveillance state we still live under, and ordered the torture of prisoners. Protesters compare Obama to Hitler because he pushed a stimulus bill to halt an economic crisis and championed more efficient medical coverage for everyone. I think the first comparison was exaggerated, but the latter is just nuts. It reflects some deeper, visceral dislike of seeing Obama exercise the authority of the Presidency.

I won't be silent about the crisis that Republicans in Congress have manufactured for the American people this month. It's affecting my work and my friends. It's affecting the historic resources available to us. And it's reflecting poorly on our political system.

JJ said...

Here's the heading to your otherwise excellent blog:

History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.

This is why people read it.


Xathos said...

Well stated, J.L. I'm angry that the Tea Party has co-opted symbols of the American Revolution in an attempt to give their twisted and historically inaccurate ideology validity and legitimacy. The Tea Party does not know their basic American history. It gets worse when they try to explain things because they reveal just how little they know about American History.

The congressman that tried to compare this shutdown with the American Revolution is an imbecile. This senator who used my fellow veterans for his photo op is a liar who would fail my history tests. These people are leading even more incompetent people around. I find it amusing they want to call others sheep when they themselves are blind to the ring in their own noses.

J. L. Bell said...

When Sen. Ted Cruz shows up at a rally to complain about the closing of national monuments weeks after his 21-hour speech against a bill that would have kept those sites open with no strings attached, he's basically saying that he shouldn't have to face any consequences of his own political actions that makes him uncomfortable.

When protesters take the symbols and rhetoric of an armed uprising against an unelected government and taxation without representation and try to use them against laws enacted by a government elected by a democratic majority, they're basically saying they shouldn't have to face the consequences of living in a republic that make them uncomfortable.

And when people reading a free and advertising-free website about Revolutionary history complain when it analyzes the use of Revolutionary history in today's politics, they're basically saying they shouldn't have to face any consequences of the Revolution that make them uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Food for thought: For their time, our founders were considered liberals, and those who favored reconciliation and loyalty to the king were considered conservatives.

J. L. Bell said...

However, Marshall Stack, many of the most prominent (i.e., wealthy and educated) Founders entered into the Revolution with profoundly conservative goals: to maintain what they saw as the traditional privileges and autonomy of their communities or themselves.

In the process of that Revolution, I think, they discovered they could win only by adopting some profoundly progressive ideas: popular politics, republicanism, religious liberty. And that struggle also inspired other forms of liberalism: anti-slavery, consideration of women's political rights.

I see today's conservatism as having four strains, often working together but sometimes at odds (as the recent crisis shows). Today's liberalism may also have several strains. Some of those impulses would be considered traditional in the eighteenth century, some radical, which is why I think all parts of the modern American political spectrum can claim the Founding as part of their heritage.

J. L. Bell said...

Gary at the top mentioned the captchas necessary to comment here. I choose to use whatever verification Blogger provides and to approve comments for two reasons. One is to keep out spam, which appears daily. The other is to keep out bigoted bilge of the sort that someone just tried to add to this conversation.

As I wrote in the posting, “It should be easy to have a political demonstration without also demonstrating bigotry,” but apparently not for everyone.