Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Flag of Character

With the Tea Party folks around, I have seen more and more of those Gadsden flags flying. You know the ones, with the bright yellow field, a coiled snake in the middle, and the motto “Don’t tread on me” at the bottom. I like this flag because it is simple and to the point. I think it says just about all that needs to be said, when you are pondering the repercussions of kicking sand in the face of anything with fangs (and with the constitution to use them).

Christopher Gadsden (Feb. 1724 – Sept. 1805) was a wealthy merchant, revolutionary soldier, patriot and later British prisoner from South Carolina. He was among the first to serve in the Continental Congress and for nearly a decade prior, had urged the American colonies to form a union and fight England’s taxation policies. Even among friends Gadsden was outspoken but highly principled, stood for what he believed and was relentless. His grandson and U.S. Diplomat James Gadsden was of similar personality and later aided U.S. Southern transcontinental railroad expansion. The final 30 million acre chunk of New Mexico and Arizona’s current border (“The Gadsden Purchase”), was acquired from Mexico’s infamous dictator Santa Anna in 1852, for about 33 cents an acre.

It is believed that Gadsden’s flag was an adaptation of some of America’s first Philadelphia based Marines and their drum corps. They had painted their bright yellow drums like a coiled snake and emblazoned them with the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” motto. Regardless of genus, Gadsden’s flag and the U.S. Marines early history of toughness, resolve, and patriotism have forever become intertwined. It was Gadsden’s vision, and a little later, that of a young America, whose collective character came to be symbolized to the world by that defiant and deadly rattlesnake who prefers to be left alone in peace unless provoked.

In general I like people to fly flags as it shows a little passion; so it goes to reason that the Tea Party participants can relate to Gadsden’s pluck and stalwart symbolism. I believe it is healthy and a time-honored tradition that Americans should stand up and speak out when feeling dismissed or “tread” upon. In 2001 I was amazed at the amount of U.S. flags that flew for many months after 9/11. Despite the tragic catalyst which spurred the outpouring of patriotism, most every street stood up and displayed flags with passion. So smile proudly, when you see Gadsden’s snake, Old Glory, or even your favorite college sport flag flapping stately in the breeze. Regardless of your politics or favorite sport, those are your fellow PASSIONATE patriots simply expressing their points of view freely. They are not merely holding flags as individuals, they are proudly UPHOLDING a united America’s greatest treasure – its true character.

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