Gadsden flag still resonates today
(My Clovis News Journal column for September 27, 2013)
You have seen the bright yellow flags sporting the coiled rattlesnake, with the words "DONT TREAD ON ME" boldly emblazoned across the bottom, but have you ever really thought about the phrase, and what it means?
It doesn't say "Don't offend me". It doesn't say "Don't refuse to give me what I feel I am owed". It says "Don't TREAD on me". It warns against an act of physical aggressive violence; an initiation of force.
The "Don't tread on me" flag is properly referred to as the Gadsden flag, and was named after Colonel Christopher Gadsden. The flag is believed to have originated in 1775 with Colonel Gadsden, who presented one of these flags to the commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. Hopkins then flew the flag from his ship, the Alfred.
Some people consider the Gadsden flag to be the real American flag. It's older than the USA, older than the "Stars and Stripes", and conveys the message that "live and let live" is how America was set up to operate.
It was the flag of an earlier time- a time before the official policy was to attempt to bomb people in other parts of the world into freedom, or to preserve the liberties of Americans by violating liberty here and abroad. A time before an imperial USA came into being. A time and a spirit long since violated by NSA spying, by socialized medicine, by US military bases in the majority of countries around the globe, by never-ending wars, and by an occupied America where "freedom" is an empty word uttered under the watchful eyes of those tasked with enforcing an unknowable number of petty "laws".
A time before being trod upon was official policy.
Perhaps that is why it resonates with so many today.
Of course, some people- who don't seem to really understand the message behind the flag- use it to show disdain for the current federal administration, not realizing the message applies just as surely to every US administration since at least Lincoln's.
"Don't tread on me" is the quintessential libertarian message. It is not a statement of aggressive intent, nor is it a passive surrender. It says "I will not come after you to cause you harm, but if you step on me I will take measures to defend myself".
I love seeing the Gadsden flag flying high, but even more than that, I love it when those flying it truly understand what the flag stands for. "Don't tread on me": it's more than just a flag.