Press-Republican

Opinion

August 18, 2013

Editorial: Gadsden flag an American symbol

We’re completely taken aback by the controversy surrounding the Gadsden flag, which has been flown by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps since 1775.

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of American history should recognize the flag. It’s the banner with the coiled rattlesnake and the motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Somehow and somewhere, someone decided that the Gadsden flag should represent the Tea Party movement. The flag issue has unfolded greatly across the country, especially in the town of New Rochelle, located north of New York City.

The United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association is fighting the town for the right to fly the flag at the city-owned armory property, which used to be owned by the federal government and housed various military units over the years.

The fact that the president of the veterans’ group belongs to the Tea Party further complicates the issue.

The true significance of the Gadsen flag, however, has seemingly been lost on everyone except Revolutionary War buffs and military historians.

The use of the flag was the brainchild of Col. Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. He had seen and liked a bright yellow banner with a hissing, coiled rattlesnake riding up in the center. Beneath the serpent were the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Commodore Esek Hopkins, commander of the new Continental fleet, carried a similar flag in February 1776, when his ships put to sea for the first time. Hopkins captured large stores of British cannon and military supplies in the Bahamas.

Noteworthy is the fact that his cruise marked the salt-water baptism of the American Navy, and it saw the first landing of the Corps of Marines, on whose drums the Gadsden symbol was painted.

A variation of the flag, “Rebellious Stripes,” created at the time of the Stamp Act Congress, featured 13 red and white stripes. Stretched across the stripes was a rippling form of a rattlesnake and the words, “Don’t Tread on Me,” a striking indication of the colonists’ courage and the fierce desire for independence.

It was the first Navy Jack and was flown from the flagship of the newly commissioned Continental fleet. This powerful American symbol is still being used by the U.S. Navy.

The Tea Party adopted the flag in 2004, a fact that seems trivial in light of the flag’s distinguished history.

The Gadsden flag is an American symbol, not a Tea Party banner, plain and simple.

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