The Forgotten Symbol of Liberty

The Forgotten Symbol of Liberty


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Grand Union Flag
Grand Union Flag

After more than two centuries of unprecedented freedom and prosperity, it is easy to take this great nation as something divine or preordained.  But that was not always the case.  Prior to the founding of the United States, the state of the common man was one of poverty and servitude.  Using history as a guide, many who were against the colonies separating from Britain did so on the very reasonable belief that the colonies 1) without British protection would be absorbed into the authoritarian French or Spanish Empires or 2) that any independent government would eventually become despotic.

When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776, after fifteen months of bloody warfare between North American Englishmen and their fellow British-born countrymen, these concerns were still alive and well in the minds of many of the delegates.  It was these very realistic concerns — and not loyalty to the crown — that was at the core of the heated debate.  Those opposed could not understand how those in favor could maintain their optimism despite thousands of years of history to the contrary.

“What form of government could possible resist the man’s natural instinct to control and exploit his fellow man?,” they asked.

The answer was provided by the architect of the Declaration himself, Thomas Jefferson, when he rose and asked:


Has not every restitution of the ancient Saxon laws had happy effects? Is it not better now that we return at once into that happy system of our ancestors, the wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man…?

It is important to note that the flag that the Continental Congress debated the issue of independence under was not the “Betsy Ross” flag.  It was a flag that is almost unknown to most Americans today, but it represented everything the men like Jefferson stood for.  It was also the flag that the forces of George Washington fought under and the one which a young lieutenant by the name of John Paul Jones raised on the first American naval ship.  It was, in fact, the national flag of the United States of America until 1777.


Image from high school history text book cir. 1880

What is significant about this flag is that it had the British

Union Jack where today we have the stars. This would be the first of many former British colonies, including Australia and New Zealand’s, which would honor Britain in their national flags. This is unique to the English-speaking countries and something that you do not see in former French and Spanish colonies.

This is because the Founding Fathers understood that being an Englishmen in the 18th century was something unique.  As George Washington would write at the end of the war, the foundation of the British Empire:

“Was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and suspicion but in an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any other former period.”

Whether he was a leader like Washington or the lowest private in the army, had the genius of Ben Franklin or the remedial education of a frontier farmer, the Englishmen of North American understood that they were fighting for their rights as “freeborn Englishmen.”

It is important to note that it was not their rights as men or even their human rights.  The fact that they stated that they were fighting for their rights as free born Englishmen meant that they understood that the liberties and rights they were fighting to preserve were unique to a certain people.  Those people were not Frenchmen, they were not Spaniards, they were not Russians, they were not Chinese: they were Englishmen!

The Founding Fathers were men who were well-versed in English history and its system of government. They understood that the liberties and rights that they enjoyed had evolved over a period that predates the Magna Carta and back to the fall of Rome. They understood, as renowned historical anthropologist and Cambridge professor Alan MacFarlane notes, that:

“England as a whole was different from the rest of Europe… a central and basic feature of English social structure has for long been the stress on the rights and privileges of the individual as against the greater group or the state.”

This was unique in a world where the norm for the average man was servitude and subservience to the state.

The fact is, as Jefferson eloquently pointed out, there is only one system of government that has a 500 year track record of bringing freedom and prosperity the every society that embraces.  Based on the on the Saxon principles of limited government, individual liberty, private property rights, and free market economics the United States resisted despotism and, along with other English-speaking countries with the same foundation, became the freest and most prosperous nation of the modern age.

In 1854, the famed 19th century historian, John Motley, wrote that “every schoolchild knows that the so called revolutions of Holland [1568], England [1688], and America [1776] are all links of the same chain.”  As the illustration shows, this history was taught well into the 1880s.

Now, it is unknown to the vast majority of Americans.

This is because history tells us that no other ideology could compete with or defeat the Saxon system.  Competing ideologies can claim to be a better alternative, but they always falling short – often with bloody consequences.   Therefore, the Grand Union flag, like anything else that represents the values and principles that made America (and the English-speaking nations in general) exceptional, had to be purged from the political consciousness of the people.  Thus, it became another victim of the Left’s distortion of history and the forgotten symbol of freedom.

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