Saturday, March 13, 2010

The 35-Star Flag

It has become fashionable in certain circles to adorn blogs and other websites with historic flags of the past and then wave those flags at rallies at other Americans as an implicit threat of armed action. Whether it be the Gadsden flag or the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, right-wing activists and Tea Baggers have rushed to adopt the symbols of these historic flags to further their ideology and push their messages of threat and fear.

The right wing has proven to be very good at co-opting historical symbols and names like "minuteman." I was reflecting on these facts the other day and I wondered what historic symbols might remain for Americans and Virginians who wish to express their support for the U.S. Constitution and Democracy and their opposition to the goals and threats of the Tea Party and those making explicit or implicit threats of secession or violence.

It took the better part of an afternoon, but I finally thought of a historic American flag that could serve as a symbol for loyal Americans and Virginians and serve as a warning to those who wish to inflict fear through violence: real or threatened. I also knew that this was a historic flag that the right wing could never embrace, despite the fact that it served as the focal point of one of the greatest triumphs of our Democracy. I am speaking of the flag of the United States of America in its 35-star configuration.

The 35-Star flag was the national flag of the United States for nearly two years. It was adopted on July 4, 1863 as the result of the admission of the state of West Virginia into the United States. Coincidentally, July 4, 1863 was the 87th anniversary of the announcement of the Declaration of Independence. Also by coincidence, it was the date of two great Union victories in the American Civil War: the Battle of Gettysburg and the Capture of Vicksburg.

The American Civil War would rage on for nearly two more years, but on April 3, 1865 federal troops occupied the Confederate Capitol of Richmond, Virginia and hoisted the 35-star flag over the burning ruins of what had been the rebel capital city.

The more I thought of it, the more I liked it as a symbol: a flag that served as the symbol of the Union restored, Democracy victorious, the Constitution redeemed, and Liberty spread to those who had been unfree: a perfect answer to the threats embodied in the flags chosen as symbols by the Tea Party. That's why I've added the 35-star flag of the United States to my sidebar: a reminder of the very best this nation stands for and a symbol of defiance against fear.

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