If you see the Gadsden Flag and your knee jerk reaction is “mainstream conservative Tea Party LARPer,” then you probably aren’t familiar with the American Revolution in the South. The Gadsden Flag was created by Christopher Gadsden who was the leader of the Patriot movement and the Sons of Liberty in South Carolina. He has been described as “the Sam Adams of the South.”
In order to understand how we ended up in the United States and how we got to where we are today, it is starting to dawn on me that we need a long overdue reckoning with the American Revolution. In hindsight, the Revolution is the single most important historical event in Southern history and American history at large and the meaning of the American Revolution has been twisted beyond recognition.
Who were the Founding Fathers of the South? Did they rebel against the British Empire so that their descendants could become woke on transgenderism in the 21st century? What did these men really believe? What motivated them? What were they trying to achieve?
So far, we’ve taken the first tentative steps in this direction by looking at the triumph of the “country ideology” in South Carolina in the decades before the American Revolution. We’ve also seen that “liberty” meant different things in different regions. It was associated with prosperity and growth in South Carolina. It was associated with economic independence and the cultivation of virtue in Tidewater. It essentially meant “leave me the f**k alone” to settlers in the Backcountry.
South Carolina Patriots often fought under the Gadsden Flag and the Moultrie Flag:
What is the meaning of this flag?
The blue background is the color of indigo which was then one of the leading crops of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The white crescent is a heraldic emblem of a younger son and was a symbol of the Lowcountry whose settlers were often the younger sons of families from Britain and Barbados who came to South Carolina in search of land. The crescent also symbolizes prosperity, growth and future opportunity. South Carolina was the wealthiest of the 13 American colonies.
The meaning of the word “liberty” in the middle of the crescent to these men was the country ideology which shaded into classical republicanism. As slaveowners and republicans, they admired the Roman Republic and believed that virtue was the foundation of liberty. From their perspective, the corruption of the British Court in the late 18th century was leading to the loss of their liberty.
South Carolina at this time and for decades thereafter into the 19th century had a cohesive elite and was ruled by consensus. There were no parties. Factionalism was frowned on and these men believed in governing on the basis of the common good of the state.
In the months ahead, we are going to be taking a closer look at Christopher Gadsden, John and Edward Rutledge, Henry Middleton, Charles Pinckney, Henry Laurens and the Founding Fathers of South Carolina, as well as their counterparts in the other Southern colonies.