You see it everywhere at Tea Party rallies, the bright yellow flag with a coiled rattlesnake and the defiant slogan "Don't tread on me."
Probably, few Tea Partiers even know the name of the flag and fewer still know the story of the political manipulation by the rich and the powerful that the flag represents.
If they did, they would realize that their waving of the flag simply underscores their ignorance of the American patriot history that they so proudly claim to represent -- and the cynical manipulation of these modern day, self-styled patriots by the rich and powerful of today.
The Gadsden Flag grew out of the revolutionary history of Charleston. A dedicated, though often cautious patriot, the flag's designer Christopher Gadsden skillfully manipulated the passion and resentment of working people in colonial Charleston in support of the political goals of the rich merchant and planter class.
Gadsden was perhaps the second richest man in colonial America. He inherited a fortune from his father and made even more as a merchant and factor shipping the rice and indigo grown by slaves on South Carolina plantations and importing finished goods for the Colony.
In his history "Charleston! Charleston!" Walter Fraser describes how Gadsden and his fellow aristocrats understood the growing political power and restless rebellious spirit "of the lower orders" and the threat they posed to the established order of power and privilege.
Gadsden actively engaged these artisans and tradesmen, or mechanics as they were called at the time, and helped organize them as the Sons of Liberty. Thus, Gadsden and his fellow patricians sought to ensure the mechanics passions were "aligned with and led by the native rich."
As Fraser details, it was a mix of both his genuine revolutionary resentment toward the Crown and cynical manipulation of the Sons that guided Gadsden as he used "the herd" to further the interest of "men of property."
Gadsden and the wealthy elite of Charleston bear an eerie resemblance to the likes of Glenn Beck and Dick Armey -- and the K Street insiders and corporate funders -- that cynically manipulate the Tea Party movement of today.
Where once it was "Gadsden carefully orchestrating the public meetings he called at the taverns," today it is Glenn Beck whipping up frenzy among the faithful on the Mall or Nikki Haley charging up the local Tea Partiers.
Where once it was wealthy, slave-owning planters and merchants protecting their privilege -- now it is big insurance and giant oil companies protecting their interests. The new Tea Partiers rant at Obama's health care reform or rage against big government's efforts to tackle climate change -- and the radical libertarian Koch brothers of Koch Industries and their ilk fund the show.
"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it," said George Santayana.
And so we do…
The Tea Partiers would do well to read a little about the patriot history they so adamantly claim to represent.
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