All Americans recognize the U.S. flag. We all know the stars and stripes when we see them. However, many Americans may not be able to identify individual state flags. There are are fifty state flags and many of them give us a hint about what we as Americans cherish and stand for. This article will give an overview of what some of our state flags reveal about the values Americans have traditionally held dear.
The Pennsylvania flag is one of the most interesting. The state coat of arms was designed in 1777 and used on the militia flag of 1799. In 1907, the current flag, bearing the coast of arms, was finally adopted. The image shows a plow, wheat stalks, and a ship, surrounded by corn stalks and olive branches, with two horses on the sides and a bald eagle on top. The words “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence” show at the bottom. The various symbols represent the industry of Pennsylvanians, the prosperity and abundance of the state, and the loyalty of the state’s citizens to the Union.
The three words on the flag of course have the most overt message. Let’s discuss the word “virtue.” When you examine letters, documents, speeches, and sermons from the founding era, you find mention of the word “virtue” everywhere. Pennsylvania’s own Benjamin Franklin once wrote:
“I understand it to be the Will of God, that we should live virtuous, upright, and good-doing Lives. . . .
“. . . Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue. . . .
“. . . Peace, Unity and Virtue in any Church are more to be regarded than Orthodoxy . . . Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End No point of Faith is so plain, as that Morality is our Duty; for all Sides agree in that. A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian” (Benjamin Franklin, “Dialogue Between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735).
Even those not considered particularly religious were expected, by society, to be virtuous. Being virtuous was held in high regard by the ancient Romans and early Americans believed it was paramount for their fledgling Republic. Virtue was considered a part of citizenship. President George Washington explained:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. . . .
“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government” (George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796).
Virtue was seen as the embodiment of manliness, loyalty, morality, character, sturdiness in principle, the Christian faith, and so on. Without virtue, there could be no civil society and no Liberty. It was the “spring” from whence came our government. John Adams said it this way:
“Statesmen my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. . . . The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a greater Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.—They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies” (John Adams to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776).
Virtue, then, was considered the keystone of Americanism and a prerequisite of true patriotism. It was essential to the other two words on Pennsylvania’s flag – Liberty and Independence. Pennsylvania is not the only state, however, with such slogans proudly emblazoned on its flag.
Iowa’s flag proclaims: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” The words are written on a banner being carried in the beak of a flying eagle. Simple, yet powerful. The design is compelling and the expression is true. It’s sad to watch the ongoing Democratic Party caucus catastrophe making a mockery of that state and of its election process. It is equally sad to see that radicals like the homosexual socialist Pete Buttigieg, the Jewish-Marxist Bernie Sanders, and the fake Indian Elizabeth Warren leading the Democratic wolf pack in the state. Yet, if the people of Iowa ever need inspiration to guide their choices in the future, they need only look at their flag and take its words to heart. Valuing our God-given rights and maintaining them through selfless sacrifice has always been the duty of an American freeman.
Georgia’s great flag has several important messages. Set in a pattern unmistakably similar to Old Glory, the flag bears the words “Constitution,” “Wisdom,” “Justice,” “Moderation,” and “In God We Trust.” The words are part of our surrounding an arch on top of pillars. A soldier in a Revolutionary War uniform stands holding a sword, ready to defend the Constitution.
Though not always the design of the state flag, the current image tells us a lot. The flag points our minds to those things which are most important: God, the Constitution, and values like justice and wisdom. Abraham Baldwin, one of Georgia’s signers of the U.S. Constitution, had a major hand in creating the University of Georgia. In the university’s 1785 charter, we find these wise recommendations:
“As it is the distinguishing happiness of free governments that civil Order should be the Result of choice and not necessity, and the common wishes of the People become the Laws of the Land, their public prosperity and even existence very much depends upon suitably forming the minds and morals of their Citizens. When the Minds of people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled and their Conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater Confusions and with Evils more horrid than the wild, uncultivated State of Nature. It can only be happy where the public principles and Opinions are properly directed and their Manners regulated. This is an influence beyond the Stretch of Laws and punishments and can be claimed only by Religion and Education. It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of Religion and morality, and early to place the youth under the forming hand of Society that by instruction they may be moulded to the love of Virtue and good Order.”
You will notice the similarity in sentiment in these ideas and those of John Adams and George Washington. Everyone in our founding era knew that Freedom – even that protected by a written constitution as marvelous of our own – cannot remain and will profit little if the People are not virtuous. If our manners are not regulated by bringing them into harmony with the principles of religion and morality, and if we are not “moulded to the love of Virtue and good Order,” our Liberty will turn to licentiousness and our Republic will crumble. Georgia’s flag reminds us that we must trust in God and embrace just principles in order to maintain our Constitution.
Rhode Island, one of the original thirteen states, has a simple flag with another great message: Hope. The flag depicts a golden anchor above the word “Hope” surrounded by thirteen golden stars. Several sources attribute the impetus for using the word to the Apostle Paul who said that hope is “an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Specifically, our hope was to rest in Jesus Christ and His promise of eternal life to the faithful. Rhode Island’s flag, therefore, is another reminder that our forefathers looked to Christ and relied upon the “protection of divine Providence” in their endeavors.
Finally, I discuss what is likely my favorite state flag – the flag of Virginia. Certainly this flag is the most evocative of them all. The flag has gone through some superficial alterations, but has remained substantively the same. Virginia’s seal, which shows on her flag, was designed by a committee of four patriots in 1776: George Wythe, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Carter Nicholas Sr. George Wythe, the personal tutor of Thomas Jefferson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a temporary delegate to the Constitutional Convention, was the primary creator of the seal.
The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or Virtue, standing triumphantly over the slain body of a despotic king. Virtus holds both a spear and a sword whereas the fallen king’s whip and chain, symbols of his oppressive rule, lay impotently on the ground along with his crown. The Latin phrase Sic Semper Tyrannis, “thus always to tyrants,” or, more popularly, “death to tyrants,” features prominently on the image.
Virginia’s flag sums up the core American values of resistance to tyrants and obedience to God. Americans once believed that when the laws of despotic rulers contradict those of Almighty God, they had a sacred duty to resist and depose the despots and honor God instead. They certainly did not believe the mistaken doctrine that individuals owe blind obedience to their government no matter what. Instead, they knew that freemen only owe obedience to just laws – laws that safeguard their rights. Benjamin Franklin’s proposed motto for the nation summed up our forefathers’ attitude: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
John Adams reiterated the right of the American People – or any people – to kill a tyrant. He wrote:
“The right of a nation to kill a tyrant, in cases of necessity, can no more be doubted, than that to hang a robber, or kill a flea. But killing one tyrant only makes way for a worse, unless the people have sense, spirit, and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against tyranny; against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many. Let it be the study, therefore, of lawgivers and philosophers, to enlighten the people’s understandings and improve their morals, by good and general education; to enable them to comprehend the scheme of government, and to know upon what points their liberties depend; to dissipate those vulgar prejudices and popular superstitions that oppose themselves to good government; and to teach them that obedience to the laws is as indispensable in them as in lords and kings” (John Adams, “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,” 1787).
It is further significant that Virginia’s bold flag was adopted in 1861 when Virginia succeeded from the Union after Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily and unconstitutionally raised an army to attack South Carolina. Virginians in 1861 knew that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant who treated the Constitution like toilet paper. It was with Lincoln’s despotism in mind that they adopted the state seal with the iconic words Sic Semper Tyrannis as the official flag of the Old Dominion. It was this very phrase, death to tyrants, that John Wilkes Booth yelled when he shot President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater four years later.
Sic Semper Tyrannis is a phrase that all Americans should keep on the tip of their tongues. The great Thomas Jefferson proclaimed:
“God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion . . . What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” (Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, November 13, 1787).
Not only do Virginia’s tyrannical Democrat leaders who are assaulting the 2nd Amendment need to be warned and rebuked, but all American representatives who are threatening the God-given, Constitution-protected rights of Americans need to be warned and threatened. They need to know that “death to tyrants” isn’t an archaic notion, but an eternal American verity.
Many of America’s state flags are interesting and many are striking. However, it is the message they convey that matters. And, taken as a whole, they remind us of those things that made America great in the first place: Reliance upon God; hope centered in Jesus Christ; love of Liberty; ordered Freedom protected by the Constitution; and our People’s virtue. These are the things that really matter. They are the heart of what it means to be an American.
In this time of deep division and cultural crisis, we need to look to the past. The slogans of our noble past, those wise mottoes which fly overhead every day, point the way to the future. If we truly want to make America great again, we must recover and act upon the core values that made us great in the first place.
We have some very hard questions to ask ourselves as Americans. For starters, we can decide the following: Are we freemen who believe in Liberty and Independence or servile serfs who kow-tow to our own government representatives? Are we Americans whose hope centers in Christ or are we like godless socialists who put their trust in the state? Are we real Christians like our forefathers or will we reject our authentic heritage in favor anti-Christ systems of belief?
Fellow American, look to our state and national mottoes for guidance. Make “In God We Trust” a part of your everyday life. Uphold the principles of Liberty. And stand firm in defense of your rights with “Sic Semper Tyrannis” on your lips. God help us to restore our Republic!
February 6, 2020