I will have to admit that as much as I love history, and particularly American history, I was not aware of the significance of the Liberty Pole or the red Phrygian cap that often sits atop the pole. Maybe it’s because I am originally from Western Pennsylvania and those particular symbols probably left a bad taste in the mouths of my forefathers that no amount of whiskey could wash away (which I will explain more in detail later).
Watching America in trouble today because of its financial and lack of leadership situation, I have thought a lot about how bad we have things in this day and age. No one can agree on anything, no one is really leading, and no one is listening to the people. Spending is out of control and we have committed ourselves to debts well beyond this generation But as the famous old quote says “Its in times like these I am reminded there have always been times like these”.
Note: If your personal studies have included an exhaustive look at Liberty Poles, you can feel free to take the day off or at least skip down to the last few paragraphs where I normally try to justify my article and your investment of time. If this is new information for you, I hope you learn as much as I did and seek further knowledge. I think an informed electorate scares the bejesus out of the average politician today and my goal in life is to make that happen with this current crop.
A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, which may be surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap. They are associated with the Atlantic Revolutions of the late eighteenth century.set up as a symbol of liberty.
The American story of the Liberty Pole dates back to 1765. Samuel Adams started the organization called the Sons of Liberty to protest British taxes, and their membership grew rapidly in the colonies. The Sons of Liberty were in the habit of meeting under a large tree, which was present in many village greens. These came to be known as the “Liberty Tree”. However, in towns that lacked a tree big enough, the patriots would erect a tall pole instead, as a symbol of a Liberty Tree, which naturally, was then called a “Liberty Pole”.
The Liberty Pole was usually located in the town square, consisted of a tall straight pole sometimes over 100 feet in height, which served as a central meeting place for townsfolk, and also served as a symbol of resistance to the British. A flag sometimes flew from the pole, which consisted of nine vertical stripes of alternating red and white.
They mostly met at night to avoid the attention of British officials. The goal of the groups was to organize public opinion and coordinate patriotic actions against Great Britain. During the course of the Revolutionary War, many of these Poles were the source of conflict as the British kept cutting them down and the Patriots kept putting them back again. By the end of the war, they were a powerful symbol and some towns in New England still have celebrations and reenactments each year as a reminder of the original spirit.
Post Revolution America
A casual reading of the events In America after the revolution reveals a time of intense turmoil. The romantic version is that with some small struggles, men of courage and vision crafted not only the Constitution but found a way to lead this assembly of disparate interests. The truth of course is that each section had their own special interests and they fought like rabid dogs to gain a foothold. Even the election of George Washington did little to unite the former colonies in a way that was meaningful.
The fledgling country was left with debts at the end of the war and ideas on how to pay the debt were in short supply. The new U.S. federal government began operating in 1789, following the ratification of the United States Constitution. The previous government under the Articles of Confederation had been unable to levy taxes; it had borrowed money to meet expenses, accumulating $54 million in debt. The states had amassed an additional $25 million in debt.
Imagine that. A country that spends beyond its ability to pay its debt.
To pay the debt Alexander Hamilton desired to create a national financial institution and consolidation of the two debts into a national interest was approved. The next step was to examine revenue sources. Import fees were as high as reasonable so the next place to tax was something that was supposedly an easy target: Whiskey
The “Westerners” (meaning people in the western most regions of the states including Pennsylvania) felt that the tax was unfairly targeted towards them. Whiskey distilling was a fundamental freedom and right and this interference equated to an establishment of a completely unjustified intrusion on their freedoms.
As the resistance grew, Liberty poles were raised in various places as the national militia was recruited, worrying federal officials it symbolized opposition to Federalism, and the Federalists would therefore try to remove the Liberty Cap from the Liberty Pole.
A liberty pole was raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on September 11.When the federalized militia arrived in that town later that month, suspected pole-raisers were rounded up. Two civilians were killed in these operations. On September 29, an unarmed boy was shot by an officer whose pistol accidentally fired. Two days later, a man was stabbed to death by a soldier while resisting arrest. President Washington ordered the arrest of the two soldiers and had them turned over to civilian authorities. A state judge determined that the deaths had been accidental, and the soldiers were released.
(Note: The seal of Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, also contains a Liberty Cap. The college, endowed by Founding Father John Dickinson at the behest of Benjamin Rush, was the first to be chartered in the new Republic.)
The Federal Militia vastly overwhelmed the size of the fledgling Whiskey Rebellion and no major conflicts were needed to bring the rebellion to an end. Interestingly enough, the Liberty Poles became part of the symbolism of the emerging Republic.
A Phrygian cap on the Seal of the United States Senate.During the 18th century, the red Phrygian cap evolved into a symbol of freedom, held aloft on a Liberty Pole during the American Revolutionary War. The “Liberty Cap” was a soft, limp, red, close-fitting cap which was worn on the head of representations of the goddess of liberty. The origin of the cap was from the Phrygian cap worn by freed slaves during the Roman Empire. The U.S. Army has, since 1778, utilized a “War Office Seal” in which the motto “This We’ll Defend” is displayed directly over a Phrygian cap on an upturned sword.
(The popular cartoon characters The Smurfs, are famous for their white Phrygian caps. I am sure there is no correlation to the US Army)
So what are the lessons for today’s world from this failed rebellion?
1. If we are to continue as a country, we will have to recognize that there are bills that will need to be paid responsibly.
2. It is in the nation’s best interest to restrict spending as much as it can after satisfying the real national needs because the undue pressures of debt will always tear at the seams of the Republic. These include defense and the general welfare of the states.
3. There is no evidence that the founders ever intended for this to become a welfare “nation” and that state’s and individual rights were balanced by state’s and individual’s responsibility.
3. The commerce laws between states are not blanket approval to do anything not previously covered by specific spending. Health care, education, environmental agencies, OSHA and the lot are all redundant and create a maze of regulations that are killing our economy. More is not better.
4. As long as there are two or three gathered, there is going to be conflict. Don’t worry so much about how unique we are in this day and age regarding the splits that are evident. Frankly, I think the discussions and divisions will actually make us think more about what we are doing.
5. The government can’t and shouldn’t try to fix everything. While my ancestors from the Whiskey Rebellion did not win in the classical sense, they were a healthy reminder that we need to question governmental authority from time to time when that government assumes it knows more than the people being governed.
Recent major legislation is a perfect example of overreaching the authority we granted to the elected officials. The economy is in trouble because both parties have allowed the overreaching arm of Big Government to spend us into oblivion. The first three steps needed are to reverse Obamacare 100%, kill Dodd-Frank (not the people of course but the silly ass rules they imposed on business), and get rid of the “regulatory agencies” that have grown like wildfire choking off the lifeblood of our economy. Entitlement reform is next and revising the tax code will be a big plus.