What Does the ’76 Flag Mean?

What comes to mind when you see this ’76 flag (on my house)?

What values do you associate with this flag?

After putting this flag up, a good neighbor of mine text my wife much dismay with the flag pictured above. Because I was so surprised by my neighbor’s understanding of the ’76 flag, I am posting it here because I think that me and my neighbor share the same values; however, our interpretation of American symbols are very, very different. I will signify my neighbor’s comment with “N”, my wife’s comments with “W” and my comments with “JR.” This conversation started with my neighbor texting my wife:

N: Yup. Nothing like hanging a flag reminiscent of a time when women had absolutely had no rights. Cool. Nothing like looking back instead of forward. No worries, though, I don’t care what his politics are but when [my kid] asked about the funny flag I let [my kid] know what it would mean to [my kid] personally.

W: Sorry I have no control over what flies at our house or what school we side with on my license plate. 🙂 John says it stands for republicanism (equality over authoritarianism). We got him started now. He’s not happy with the interpretation

N: There was absolutely no equality for women until at least 1920. If you purposely display something that evokes strong sentimentality on your part better be prepared for everyone on the other side. He can explain to Ava [JR’s kid] how equal it is for women to not have have rights. Good luck with that.

JR: (John here) 1776 signifies the overthrow of domination by one against the other. The times were unequal, and the founders were far from perfect, but 76 symbolizes the idea of freedom from domination. To equate the time period with the message is to conflate the two

N: Freedom for white men, John, not freedom for all, that wasn’t a consideration for decades later, centuries in many cases and is still an issue globally. The fact that the human race did not consider “equality” to mean anything beyond the narrow scope of white man (in this instance) is an embarrassment to the species. That couple hundred year era, in particular, saw much of theost barassing [sic] [the most embarrassing] treatments of the anything-but-the homogenous-male by the “civilized” in the history of human kind. It is what it is. You can feel proud to fly your flag for your reasons and I can recognize what it also stands for for mine. Truly, no worries, different ideologies.

JR: Not different ideologies. If you are all about “nondomination” between races, gender, ethnicity. Then “76” is that flag…same ideology of the equal sign for gay rights. Just sayin. 76 fyi, is not the same as 1787 (constitution) which did code inequality etc. that’s why Abe Lincoln and others when they talk about equal rights specifically refer to 76…. You know I specialize in this conversation 😉

My neighbor didn’t respond to that, I assume, because we wouldn’t get anywhere (me writing my dissertation in poli-sci on a similar topic)–since my neighbor didn’t say; “Oh, I guess I conflated the two. There probably were people fighting, under the ideals of the Declaration of Independence (i.e., 1776) for the same freedoms we enjoy today–probably because of people, like you, who were [are] faithful to ’76…I’m glad you are flying it.” I assume my neighbor still looks at the ’76 flag and thinks about discrimination and inequality, etc.

I’m glad my neighbor started this conversation because I never would have guessed that someone would see the ’76 flag and associate it with the times and not the people holding the flag–those people fighting for freedom. In the end, I hope my neighbor considers my viewpoint–that we share the same values; only our interpretation of the symbols are different.

If so, I’m sure the neighborhood will become a stronger community. If not, I honestly think you risk teaching your child false doctrines, which will hinder your child’s educational growth and development. If your messages are sincere, I’m worried your hatred for inequality causes you to misunderstand and misinterpret American symbols.

I think this post is important as Memorial Day comes–as I remember all the troops from 1776 to the present who fought for freedom. Thanks for reading. Comments welcome below.

fyi: the license plate is Michigan State (go Green!).






10 thoughts on “What Does the ’76 Flag Mean?

  1. I guess this is interesting.

    But if you think about it the framer’s revolution of equality over authoritarianism was very limited (and largely driven by self-interest). If you compare that to the wide-spread revolution of equality (gender, sexual, racial, class, openness of government) over authoritarianism in the US (let alone the world) today it is far greater than any the framer’s ever did.

    If you care about republicanism you should celebrate the flag of today rather than an antique flag that represented a narrow and self-interested movement. The flag of today encompasses a much larger movement and a more apt and probably more genuine notion of equality than the flag of ’76.

  2. I interpret the symbol of ’76 as the spark of freedom which ignited (in 1776) the patriotism we share towards freedom. Without ’76, perhaps there is no Revolution for freedom–how would the current flag represent “freedom” then?

    In America, we don’t have slavery of races anymore–much ado about Lincoln calling on citizens to be Patriots to ’76–to be patriotic to the idea of freedom from domination itself. Therefore, the flag encompasses the idea of freedom which has been carried from generation to generation. I cannot understand how you see the American people as less free today than they were (as a whole) in 1776–when self-interest, slavery, segregation, ascriptive hierarchy, etc ran rampant.

    You see, ’76 means I’m still patriotic to the ideals of freedom for the American people, because we still need to remember the spark that lit our Revolution in order to continue trailblazing this pathway towards freedom.

  3. You missed the point. I am not saying people are less free today I am saying they are MORE free today. They are more free because they actively tore down those institutions you mentioned (and continue to fight for greater equality over social domination). Through this activism, this generation has accomplished more for freedom than the framer’s ever had.

    Sure maybe the framer’s started a movement in the US(probably not their intentions though, right? Probably just looking out for themselves) but they did a terrible job expanding upon it. Once they had theirs they gave up and even codified and enforced the social domination of others. How is that something to celebrate?

    My guess is that people who make rhetorical claims on the bases of ’76 (which I am not sure people actually do), it is not because anything informative about the event but more so because it has been romanticized into our political narrative. By making posting this and failing to see the failure of the framer’s you only further entrench that false romanticized narrative of ’76 at the expense of those who truly fought for equality over social domination.

  4. More free today? Yes; because of the continued commitment by American generations to the idea of ’76!

    From your comments, I think perhaps you read Beard’s analysis of the Founding–self-interested economic elites propelled the Revolution to maintain economic / social power. Yet this interpretation fails to account for “republicanism” which is the idea of the American Revolution itself! Generations have been fighting for, I would argue indefinitely, for the idea of republicanism–as born and bled for in ’76! Check out Wood’s “Idea of America,” particularly the explanation for how non-elites did rise to become Governors (i.e., Pennsylvania) during the Founding in American politics–truly exceptional “during those times.”

    For non-political scientists; there are many political scientists who understand American history based on classes (i.e., rich v. poor); which we call a Marxist analysis. In my research, I do not focus on classes; rather, the people’s commitments to republicanism, liberalism, and other “political languages.” Indeed, I find the beginnings of a “republican revival” (Ericson 1997) in response to the Patriot Act. I expect these people to proudly fly the flag of ’76 exactly because they are committed to the ideals of ’76.

    After all, the original Declaration of Independence did blame the evils of slavery on King George and suggested its immediate surrender to republican values. The Founders “got the idea,” and you are right–putting into practice is still an elusive endeavor. So you see, focusing on ’76 helps us remember the idea of freedom we still seek.

  5. How do you respond to this:

    The framer’s got equality for people like them and them immediately after created a constitutional system that codified domination and implemented authoritarianism for more than half the people in the country (women and blacks). What is to be celebrated about that?

    They gained an inch and lost a foot!

  6. ’76 called for a republicanism to triumph over imperialism, colonialism, in short, authoritarianism. In creating the first Republic under the Articles of Confederation, state governments were the power holders and they often dictated how the national government would function–or not function. The South was an authoritarian system, not a liberal system (and Tocqueville saw much authoritarianism in the North too) and southerners vehemently defended authoritarianism until the Civil War (Read Faust’s The Ideology of Slavery).

    As Genovese clarifies (1995, 61): “In particular, southerners, from social theorists to divines to politicians to ordinary slaveholders and yeomen, insisted fiercely that emancipation would cast blacks into a marketplace in which they could not compete and would condemn them to the fate of the Indians or worse. They meant what they said: The abolitionists are promoting genocide; we slaveholders, the Negro’s best if not only friend, will not permit it.”

    The second constitution was designed to dramatically strengthen the General Government because, as Madison pointed out in Federalist #10, the numerous factions in the American society (i.e., authoritarians, liberals, republicans) are vehemently opposed to each other and will cause the Republic to fail when vehemently fighting for their ideals–so compromise and limits on Government Force were agreed to. Had slavery been abolished in 1787, the South would most probably have immediately succeeded and become a separate nation.

    I say, ’76 is the remembrance of our republican ideals–of freedom; but the context of the times let the state republics (these “united States of America”) employ their own preferences without the standard norms and protocols for “republicanism” (i.e., enforce nondomination!). The Army and the American people were pretty much bankrupt after the American Revolution and state governments fended for themselves. Once we understand the context of the times, it’s easier to understand their republican shortcomings. The founders preferred republicanism, yet entire groups of power holders did not. Indeed, as Wood (2012) argues, in fact, Washington and Madison actually feared liberals operating State governments would crash the Republic before anyone else… liberals would borrow so much money to build projects that they’d bankrupt the States and the Republic.

    Like today, there weren’t that many republicans flying ’76 as a statistical abstract of the population. Does that help?

  7. I hope I can chime in on this conversation already a couple years old. Huzzah! for 76. You cannot compare the notion of equality and republicanism from today’s vantage point to that of 240 years ago. It’s a simpleton idea to beef about women or anyone else not having the same rights back then as they do today, and, therefore, to look away from the past. It’s missing the point entirely. This country has been evolving ever since it was founded. That’s both its beauty and its bane. You may not like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, et al for their views of women and/or others not white men, but the system of government those white men created allowed for a democracy (the first in the world), a people’s voice, and a Constitution that could be amended. It is important to realize that our society wouldn’t have been able to achieve the evolution that we’ve achieved had it not been for the transcending ideas of self-government which those sexist, racist, white men of 240 years ago implemented. Give them a break! Yes, they were imperfect. Yes, their times were much different from ours. But before George Washington came along, there was no democracy anywhere. Societies did not evolve. There was no popular voice. The notion of enfranchisement was born in the United States. It has taken a good long while for things to get better, and sometimes for things to get better there’s had to be some nasty passages, but things are much better today thanks to the kind of system our Founding Fathers created, despite all their warts and moles.

    • I agree with you. I would add, The Founders’ “had the vision” and not the reality. The vision of the American Dream remains, like a good Black man as President today. In my opinion, Trump’s jingoistic, narcissistic, and sociopath personality is anti-antithetical to the American Dream and the Founders’ vision. But maybe I’m missing the point: THE SPIRIT OF REPUBLICANISM AS THE VISION OF THE AMERICAN DREAM “REALIZED” REMAINS ALIVE, INTEGRAL TO THE AMERICAN CULTURE, and a shared political value system.

  8. This reply is about some of the other replies. The country you are living in is because of 1776. Without that, you’d be a subject of England because if the US never became a nation — the powerful democracy it became — you would still see other nations with powerful kings, emperors and dictators. England would still be imperial, or taken over by other such nations. Unfortunately, in modern times, people might still be heavily concerned about freedom for various people or beliefs, meanwhile your world has been taken over by international corporations/banks so your nations are no longer able to protect you from the loss of such freedoms because your very leaders are working for them. We are now in a world of bigger trouble than ever seen before — and in fact some of the US founding fathers did write about the possibility of this happening, but sadly never added protection against this in the US Constitution because it relied on the honor and dignity and intelligence of leaders which have failed us since the mid to late 1800s when rich men began to buy the President, etc. So, yes, the 76 flag goes back to a time when we were getting rid of our ties to England and starting a new nation, but now we are in a time when the power in charge is world-wide, and there’s no place to run. So, in a way, 76 still harken back to a time when there was a chance and a hope to make things better, and a kernel of hope for today.

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