That’s the date Massachusetts decided to join the United States by ratifying the US Constitution. Your state has a ratification date, too…this Commonwealth was the sixth to do so, and as always, your mileage may vary.
But what does that mean, exactly? Ratification is defined by our friends at Merriam-Webster thusly:
: to approve and sanction formally : confirm < ratify a treaty >
It’s the height of simplicity, really. At some point in time, everyone in this Commonwealth voted on whether or not to join the United States. Enough citizens said yes, and on the date referenced above, Governor John Hancock (yes, that one) officially signed the decree accepting the rules of the United States Constitution above the constitution of our own humble state.
It seems pretty definitive; we ceded our local authority in certain things to a higher body, who in turn pledged to work towards the betterment of all as stated in that thing called the Preamble.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the same document, which was sufficient to meet the 2/3 majority necessary to start operating under the new guidelines. While there are many dates on the calendar we could pick as our national holiday, the current Constitution (and government) took effect on March 4, 1789.
For 71 years, the arrangement worked reasonably well…until Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The reasons for the civil war are many, but none of them are subjects for today. Several of the Southern States arbitrarily decided they could no longer operate under the Constitution of the United States, and declared they would secede from the agreement.
: to withdraw from an organization (as a religious communion or political party or federation)
The problem with this is as I stated above; it was an arbitrary decision. No information I can find even suggests that secession went before the people of the several states in order to decide. This may be a matter for constitutional scholars to debate, but it seems to me that Southern secession was nothing more than an executive action perpetrated by just a handful of individuals.
Five years and 620,000 lives later, those that perpetrated what amounts to a personal insurrection were defeated by the army and resources of the United States of America. Although there was a formality of “Reconstruction” in the years following, I daresay that technically there was nothing to reconstruct, as secession was never voted on. Those states never actually abrogated the agreement of 1788, except by fiat…and failed to back it up by force of arms.
So what does that mean today? The old Confederacy, as it were, had many hallmarks and symbols, some of which we are familiar with, many more that we are not. The banner embraced by the South today actually had a limited, yet practical use during the insurrection. The *actual* flag of the Confederacy looked like this:
The banner that’s being fought over today is something else entirely. In the early, chaotic battles of the civil war, it was discovered that in the smoke and dust of combat it was easy to confuse the official flag of the Confederacy with the familiar Stars and Stripes of the United States. A new standard was developed, something that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.
It was only General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that used this flag during the latter stages of the war. Over time, it’s been corrupted and conflated, and today it stands as representation of the entire Confederacy, despite that categorization being historically inaccurate.
There are many that cry heritage and history, and cling to a historical mistake. I myself have seen this flag flown over a battlefield, at Gettysburg. I believed then that it was displayed in its appropriate historical context. Like many mis-appropriated symbols, over time the original meaning has been corrupted and lost. Men that fought under that banner would hardly recognize what it means today. Compare that battle flag to an even older historical symbol.
Rooted in ancient Sanskrit, the Swastika was once a symbol of good luck. Within living memory, an ideology so abhorrent and evil adopted that symbol as a mesmerizing image of national pride and race hatred. Despite what it meant previously, no one would even dream of flying such a flag today. Returning to our Southern States flying the banner of rebellion, it would be akin to a Nazi flag being flown today over a government house in Bavaria. It should be simply beyond comprehension that anyone would do such a thing.
Buried deep in our ancient 18th Century parchment is the following statement:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
Flying the flag of an enemy of the United States falls far outside these few sentences. But is that something the South really wants to associate with? Every elected official, everywhere in the United States, takes an oath of office that features a variation of the words “Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution of the United States”. This goes hand-in-hand with that ratification business of 227 years ago.
Modern secession has been debated time and time again in recent years, nearly all of it based on facetious, mundane, or trivial reasons. A document older than the Constitution warns us,
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
When the several states ratified the operating principles of the national government, we all started down a path that we are still treading today. Through thick and thin, insurrection, external wars, financial success and ruin, disasters man-made and natural – it’s all held together. But still, a small number of individuals continually try to destroy what it’s taken us centuries to build. Flying a symbol of a failed attempt to destroy the United States isn’t going to move their misguided causes forward. What that banner does now is serve as a marker for the rest of us to identify those that oppose the principles of the Constitution and don’t want to follow the rules codified in law, and indeed approved and ratified by our forefathers.
It’s one thing for individuals to rally around the banner of insurrection, but it’s quite another when it’s part of official seals and symbols of several states. Another piece of that cherished document gives private citizens that right, as we all know “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” But for the government of states that have agreed to, and ratified, the operating principles of the United States of America, this amounts to another attempt to abrogate that agreement.
No matter what splinter group has adopted that banner today, that’s not even what we should be fighting over. Any one of those things could be the “light and transient reasons” Jefferson warned us about. To me, flying the rebel flag indicates that you are not loyal to the United States, not loyal to the United States Constitution, and not loyal to the rights and privileges therein.
Flying the symbols of insurrection anywhere on official government ground is an insult to every citizen, and remains a symbol of defiance against the Constitution of the United States. It would be well within our rights as a country to send in the military and forcibly remove the hallmarks of rebellion, and ensure that elected officials indeed preserve, protect, and defend that Constitution our forefathers agreed to…or replace them with those who will.