On January 1, 1776, while the British laid siege to Boston, George Washington raised the Grand Union Flag on Prospect Hill near his headquarters in Cambridge. It was the first flag of the united colonies. It was known as the Congress Colors, the First Navy Ensign and the Cambridge Flag and could be considered the official flag of the American Revolution. It had 13 red and white stripes and a blue field with the red cross of St. George of England and the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland.
So, why did Washington raise a flag that was so similar to the emblem of England? A bit of history may be in order here. In 1603 King James I of England, who had been King James VI of Scotland, came to the throne as the monarch of both England and Scotland after Queen Elizabeth died. Though the two nations would not officially be joined until 1707, he combined the flags of England (St. George’s cross) and Scotland (St. Andrews cross) into one combined symbol. Thus, both Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) sailed ships flying this combined Union flag representing the nation from which they sailed. Later, St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland (now just Northern Ireland) was added in 1801 to make England’s Union Jack of today. Thus, the United Kingdom is a combination of several nations into one kingdom and its flag bears out that history.
In Scripture, a banner is a standard that depicts, in picture form, the ideas for which people are willing to give their lives. Depicting spiritual and physical warfare, Isaiah 59:19b says “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” We are to lift up, as a standard (like a flag), the eternal ideas, drawn from God’s Word, in the midst of a flood of evil rising around us. One of those ideas is that civil government is ordained of God and thus we owe it respect.
In October of 1775 George Washington created the “Appeal to Heaven” flag for his naval cruisers he had built and financed himself. With the pine tree as a symbol of religious and civil liberty, it had obvious overtones of appealing to God for the justice of the cause. Another example was the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag inspired by the Culpeper minutemen of Virginia in 1776 emphasizing resistance to tyranny. But these flags were not official and though they depicted important ideas they did not carry the weight of the Grand Union flag raising that took place January 1st, 1776. After all, Washington had just become Commander in Chief the summer before, and Independence would not be declared for six more months. The new flag (by Besty Ross), based on independence, would not be created until 1777. So what was so significant about this flag raising?
The Colonists had appealed to England on September 1, 1775 with an “Olive Branch Petition” where they asked the British Parliament and Crown to reconsider the violation of their natural rights as stated in their Charters. On October 27, 1775, the King responded with an aggressive and forceful speech that virtually severed the colonies from the mother country, saying they were “in rebellion.” No discussion of rights, rule of law or due process were addressed. It was either total submission to tyrannical rule voluntarily or by force. The British flag at that time was also called the Grand Union flag. It had the two crosses merged together to fill the entire flag – and symbolically it depicted the fact that the Crown filled the entire nation with “prerogative” and tyranny.
The written speech of the King had been passed around the militia units in Cambridge and the troops were furious and began to burn it in their campfires. If emotional vengeance and lawless anger had been elevated by the leaders, it would have had terrible consequences. For months a new standard had been discussed that would balance the rights of the colonies with respect for the mother country. This new flag was not a flag of rebellion or anarchy. Since it contained the symbols of the original flag of England, the British, and some colonial troops, thought it was a flag of surrender to England! However, the crown emblem had been reduced in size and the main symbols were now thirteen bands alternating between red and white to signify the unity of the thirteen colonies and the fact that they would submit to the rule of law and not lawless power from the Crown. It was the first official step forward under the rule of law and away from an oath of loyalty to an individual alone.
When the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower, they planted the seed of submission to civil government as a God ordained institution. They sailed under a Patent and Charter from the King (the very one who had driven them out of England), flying the Union flag. Once landing out of the jurisdiction of their written documents, they wrote the Mayflower Compact and stated, “In the name of God Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign King James.” God, to the people, and then to the King (or civil government) was a new power flow that would affect generations to come. They thus avoided anarchy and lawless behavior. Though the Pilgrims could never have envisioned the Declaration of Independence, they planted a seed of independence under God and the rule of law, functioning by the Compact they wrote under the rule of law.
So what is the lesson we can learn from this flag raising on Prospect Hill in Cambridge? Though surrounded by evil and a rising tide of lawlessness just like the Colonists were under the siege of Britain in Boston, we must raise, as a banner, the proper balance of submission to the rule of law with the discernment of lawfully resisting, from a place of principled unity. We will have to do this, not just by our rhetoric, but by our actions. Most who desire to increase the size and scope of civil government do not understand that they will come to oppose its fruit in the future. People are not our enemy. We must serve others, love our enemies, and allow God’s providential Hand to move in His time. We must, however, raise the banner of the ideas of Christian self-government and submissive yet lawful resistance to tyranny! If we do this, our children and grandchildren will thank us! Let us raise up the banner of truth!
In history we find some of the best writings to be apologetics or in defense of rights. In 1774 the Continental Congress published its Declaration and Resolves stating in part: “…By the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following rights… life, liberty and property.” The British Parliament had passed the “Intolerable Acts” (laying siege to Boston, shutting down colonial assemblies, making British officials immune to criminal prosecution, and quartering soldiers) as punishment for the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Intending to isolate Boston, England was shocked by the response of Colonies sending in supplies and calling a day of fasting and prayer. And it was prayer the initial prayer of the delegates that was the source of the clarity written in the Declaration and Resolves.
The colonists, well instructed in the principle of the “lower magistrate,” created their own government by consent called the Continental Congress. This principle of resistance by the lower magistrate, drawn from the Reformation, stated that one must be submitted to the rule of law before any form of resistance can be legitimately given to civil authorities. Since England had begun to dissolve the colonial Assemblies, they formed their own so that any form of self-defense would be “under authority” and they would take no direct resistance against the British Empire. It was taught in the pulpits of America that direct resistance is rebellion and God would become our adversary. Spiritually speaking they were right for one must submit to God’s authority before successfully resisting the enemy (James 4:7).
When the Continental Congress first met on September 5, 1774 at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, there was a sober atmosphere, knowing that England, their mother country, which had the greatest army on earth, was sending troops to force them into submission. The delegates were as conscious of submitting to God as the people that sent them. J. T. Headley, author of the book The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution, published in 1864, described the scene by quoting the letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
“When the Congress met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina because we were so divided in religious sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, that we could not join in the same act of worship. Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said, ‘that he was no bigot, and could hear a Prayer from any gentleman of Piety and virtue who was at the same time a friend to his Country. He was a stranger in Philadelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duche’ deserved that character and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche’, an Episcopal clergy man, might be desired to read Prayer to Congress tomorrow morning.’ The motion was seconded, and passed in the affirmative.”
The date was September 7, 1774 when Jacob Duche arrived before the Continental Congress. He read several Prayers in the established form and then read the Psalter for the 7th of September which was the 35th Psalm. Adams writes to Abigail “you must remember this was the next morning after we had heard of the cannonade of Boston.” He then added, “it seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning.”
Adams went on to say “After this, Mr. Duche unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporary Prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present… It had excellent effect upon every body here.”
Adams then quotes from part of Psalm 35 to his wife Abigail: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me; fight against them that fight against me; take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help; draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them.”
As recorded by Headley, Duche’ prayed:
“O Lord, our Heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires and governments, look down, we beseech thee, on these our American States, who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor, and thrown themselves on thy gracious protection, desiring henceforth to be dependent only on thee – to thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause – to thee do they now look up for that countenance and support which thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under thy nurturing care, give them wisdom in council, and valor in the field. Defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries. Convince them of the unrighteousness of their cause, and if they still persist in their sanguinary purpose, O let the voice of thine own unerring justice sounding in their hearts constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle.
Be thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable Assembly. Enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed – that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety may prevail and flourish amongst thy people. Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of their minds. Shower on them and the millions they here represent such temporal blessings as thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ thy Son, our Savior. Amen.”
This was one of those moments in history that captured the moving of God’s Spirit. Washington was there with Patrick Henry, John Randolph, Richard Henry Lee and John Jay along with John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. In all, 56 delegates from every colony except Georgia attended. John Adams wrote “It was enough to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave Pacific Quakers of Philadelphia.” Amazingly, Jacob Duche, who had been used so mightily in that hour and throughout the year of 1775, when he saw things go badly in 1776 and 1777, turned away from his country, ran to the British, and fled Philadelphia for England. But let us remember that God reigns, not mankind. The Scripture read by Duche, ordained by God, and then spontaneously prayed, inspired a group of patriots who began their deliberations on their knees. This is what must happen again – oh may the Spirit of God fill delegates and move our Congressional halls again!
It may come as a surprise to learn that it was a prayer meeting in 1806 and the work of missionaries in 1820 followed by a major revival that began the process of bringing the Hawaiian Islands into the United States. In 1959 Congress gave its approval, in June 93% of the people of Hawaii voted to enter, and on August 21 President Eisenhower certified Hawaii as our 50th state. On July 4, 1960, the new flag of the U. S., with 50 stars, became official. But why did it take nearly 140 years?
During the Second Great Awakening, five Williams college students had their discussion on foreign missions interrupted by a thunder storm and ended up praying under the shelter of a haystack in 1806. The results of that meeting birthed the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1816. Henry Opukahai’a and his friend Thomas Hopu fled their native Sandwich Islands (original name of Hawaii) in 1807. College students at Yale befriended them and won them to Christ in 1815. Henry’s Memoirs sold over half a million copies, but he died of typhus in 1818. He had written “My poor countrymen, without knowledge of the true God, and ignorant of the future world, have no Bible to read, no Sabbath.” He inspired missionaries to return to his homeland!
The ABCFM sent Thomas as translator with Hiram Bingham along with Asa and Lucy Thurston to the Sandwich Islands in 1820. They were sent out from Park Street Church in Boston. Three years later, they were joined by Betsey Stockton, among others, who was the first single woman ever sent into missions from America. As an African American, she had been born into slavery, but now was a missionary to bring spiritual and natural freedom to the Sandwich Islands! Together these early missionaries created the Hawaiian alphabet, translated the Bible, taught reading, English, Latin, history and mathematics. They set up a newspaper, schools and churches and confronted drunkenness, vice and prostitution. In only a few years 8,000 students graduated from over 200 schools! By 1823 six high chiefs and Queen Kaahumanu herself were converted and wanted to be baptized!
In the years that followed, native Hawaiians defied superstitions, stopped polygamy, spread the gospel and turned the once pagan Sandwich Islands into a Christian colony in only 25 years! One amazing example of this was the conversion and testimony of Chiefess Kapiolani. Converted by 1824, she did the unthinkable in 1825, and that was break the tabu, visiting the crater of the volcano where Pele, one of their gods supposedly lived. Accompanied by missionaries, she was told not to defy the gods. A prophetess of Pele confronted her. She defiantly ate the berries that were forbidden and declared “Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. Should I perish by her anger, then you may fear her power. But if Jehovah save me, when breaking her tabus, then must you fear and serve Jehovah. The gods of Hawaii are vain. Great is the goodness of Jehovah in sending missionaries to turn us from these vanities to the living God.” Unharmed, she was a catalyst for the revival to continue!
Though President Pierce attempted to annex Hawaii in 1854, the Senate rejected it. Many ask if the gratitude toward the U.S. for sending these missionaries was so great (and it was), why did it take so long for Hawaii to become a part of the U.S.? The continuation of revival is often hindered by the sin of man. Though missionaries from the United States were the catalysts for such a massive transformation, the U.S. also became a source of imperialism and corruption that would set back the gains of true Christian reformation by decades. Directed initially by John Quincy Adams, America’s original foreign policy was non-interventionist, seeking to send missionaries so that a nation was changed voluntarily from within and then would desire greater harmony with the U.S. During the Civil War, this began to wane and the beginnings of an imperialistic domination began. Hawaii was given “protectorate” status from 1875 to 1887, where its products were favored and it was a “territory” of the U.S.
The long standing non-interventionist policy of the U.S. meant, in practical terms, that we would not fight another nation’s revolution, nor would we force them to adopt a certain form of government. If they, on their own, did win their independence, they would have to be able to maintain their freedom on their own for a time, and adopt, voluntarily, a government in harmony with our Constitution. Then, if they were attacked, we would defend them if in this hemisphere. In essence, this was the original 1823 Monroe Doctrine. At the start of President Grover Cleveland’s second term, a treaty for the annexation of Hawaii was under consideration. But Cleveland suspected something was terribly wrong. It was.
Beginning on the 14th of January, 1883, within 32 days, the government of Hawaii was overthrown, a Provisional government set up and the entire process of a new government and a treaty were all administered! Cleveland’s words to the nation were refreshing, but also filled with remorse and repentance for our government’s ungodly behavior. “Our country was in danger of occupying the position of having actually set up a temporary government on foreign soil for the purpose of acquiring through that agency territory which we had wrongfully put in its possession….A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair…. The law of nations is rounded upon reason and justice, and the rules of conduct governing individual relations between citizens or subjects of a civilized state are equally applicable as between enlightened nations.”
After the Queen was restored to power, she traveled back to the United States to thank President Cleveland for standing up for the sovereign rights of her nation and against imperialism. A parade was held where the Queen was honored. In addition, once things were made right, the annexation of Hawaii did take place in 1898 under President McKinley. However, it was only a territory protected by the U.S. and there was no promise of Statehood. It appeared that our financial interests continued to take precedence over the self-government of the islands.
In the decades that followed the people of Hawaii demonstrated their loyalty to the United States, fighting in wars, and desiring to have more self-government and sovereignty under the Constitution (Article IV) than comes with just being a protected territory or colony. After all, to be a colony means the U.S. gets the benefit of a monopoly on trade but there is little reciprocity for the rights of its citizens. The lesson we must learn is simple. When we injure others and apologize, true restoration means that we treat them fairly and on an equal footing. This “imperialistic” attitude demonstrated toward Hawaii in the past still lingers today in our foreign policy. In any event, may the fragrance of true repentance and forgiveness be accompanied by restitution and restoration of equal relationships in our lives!
Noah Webster defined the word Providence to mean “foresight; timely care… foresight accompanied with the procurement of what is necessary for future use… the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures.” One key word in this definition is “timely”. In other words, God times events for His purposes, and California is such an example.
Though Natives discovered gold in 1841, nothing came of it. Though gold was again discovered in 1844, a misinterpretation of the Spanish language led to the abandonment of the enterprise. Why would years of inactivity “suddenly” occur, and gold “officially” discovered on January 24, 1848 in the little town of Coloma, become so significant? Hopefully, this history lesson provides a hint as to what God may have had in mind.
America’s Quadracentennial provides a time when Americans of all persuasions can rejoice together that the seeds planted at her birth were of such quality as to bring forth the civil liberty we still enjoy today. Yet, those conducting the “commemoration” (one cannot say celebration these days) of America’s four hundredth birthday find it difficult to give honor to whom honor is due.
It is common today to view all the European settlements, especially Jamestown and Plymouth, as an invasion. Since we must come to conclusions based upon a bias of historic interpretations (all have such a bias), it may be important to highlight the biased assumptions of some of today’s historians.