How To Cap Off The Election — A Modest Suggestion

My regular readers will recall the Phrygian cap*, which the “Sons of Liberty” adopted about 1766 as the emblem of our Revolution. Many of the militia who served in the Revolutionary War wore the “Liberty cap” with “Liberty” or “Liberty or Death” or “Congress” embroidered on the headband.

[* “Who Stole Our American Hat?” 9 Sept 08]

You don’t see that much in the movies, of course. Nor, does the “Liberty cap” mean much anymore — although at one time, it was not only the emblem of the American Revolution, but was incorporated into the coats of arms of several states (New York and New Jersey, for instance) and chunks of the federal government. The Liberty cap is at the center of the Army seal on the Army flag. It is on the seal of the Senate, and on a very nice stained glass window with that seal IN the Senate.

ussenateseal1

It was on our first national coin, the famous “Liberty cap penny,” and seems to have vanished somewhere between World War I and World War II. Lady Liberty, the Goddess of Liberty, etc. ALWAYS had the Phrygian cap, which had been an attribute of Libertas, the Goddess of Liberty in Rome.

And, between the Roman era and the American Revolution, the Goddess and the meaning of the cap were forgotten.

We, the Americans, revived the liberty cap, and everyone understood what it meant: we were throwing off the slavery of the King of England. The hypocrisy as regards slavery was a big sticking point in the deliberations that produced the Declaration of Independence, of course, but the SYMBOL reverberated around the world far more than any shot did.

The French Revolution ADOPTED the Libery Cap, and the portrait of Maryanne always portrays her wearing a Liberty cap. It is in the official seal of Nicaragua.

nicaragua_coa

Wikipedia:

Many of the anti-colonial revolutions in Mexico and South America were heavily inspired by the imagery and slogans of the American and French Revolutions. As a result, the cap has appeared on the coats of arms of many Latin American nations.

The cap had also been displayed on certain Mexican coins (most notably the old 8 reales coin) through the late 19th century into the mid 20th century. Today, it is featured on the coats of arms or national flags of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Here it is on the flag of Paraguay:

paraguay

And here it is on a Mexican coin from 1899:

mexico1899

And it was SUPPOSED to be on the statue atop of the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C. but a funny thing happened, which is why we have the weird Turkey Headdress that currently adorns the statue. It’s more than aesthetically ugly. It’s morally and historically ugly. (And Wikipedia gets this part wrong.)

freedom_3

Let me tell you why.

First, we have to back up a little, and let me explain something about the “Founding Fathers” and their society. They were a classically-educated group of Enlightenment thinkers. They had all read the Roman Histories, the Greek Myths, the writings of the philosophers from Socrates and Aristotle to Marcus Aurelius.

And, as such, the Phrygian cap was an important and instantly understood symbol to them. You see, in ancient Rome, upon manumission (the freeing of a slave), the freedman would shave his head and put on the red Phrygian cap. Which meant, to the Romans, here was someone who had gained their freedom.

The metaphor was so significant even to the Romans that when Caesar was assassinated by a group of Senators (because they feared that their “Republic” would end with an emperor), Marcus Brutus (yes, THAT Brutus) had a commemorative coin minted (no doubt through the Appian Mint™) showing a liberty cap between two daggers.

Like I said, it caught on. It became a universally accepted American symbol with two notable exceptions. First, the Statue of Liberty, which has that spiky thing, in place of the Phrygian cap. And, secondly, in the Statue of Liberty on the Dome of the Capitol, which was constructed during the Civil War (Lincoln and Congress thought it important as a symbol of something rising as the nation itself was reunited.

Only problem was, Jefferson Davis didn’t like the meaning of the Phrygian cap, even though it had been as American as … well, Apple Pie.

Here is what the Architect of the Capitol (who oughta know) has to say on the matter:

The bronze Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford is the crowning feature of the dome of the United States Capitol. The statue is a classical female figure of Freedom wearing flowing draperies. Her right hand rests upon the hilt of a sheathed sword; her left holds a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States with thirteen stripes. Her helmet is encircled by stars and features a crest composed of an eagle’s head, feathers, and talons, a reference to the costume of Native Americans. A brooch inscribed “U.S.” secures her fringed robes. She stands on a cast-iron globe encircled with the national motto, E Pluribus Unum. The lower part of the base is decorated with fasces and wreaths. Ten bronze points tipped with platinum are attached to her headdress, shoulders, and shield for protection from lightning. The bronze statue stands 19 feet 6 inches tall and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds. Her crest rises 288 feet above the east front plaza.

A monumental statue for the top of the national Capitol appeared in Architect Thomas U. Walter’s original drawing for the new cast-iron dome, which was authorized in 1855. Walter’s drawing showed the outline of a statue representing Liberty; Crawford proposed an allegorical figure of “Freedom triumphant in War and Peace.” After Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to the sculptor’s intention to include a liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, Crawford replaced it with a crested Roman helmet. [emphasis added]

And here’s the picture of the original model, before Jefferson Davis forced the turkey bonnet on the statue:

origmode1

This is not only preferable to the abomination decreed by Jefferson Davis, but would, with this election, be the fitting and proper statue on top of the Capitol Dome.

Because the meaning of the Phrygian cap needs to return to us. It, along with the Goddess of Liberty are still so powerful a symbol that the Chinese in Tienanmen Square created a “Goddess of Democracy” not exactly with a Liberty cap (more Sonic the Hedgehog, actually):

tiananmen_square_protests

Now is the momednt, and I cannot think of a more proper and fitting moment in history to remove the abomination of slavery’s representative, Jefferson Davis, and return to the true meaning of the Declaration — that all men are created equal. And to our Liberty cap.

Do you “get” it? The Liberty cap was CENSORED from the statue in the 1850s because of Southern Antebellum Political Correctness. (Or, should I say, ‘Keerecktnis’?). That craven action needs to be rectified.

That would not only correct a grievous aesthetic and historical mistake, but would renew the meaning of the Liberty cap to the world — the same world that we renewed its meaning to once before, in 1766.

And it would be a statement on racial equality not requiring any statement on racial equality. It is what it is, ever since Thomas Jefferson reminded us that certain rights are inalienable (or, as Adams had the printer emend: “unalienable”).

I think that “fixing” the Statue of Freedom would be a perfect “capper” for Congress to fix this. They’ve already removed the statue once, in 1993 for cleaning. It wouldn’t be a great matter of dollars to do it again.

freedom_5

The statue being moved for cleaning via helicopter in 1993.

But it would be a monumental matter of symbolism. And not just for us, the U.S.

Remember, Americans wearing the Liberty cap were fighting and dying for the Congress now under that dome, before there WAS a Constitution and before there was a Declaration of Independence. No one, to my knowledge, has ever died for our country under Jefferson Davis’ turkey headdress (except, possibly, some Las Vegas showgirls).

lightning-points-on-freedoms-feathered-headdress

Jeff Davis’ Turkey headdress from above (the spikes are ‘lightning points’) in 1993

Fix it. Fix it now. The timing will never be better.

That’s my modest proposal.

Courage.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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5 Responses to How To Cap Off The Election — A Modest Suggestion

  1. Hank Edson says:

    A terrific article, Mr. Williams.  Thank you for this historical survey.  I found it extremely valuable!

  2. Hart Williams says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Hank.

  3. I was just in Washington DC on November 20, 2008 meeting with our Congressman Pete Sessions and Eddie Bernice Johnsons’ staff and submitting a request for a H.R. Resolution for the Liberty Cap be placed.  They are currently seeking which committee will review for January 2008.  Great Job! Join us in our Vote: Congress let us be heard.  Go to my website http://www.projecta23.com and click onto blog and you will see my press release and status out of my Washington DC meeting and please post a comment.  Sincerely, Venita Benitez.  I’ve been working on this project for two years.  It can be done and we need to restore it.

  4. Venita, you really have an impressive website with a wealth of research and information, much of which was new to me.

    Let me know if I can help with this.

  5. Hi Hart Williams,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Please email me at venitabenitez@tx.rr.com and I will lead you to help me (us) with our movement. For starters: go to OpenConcess. Our Liberty Cap made it to the front page on their site. They are conducting a poll with the question “was this artical useful? yes or no
    you will need to selceton “yes” @@@ but before your vots counts…. you must logon to their site with your email address and then you can Vote. I say…. send this message to all your friends and join the movement. YES WE CAN