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From The Historical Magazine, Volume II, No. 4, April, 1858, New York: C. Benjamin Richardson; pp. 97-98.


The Historical Magazine
Volume II, No. 4.
April, 1858.


In many of the portraits of Gen. Washington, presenting him in uniform as General of the armies of the United Colonies, and after the Declaration of Independence of the United States of North America, he is represented as wearing a “riband of blue.” By many this has been supposed to represent the badge of a Marshal of France, which rank, it has been suggested, was conferred upon him by the king of that country, to obviate any question of rank and military precedence between Gen. Washington and the commander of the forces of our ally. There does not appear to be any record of such a rank having ever been tendered to Gen. Washington; though there is little doubt, that at one time it may have been in contemplation, but, doubtless, was not carried into effect, lest it may have been construed as derogating from his title of General. We propose to present some reflections upon this badge, to show that it was adopted not only before the alliance with France, but before, even, any uniform had been agreed upon for the army of our Revolution; and that while adopted as an emblem of Union hallowed by many associations, it was at the same time a silent protest against a union of church and state, which his wisdom foresaw could be only fraught with evil to the liberties of his country. This idea is further enforced in his replies to the congratulatory addresses presented to him on the occasion of his election as President under our present Constitution, by the various religious societies in all parts of our country. In these, while gracefully accepting their congratulations, and approving of all earnest efforts to advance the worship of God, he sedulously avoids committing himself as Executive of the nation to the peculiar tenets of any one of them.

When Gustavus Adolphus sustained the cause of Protestantism in Europe, many Scotchmen sought his standard. His choicest battalions were clad in buff an blue. When the troubles in Scotland, in 1638, called Leslie and others home, they brought, with their affectionate veneration for Gustavus, a fancy for the uniform they had worn in his service. This, some of the clever Scotch clergy of the League and Covenant, whose banner of blue bore the Scottish arms, with the motto, “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant,” turned to advantage by uniting to it the memorial God had designated for His chosen people to remind them of His Covenant. By a strange freak or fancy, it is stated*: “The officers wore buff coats and blue scarfs, and the private men wore a blue ribbon for the horsemen around their necks, with the spanners [wrenches] of their firelocks in place of an order or medal, and the footmen a bunch of blue ribbons on their flat, blue bonnets.” After Montrose’s visit to Aberdeen, in command of a body of these troops, the ladies of Aberdeen opposed to the League and Covenant put blue ribbons around the necks of their lap-dogs, and called them Covenanters; hence, the appellation “Covenanting Dogs,” for which insult Aberdeen paid dearly when the day of reckoning came. A somewhat curious incident of this period is that the Covenant itself was in derision called “The constellation on the Back of Aries.” It was said to be on the back of Aries, the constellation of the Ram, because it was upon parchment, but why a constellation, is not mentioned; it may have borne a constellation of thirteen stars, in allusion to the star of Bethlehem and the twelve apostles, as the motto on the blue banner was “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant.” In 1679, when the banner of the League and Covenant was again raised in Scotland, it was a large red flag, the borders of which were edged with blue. But to return to our forefathers; they crossed the Atlantic to these then western wilds, and established a theocratic government after the model of the Jews, until finding the union of the church and state pernicious, they modified its form. At one time the 98 red cross of their country was a relic of Antichrist, and was cut from the flag at Salem. Time rolled on. In 1642, the House of Commons styled them the “Kingdom of New England,” and three eminent divines were invited to the assembly of divines at Westminster. Charles I., in 1649, perished on the Scaffold. The colonies of New England were in favor with the Commonwealth. Now they struck a coin “usually called Pine Trees,” says Gov. Hutchinson, but which a closer inspection will show was probably a Cedar Tree — an application to New England of the prophecy of Ezekiel, xvi. 22, 14, implying New England was “the highest branch of the high cedar” set by the Lord; “of his young twigs, a tender one,” planted upon a high mountain, and eminent “in the mountain of the height of Israel,” which was to become “a goodly cedar.” The reasons for this conclusion will be given hereafter. Charles II. came to the throne in 1660. In 1668, “Days of Humiliation were appointed in Massachusetts to deprecate Episcopal usurpation,”§ and the law in Massachusetts declaring none but church members freemen, was made null. In 1745, when they moved against Louisburg and took it, George Whitefield, the celebrated reformer, gave the motto placed upon the flag, “Nil desperandum Christo duce.” The same George “Whitefield, ere he left Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, on Monday afternoon, April the second, 1764, sent for Dr. Langdon, [who was settled in Portsmouth, 1745 to 1774, when he became President of Harvard College, Cambridge,**] and Mr. Haven, the Congregational ministers of the town, and upon their coming and being alone with him, said: ‘I can’t in conscience leave the town without acquainting you with a secret. My heart bleeds for America. O, poor New England! There is a deep laid plot against both your civil and religious liberties, and they will be lost. Your golden days are at an end. You have nothing but trouble before you. My information comes from the best authority in Great Britain. I was allowed to speak of the affair in general, but enjoined not to mention particulars. Your liberties will be lost.’ ” This anecdote Dr. Langdon mentioned in his sermon preached before the convention of ministers. The same Mr. Whitefield writes in reference to a sermon of Bishop Landaff, 1766, “supposing his lordship’s assertions true, then I fear it will follow that a society, which, since its first institution has been looked upon as a society for propagating the gospel, hath been all the while rather a society for propagating Episcopacy in foreign parts.†† Gordon also refers to papers proving “that it was the Metropolitan’s [Archbishop Secker] intention to reduce all the British Colonies under Episcopal authority.” The Quebec act filled the colonies with rage. In Dec., 1774, the clergy of Mass. were invited to advise their people to abide by and adhere to the Resolutions of the Continental Congress. In March, 1775, a flag on the liberty-pole in New York, bore the words of Jane Geddes, as she hurled her stool at the surpliced ministers in the church of Edinburgh, “No Popery,” and a portion of Whitefield’s lament, “The liberties of America;” and the first company uniformed there wore the buff and blue. There were non-importation agreements, and non-consumption agreements, in imitation of the Covenant. Other flags bore the mottoes “Qui transtulit sustinet,” “Appeal to Heaven,” and the Green Tree, the motto of which on some of the first coins was “Inest sua gratia parvis.” In the midst of this ferment, Gen. Washington arrived near Boston, took his quarters at Cambridge, was on the most intimate terms with Dr. Langdon, the friend and confidant of Whitefield. July 14, 1775, with the countersign Inverness, parole‡‡ Halifax, the army having no uniform, a general order was issued directing that the Commander-in-chief, the leader of the league and covenant for the liberties of America, be distinguished “by a light blue ribbon worn across his breast.” July 15, 1775, Dr. Langdon, President of the College at Cambridge, read to the assembled regiments, in the presence of General Washington, “The Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North America, now met in General Congress at Philadelphia, setting forth the causes and necessity of taking up arms,” in which a reference to the Quebec act was not omitted. In Sept. 1775, the flag of South Carolina, the home of the Huguenots, was also blue. These may be mere coincidences, but it would appear there was method in them.

NEW YORK, Feb. 6, 1858.


 *  Rebellions in Scotland, 1638-60, p. 144, 175, 176.

 †  Note to Rebellions in Scotland.

 ‡  Walter Scott’s Old Mortality, vol. ii. p. 116.

 §  Mass. Hist. Coll. vol. vi. p. 261.

 ¶  Gordon, vol. i. p. 102.

For a different view of America’s aggression against Louisburg in Canada, read the account by that delightful man, Frederick Cozzens, on this site: Chapter V, in Acadia; or a Month with the Blue Noses.

      Here Cozzens defines “Nil desperandum Christo duce,” as Nothing is to be despaired of with CHRIST for leader. — Elf.Ed.

**  Mass. Hist. Coll. vol. x. p. 51.

††  Gordon, vol. i. p. 102, et seq.

‡‡  American Archives, 4th Series, vol. ii. p. 1662.

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