Southern History Series: Liberty: Its True Meaning In Tidewater

Here’s one of the most important excerpts from David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas:

“In the summer of 1776, when Thomas Jefferson was toiling over the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, three of his friends in Virginia were hard at work on another assignment. The Virginia Convention on July 1, 1776, ordered Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, and George Wythe to “devise a proper seal for this Commonwealth.”

These men represented a small elite of Virginia gentlemen who had ruled their “Ancient Dominion,” as they liked to call it, for more than a century. Their ancestors had been younger sons of English gentry and aristocracy, who emigrated to Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century. Their families were Anglican in religion, Royalist in politics during the English Civil War, and shared a pride in rank and ancestry, with coats of arms on file at the College of Heralds in London. In Virginia they became landowners, slavekeepers, and officeholders, and members of a close-linked cousinage who shared common interests and values. Even as much of their wealth rested on slavery, they had a highly developed sense of their own liberty and freedom.

On July 5, 1776, these gentlemen of Virginia recommended a design for a state seal, which represented their special vision of liberty and freedom. On the front (or obverse) they put two allegorical figures: “Virtus, the genius of the Commonwealth, dressed like an Amazon, resting on a spear with one hand, and holding a sword in the other, and treading on TYRANNY, represented by a man prostrate, a crown fallen from his head, a broken chain in his left hand, and a scourge in his right.” Underneath they added the motto Sic semper tyrannus, thus always for tyrants.

On the back (or reverse) of the seal was the figure of “LIBERTAS, with her wand and pileus.” A familiar image of the Roman goddess was copied from a leading work of ancient iconography in their well-stocked libraries, Joseph Spence’s Polymetis. She was given a Virginia meaning by the figures that surrounded her. On one side was the Roman harvest goddess, “CERES, with the cornucopia in one hand and an ear of wheat in the other.” The stalk of wheat represented the cash crop that was rapidly replacing tobacco as the leading source of income on large Virginia plantations. The cornucopia was a symbol of abundance in the largest and richest American colony. In 1776, Virginia was nearly as large and populous as the next two colonies combined.

One the other side of Libertas was “AETERNITAS, with the globe and phoenix.” The dynastic dreams of Virginia’s gentleman-planters, and their hopes for their own estates, were expressed in this allegorical figure of eternity, with the earth in one hand and an emblem of eternal rebirth in the other.

The most remarkable part of the seal, and a key to its special meaning, was the motto that Mason, Wythe, and Lee chose for the “exergon,” or outer rim of the design. In a great arc around the central figures of Libertas, Ceres, and Aeternitas, they ordered that “In the exergon, these words appear: DEUS NOBIS HAEC OTIA FECIT,” or “God has granted us leisure.”

The operative word was otium, which had a complex meaning in classical Latin. It could be translated both as “leisure” and “independence.” Liberty, in the minds of these Virginia gentlemen, was closely identified with those ideas. It meant a release from the tyranny of toil and liberty from dependence on another’s will. It signified not so much the reality of a Chesapeake planter’s life but rather its driving ideal. These men aspired to the condition of an independent gentleman who was the lord of his plantation, patriarch of his “people,” ruler of his country, and master of his time. In this coupling of libertas and otium, liberty and leisure and independence all became one.

In the Chesapeake colonies, libertas and otium were granted to people in different degrees, according to their station. Independent gentlemen were given many liberties and much leisure. Small farmers and tenants had less of both. Indentured servants possessed few liberties, and slaves had none. Liberty and leisure and independence were only for those who were allowed “to enter a state of society,” as George Mason carefully put it in his draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. The soaring phrases in that document were meant to apply to some Virginians but not others. Here was a very powerful idea of liberty that coexisted comfortably with slavery.”

For us the idea of liberty and freedom is a contradiction in terms, because we no longer share the assumptions of hierarchy on which it rests …”

There it is.

“Libertas,” the meaning of the “liberty” that Virginia’s gentlemen like George Washington were fighting for in the American Revolution has been hiding in plain sight this entire time. Once again, this IS NOT the liberty of classical liberalism, modern liberalism, mainstream conservatism or libertarianism. Instead, it is the ancient Roman understanding of “liberty” in classical republicanism.

From the Wikipedia entry on Virtus:

“Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin vir, “man”). It was thus a frequently stated virtue of Roman emperors, and was personified as a deity—Virtus. …”

Are these traits that you would associate with mainstream conservatism? Do you think of valor, manliness, excellence, courage and character while watching “conservatives” throw each other under the bus in order to conform to the absurd values of modern day political correctness?

The deity Virtus:

“In Roman mythology, Virtus was the deity of bravery and military strength, the personification of the Roman virtue of virtus. The Greek equivalent deity was Arete. He/she was identified with the Roman god Honos (personification of honor) and was often honored together with him, such as in the Temple of Virtus and Honos at the Porta Capena in Rome itself. …”

Virginia’s state flag is the personification of not being be a cuckservative.

The deity Virtus was the personification of virtue of courage, valor, honor and manliness and the military strength that comes from strength of character when these traits are cultivated in men. See, we used to imagine morality as virtues we cultivated and practiced to become better men.

Look at General George Washington:

Read the excerpt above.

Independent gentleman.

Lord of his plantation.

Patriarch of his people.

Ruler of his country.

Master of his time.

God has granted us leisure.

Ask yourself the following question: does this interpretation of President George Washington’s life make more sense to you than the notion that he was fighting the American Revolution for the triumph of “Judeo-Christianity” and modern day conservatism and lolbertarianism?

Do you remember the time we made the pilgrimage of Charlottesville to surround the Thomas Jefferson statue with torches at UVA while chanting YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US?

What were we doing that weekend? I would argue that we were defending the monuments of Jefferson, Jackson and Lee because we identified with those men. Also, I would take the argument further that what was really going on in Charlottesville was that deracinated Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Zoomers were rebelling against the political correctness, reasserting their sense of racial, ethnic and culture identity and were trying in their own way to reconnect with their roots and heritage.

The mainstream media dismissed this as “racism” and “white supremacy.” It has simply never occurred to them that it is important that young White men should have a healthy and positive sense of identity. It is important the present generation have a sense of continuity with the past the future. The modern day deracinated bugman individualist isn’t connected to anything except maybe his iPhone or his pet and lives out a miserable, meaningless life while working in a cubicle.

Independent gentleman.

Lord of his plantation.

Patriarch of his people.

Ruler of his country.

Master of his time.

God has granted us leisure.

What do you think motivated Robert E. Lee to resign from the U.S. Army and take up arms against the federal government? As an independent gentleman, Lee believed it was his duty to defend his own people, the Virginians, and it would be dishonorable to do otherwise.

King James I of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, grants a charter to the Virginia Company for the Gentleman Adventurers of the Elizabethan Age could realize their dream of founding an Anglo-Protestant Empire in the New World that would rival the Spanish Empire.

Independent gentleman.

Lord of his plantation.

Patriarch of his people.

Ruler of his country.

Master of his time.

God has granted us leisure.

ALSO: President Thomas Jefferson was an aloof, big brained autodidact with a wide variety of interests. He kept up with the intellectual debates then going on in Europe during the Enlightenment where he served as ambassador to France. Jefferson saw no contradiction between reason, humanity and race realism as one of the founders of the discourse that has been stigmatized as “scientific racism.”

The birth of Tidewater or Chesapeake culture.

Virginia is named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. Maryland is named after Queen Henrietta Maria the wife of King Charles I who was the son of King James I in whose honor Jamestowne was named. Most places in Virginia and Maryland are named after English royals like Georgetown in Washington, DC. which was named after King George II of Great Britain. It was the normal people from Britain, not the radical dissenters, who settled in Tidewater who identified with mainstream British culture.

Patrick Henry and Virginians debate the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

In the 18th century, the British people had become obsessed with their rights and liberties since the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which made the “free” people of England different from and better than their European rivals like the French and Spanish. In hindsight, this development should be seen as an internal evolution of Anglo culture, which had been excited about the possibility of discovering the universal laws of nature since Issac Newton’s discoveries in physics and optics.

The equestrian statues which dot the public landscape of the South whether it is Lee, Jackson and Stuart on Monument Avenue in Richmond or Andrew Jackson in New Orleans symbolize Virtus which is associated with male virility, honor, courage and military strength. No one will ever build a monument a weak-willed cuckservative pundit who has no male qualities worth publicly celebrating.

Jamestown island in Virginia.

This island was the beachhead of Southern culture in the 17th century. It was the place where our culture was born and got started. I visited it again a month ago.

My favorite map from Colin Woodard’s book American Nations.

In the 21st century, the United States is still divided into regional cultures which are a product of their settlement and history and understanding these cultures gives us insight into American politics. Even today, The Great Plantation that is Dixie is highly visible to modern cultural geographers


Angel Oak on Johns Island near Charleston, SC.

I love to use the Angel Oak as a metaphor to symbolize how Southern culture is organic, not abstract. We are the product of our history because our lives are embedded in time.

Not only have we grown from that small settlement in Jamestown into what we are today in the 21st century, but there is a high degree of continuity between the lives of our ancestors on either side of the Atlantic which the American Revolution never erased in 1776. Since this article is about Virginia’s conception of liberty, I will just point out how Virginia’s aristocratic elite modeled itself on the country gentry of the West Country in England from whom they were descended.

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  1. Because of “Primo Geniture”: Their ancestors had been younger sons of English gentry and aristocracy, who emigrated to Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century.

  2. Judging from the portrait, it sure looks like ol’ Georgie boy had plenty of leisure in his life. Just look at that rotund black and tan tavern gut.

  3. See, we used to imagine morality as virtues we cultivated and practiced to become better men.

    This is what I was taught about morality. Virtues that become engrained habit, and forming a part of our character and informing our every action without being conscious of it.

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