History of “Come and Take It”

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History of “Come and Take It”

Political phrases and rallying cries are usually short, sweet, and to the point. They're also usually catchy and are most often only created when needed – in other words, they don't usually have a long history to go with them since they are specific to the political issue being argued.

You might think this is the case with the gun rights activist phrase “Come and Take It.” But in reality, “Come and Take It” has a much longer history than you might think. In fact, “Come and Take It” has a history stretching back to thousands of years ago, though its original use was for a similar purpose: defying people trying to control others.

If you’re thinking of using “Come and Take It” as a phrase at political rallies or buying T-shirts with these words on their fronts, that’s great! But you should understand the history behind “Come and Take It” before you start saying it yourself. Don’t worry. The history is interesting, we promise!

An Origin in Sparta

While many modern Americans believe that “Come and Take It” is a new phrase, it actually originates in ancient Sparta! We can’t think of anything more appropriate given Sparta’s resistance to violent conquest at Thermopylae.

For those who aren’t aware of this historic last stand, this is a brief breakdown of the situation:

  • The Spartans formed a line of defense at Thermopylae, a valley pass that was set to be traversed by an invading Persian army. The Persians were led by King Xerxes, who wanted to conquer all of Greece, including Sparta and Athens: the two largest city-states and rivals at the time.

  • While Athens scrambled to get its navy ready for battle, Sparta led the charge and met the Persian charge at Thermopylae. While the legend says that 300 Spartans held the line alone, in reality, it was probably closer to 300 official Spartan warriors (think the guys in golden armor from movies), alongside a few thousand slave hoplites and some thousands of armed men from other Greek city-states.

  • Even with the historical inaccuracies found in most pop-culture, this stand is one of the most famous in history.

The phrase “Come and Take It” was allegedly used by the Spartan King Leonidas I, who gave it as his defiant answer when Xerxes demanded that the Spartans surrender and give him Greece.

The Spartans and their allies eventually lost. But not before buying enough time for Athens and other city-states to band together and defeat the Persians decisively a few years later. Indeed, historians now say that the Spartan last stand at Thermopylae allowed the Greeks to retain their independence, much like the later Battle of the Alamo led to Sam Houston defeating Santa Ana during the Texan War for Independence.

It’s no surprise, then, that this phrase came up in later revolutionary times. But it may not have been repeated on purpose!

The American Revolution Revives the Challenge

Indeed, the next time “Come and Take It” shows up in history is during the American Revolutionary War. Specifically, it was heard at Sunbury, Georgia, which was one of the state’s most active ports at the time. It was also the site of Fort Morris, which was commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1778.

In November of the same year, a small army of British soldiers attempted to take the Fort. The Continental Army defenders were led by Colonel John McIntosh, who was in charge of just 127 men in addition to a few extra militiamen and citizens.

The British naturally demanded the surrender of the American rebels. But Colonel McIntosh wrote back a scathing reply, which included the iconic words "Come and Take It!” It’s unknown whether Colonel McIntosh knew about the connection to ancient Sparta. In fact, it’s more likely that he had no idea he was invoking an old and defiant cry from a brave Spartan King.

Amazingly, the British did not attack. This was in part due to a lack of intelligence and, in part, because they believed Col. McIntosh must have had other forces at his disposal to be so brazen. Whatever the reason, it worked out for the American defenders of the time.

While Sunbury, Georgia, was eventually taken by the British, it was another iconic moment when the phrase was used in spite of overwhelming odds and opposition.

The Texan Revolution’s Take on “Come and Take It”

Perhaps the most famous usage of this phrase for Americans came during the Texan Revolution. “Come and Take It” appeared on an iconic flag, with the words in black set against a white field. The words were also accompanied by a black cannon and a single black star.

The history behind this flag is interesting. In January of 1831, Green DeWitt requested additional armaments to defend Gonzales from incoming Mexican forces. All DeWitt got was a small bronze cannon, which was later mounted to a Gonzales blockhouse.

The cannon came into use during the battle of Gonzales, which was also the first land battle of the Texas Revolution. As such, it became a symbol of Texan pride, especially since the Texan defenders resisted the Mexicans in Gonzales successfully.

The flag was fashioned because the Mexican forces were ordered to take control of the cannon itself as a symbol of Texan resistance. Since they failed, the flag was a cheeky reminder that the Mexicans wouldn’t get anything from the Texans without a fight. There’s some evidence that this cannon continue to serve throughout the Texan fight for independence, but no proof.

Naturally, the story spread throughout Texas and improved morale for the revolutionaries across the state. Soon copies of the flag cropped up and became major banners for the remainder of the revolution, including at the historic Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston captured Santa Ana and forced him to sign for Texas’s independence once and for all.

Modern Usage of “Come and Take It”

After Texas was admitted into the United States as a state, Americans quickly adopted the “Come and Take It” flag as a general symbol of resistance and rebellion against imperialism and conquest. 

However, America hasn’t been the subject of any invading forces in quite some time. Instead, “Come and Take It” has emerged primarily as a rallying cry for conservatives looking to push back against Draconian gun control legislation.

You can now find lots of “Come and Take It” T-shirts and other apparel that, instead of having a cannon as the primary image, have a gun of some type, daring liberals to come and take conservatives’ guns. In many cases, the gun used is the silhouette of an AR-15: one of the most misunderstood firearms in the country.

Lots of liberals believe AR stands for “assault rifle” when it really stands for “ArmaLite.” But T-shirts and other apparel also sometimes have the words “Come and Take It” alongside other gun silhouettes like pistols or other weaponry.

Overall, it's issued as a challenge for Democrats to come take the guns of law-abiding Americans. 

Why “Come and Take It” Is So Important to Americans

Ultimately, the phrase has survived to the present day and become an important part of American culture because of its history of resistance. The American cultural fabric is largely drawn from our history as a small colony that fought for its own independence against apparently insurmountable odds.

Over the centuries, America has become a world power (and arguably the dominant power). But that spitfire spirit still remains with our people, and particularly with conservatives who are currently fighting tooth and nail to retain the rights that their ancestors afforded them.

Furthermore, gun control legislation seems to be getting bolder and more limiting every day. As a result, many conservatives look to phrases like this to help put their defiance into words and to emphasize just how serious the issue is.

Democrats may want to take guns from their fellow Americans. But how will that work out if the gun owners declare, “Come and Take It”? Instead, it’s a better idea for both sides to come to a compromise instead of one side trying to force the issue.

Summary

All in all, the history of the “Come and Take It” flag and phrase is fascinating and a great example of how certain turns of phrase or ideas can pass through centuries and eventually take on lives across the world. Remember, “Come and Take It” originated in ancient Sparta thousands of years before the modern era.

Yet today, most people know this phrase from T-shirts and flags flown by American conservatives. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding and appreciation for this phrase, especially if you plan to purchase a T-shirt, hat, or flag that includes the iconic words “Come and Take It.”

 

Sources

TSHA | Gonzales Come and Take It Cannon

Come And Take It: The Skirmish That Inspired A Texas Mantra | Houston Public Media

'Come And Take It': A Texan Symbol Of Defiance For Sale | NPR 


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