Long a slogan of defiance and independence, it is little wonder that the phrase “Come and take it” now finds itself falling into disfavor with a new generation of busybodies and penny-ante authoritarians. The latest is Taylor Eighmy, president of the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA). Eighmy announced to the campus community on Sept. 7 that UTSA would no longer support use of the phrase as an official rallying cry for the school’s football team or athletic department. “[W]e will identify the use of this phrase in our digital environment, in licensed merchandise, and in our buildings and playing fields, and will systematically and appropriately remove it,” Eighmy wrote.
Eighmy’s statement noted that USTA Athletics’ history with the phrase dates back to the adoption of its Division 1 football program in 2011. A department staff member suggested the slogan’s unique ties to the history of the local area would make it, as Eighmy explained, “an inspirational call for our fans and a direct challenge to our opponents.” The slogan then gained a following among UTSA fans and was formally adopted by the Athletic Department in 2016. Home football games at UTSA featured the unfurling of a huge “Come and take it” banner in the student section during the 4th Quarter, accompanied by the firing of a cannon.
The origins of the phrase “Come and take it” date back to at least 480 B.C. and the Battle of Thermopylae, when a Greek force led by King Leonidas I of Sparta used it as a retort to the demand of an exponentially larger force of invading Persians for surrender.
It also saw use in the American Revolutionary War, when Col. John McIntosh, commander of Fort Morris in Sundbury, Ga., used it in response to the demand of a larger British force to surrender the fort.
As concerns the UTSA situation, however, the phrase’s most significant tie is to the Texas Revolution. In 1831, the Texas colony of Gonzales had received a cannon from Mexican authorities to use for defending the colony against hostile Indians. Later, however, as sentiment in Gonzales began to turn against the Mexican government, the authorities demanded the return of the cannon and eventually sent a detachment of soldiers to retrieve it. The colonists refused and displayed a flag with an image of a canon and the phrase “Come and take it.” A skirmish ensued, during which the canon was fired at a Mexican military encampment. The Mexican troops would go on to withdraw, handing the Texians a victory in the first battle of the Texas Revolution.
Images of the “Come and take it” flag have since become synonymous with standing up to overbearing authority in a variety of contexts. It is, of course, especially popular among defenders of the Second Amendment. But its use is not limited to any particular political outlook or cause, and Eighmy admitted as much in his statement.
But, wrote Eighmy, because some of the organizations that have used it “have values and agendas that differ significantly from ours,” its use “has increasingly become incongruent with UTSA Athletics and our institution’s mission and core values.”
This is a ridiculous and unconvincing copout, as similar things could be said about virtually any common symbol, image, or phrase, including the American flag itself (which, granted, has seen plenty of disfavor of its own on college campuses).
Local media reports mentioned as an impetus for the new policy a Change.org petition started by a former UTSA professor who claimed the phrase is “steeped in racist ideology and racist history.” That petition, which garnered some 960 supporters, suggested that the phrase’s reference to the Battle of Gonzales “embodies both anti-Mexican and pro-slavery sentiments.” Given that, it’s difficult to see how the professor wouldn’t also object to the battle’s outcome or to Texas’s success in gaining independence from Mexico. This is rather ironic, to say the least, for an employee of a university that owes its existence to the State of Texas.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of petitions on Change.org demanding the removal of symbolism associated with American history, including statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt. These petitions, like the one filed against the UTSA slogan, typically mention purported associations with slavery, racism, and other forms of oppression. As the New York Times reported this year (in connection with Independence Day, no less) even the U.S. flag itself, “once a unifying symbol — there is a star on it for each state, after all — is now alienating to some, its stripes now fault lines between people … .”
All-too-predictable is the apparently anti-democratic nature of the UTSA decision, with another petition on Change.org to keep the flag and rallying cry officially recognized by the university garnering nearly 4,000 supporters as of last week.
This naturally raises the question of how much deference government institutions owe to those few who resent certain aspects of U.S. or state history so much that they are unable to recognize the larger picture of how the United States of America has been a driver of human freedom and progress. Indeed, the very ability to so openly and vehemently voice these aggrieved views is itself largely a product of the historical events and individuals they now condemn. It should go without saying that if the source of dissatisfaction with a state-adopted symbol is the formation of the state itself, then officials on the state payroll shouldn’t feel the need to be especially accommodating to the complaint.
We suspect, at any rate, that the now retired professor who started the petition is not so outraged with the history of Texas as to be unwilling to accept a generous pension from the state treasury.
Whether the follow-up petition, as well as the expressed unhappiness of the UT Board of Regents over the decision, will have any effect on the UTSA policy remains to be seen.
In the meantime, students at UTSA should remember that even if the university officially abandons the “Come and take it” slogan, its use by private parties – including on campus and at school-sponsored events – is still First Amendment protected speech.
Because whether petty tyrants like it or not, the U.S. Constitution is still the supreme law of the land.
And while the powers that be would undoubtedly come for it if they could, your NRA and the patriots who cherish our fundamental rights are ever vigilant to see that they can’t.