Governor DeSantis and the 1845 Moseley flag

I appreciate in a way probably unique to most folks in this state that we have an actual Floridian as Governor, after suffering through eight years of a retired Health Care executive from somewhere else masquerading as a Governor. The previous Governor pretended he knew something about our state, but more often than not showed a glaring lack of any knowledge outside basic budgetary matters.

I appreciate that Governor DeSantis, unlike his predecessor doesn’t treat tropical weather like a forest fire and doesn’t declare a State of Emergency when a tropical depression approaches the state. I appreciate that the Governor understands the difference between a Tropical Storm and a Category 3 Hurricane and doesn’t waste too many government resources on the former.

It’s good to have a real Floridian in the Governor’s office. But as we discuss week-in and week-out on The Florida History Podcast, our state’s history while glorious when compared to places to our north during the colonial period, was like any other southern state once Florida was no longer in either British or Spanish hands. That history from 1821 until the election of Reubin Askew as Governor in 1970 is fraught with unfortunate moments.

So it’s with some real concern I ask, why exactly did Governor DeSantis use the slogan from Governor Moseley’s 1845 flag (which was never officially adopted) at a press conference on Friday announcing the formation of an elite unit of state-controlled guard troops. That slogan was all about “states rights” which in 1845 meant something very different (I think) than in 2021.

Moseley, a Democrat was a slaveholder who defeated the more seasoned, moderate and respectable Richard Keith Call, a Whig at the time to become Florida’s first Governor after statehood. Call has been a Governor during Florida’s territorial period. Moseley’s victory over Call was unfortunate for the new state and set Florida on a course to be a radicalized bastion of slavery, secession and violent racism for the next hundred years and change.

Moseley’s ideology was a combination of state’s rights, pacification of the Seminoles and hoping to extend slavery into the territories or new areas that would be conquered by the US. His flag’s slogan “leave us alone” was a clear message to the Federal Government and northern Abolitionists, to stay out of Florida’s business and allow slavery to continue to thrive in the new state.

It’s most unfortunate Governor DeSantis has chosen to use that motto, lifted directly from a pro-slavery Governor’s desire to keep the Federal Government away from the peculiar institution. I’m someone who often gets into spats with my fellow liberals because I dislike the assumption that today’s Republicans are the same as the segregationist Democrats or slave-holding elites of yesteryear. But this by any objective standard raises questions.

Time and again in DeSantis case, he goes rhetorically in directions previous Florida GOPers like Jeb Bush would have avoided at all costs when it comes to this sort of subtle messaging. I’m not sure why exactly DeSantis would open himself up to this, given he’s on track to win, next year a higher percentage of the minority vote than any Florida Republican for Governor in the modern history of the state.

Maybe the Governor didn’t know the history of the flag and Governor Moseley? But given DeSantis knowledge of the state and our history, he can’t feign ignorance like his predecessor. So, unfortunately we’re left with the conclusion that DeSantis is pushing a form of modern state’s rights (which he is) and didn’t think the backlash would be sufficient so he went ahead.

It’s up to each individual Floridian to decide whether this offends them or not. Again, as someone who appreciates DeSantis being an actual Floridian I respect his understanding of our history. But as I said above that comes fraught with danger as well, given the race-oriented and violence-tinged history we had in the 1821 to 1970 period.

One comment

  1. Patrick Joseph Fowler · ·

    Think too about Florida’s historically politically compatible state to the north, South Carolina. Our current governor, well described as Ron DeCalhoun may need a metaphorical Jackson like figure to have him understand the post-civil war constitutional arrangement between the Federal Government and the states.


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