Earlier this week, in response to President Obama's new federal guidelines for transgender students in public schools being allowed to access the restroom that adheres to their gender identity, Dan Patrick, the Lt. Gov. of Texas, flipped out, eventually tweeting a bizarre show of bravado.
The tweet, while not outright incorrect like the one sent by his boss Greg Abbott, was still confusing because it's not clear what exactly President Obama is being egged on to "take." Weirdly, it was just the latest example of the conservative phrase du jour being appropriated incorrectly, continuing its slide from a defiant remark to invading forces to the paradoxical shorthand for preventing the government from infringing on personal liberty (unless the government is the one infringing).
The phrase "come and take it" has a military history, naturally. It traces back to the Revolutionary War. While in command of Fort Morris in Sunbury, Georgia, in 1778, Colonel John McIntosh found himself greatly outnumbered by the British who politely (they wrote a note) requested the rebels surrender. McIntosh replied with the 1770s version of "nah, I'm good," closing with the defiant, "As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply: come and take it!" The British didn't attack and the site's now a state park.
The phrase's popularity, though, comes from the Texas Revolution.
Back when Texas was part of Mexico, which was technically a part of Spain, the Mexican military gave—or loaned, depending on which long-dead person you ask—the town of Gonzales, Texas, a cannon for defense purposes. In 1835, after the gradual degradation of relations between Mexico and the Texan colonists, a contingent was sent by the Mexican military to retrieve the cannon. Those soldiers were rebuffed by the colonists and taken prisoner, which lead to Mexico sending more soldiers and a small battle breaking out. At the start of what became the Texas Revolution, a flag, constructed from an old wedding dress, according to old Texas legend, was raised and placed on that cannon, the rally cry "come and take it" written below a black Texas star and a black cannon.
Dr. Randolph Campbell, a history professor at the University of North Texas, calls the phrase "an undying part of Texas lore." He tells me the "phrase has what you might call a 'built-in historical popularity' in this state."
Thanks to the gift of historical context, the meaning of Patrick's tweet becomes clear: President Obama, here used metonymically to refer to the United States government, is an interloper interfering with Texas' independence and Texas must once again do what is necessary to keep its backbone intact. This makes sense because the phrase has had a resurgence in popularity the last several years, used for all many of purposes, but specifically used, like the men at Fort Morris or in Gonzales, in defiance, by those associated with the gun rights movement.
There's a group that named itself after the phrase, they held a fake mass shooting in Austin in December. Naturally, "molon labe," the phrase's ancient Greek equivalent—it was supposedly cried by Spartan King Leonidas when the Persians asked them to surrender at Thermopylae—is also popular with strident Second Amendment supporters. This is ironic because, in the words of retired Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, in Sparta "the individual had almost no rights."
But simply put, gun rights activist, like the Tea Partiers who also use the phrase to rally, see themselves as taking up the mantle of the men at Gonzalez, rebuffing a government incursion. As gun rights activists grow more and more paranoid at the thought—though gun control measures are being implemented in some states, outright confiscation is never on the table, and more guns are being sold—it's natural that some would puff out their chest and equate their situations to those historical examples of warding off tyranny—maybe then 300-like abs would follow. The proprietors of gun rights website Come and Take It, which is different from the group Come And Take It America, say as much in videos and throughout their website.
Oh, and there are memes like this one.
In May 2015, enjoying their first "good season" in a while, the Houston Astros debuted a new rally flag. Below a Texas star with an overlaid H and a baseball bat was the phrase "come and take it."
It was one of the latest examples of the phrase being co-opted for a good reason, like a t-shirt celebrating BBQ. A few years ago, a t-shirt bearing a drawing of a uterus was sold to support Planned Parenthood Texas. Perhaps some day soon the phrase won't have its associations with tyranny or people wishing to fly the Confederate flag.
Access to bathrooms, like reproductive rights and gun control before them, is just the latest conservative boondoggle. When the next hot button issue comes up, as long as it's not surrounding a land invasion, someone is going to shoehorn in the phrase "come and take it" and be using it incorrectly. The only thing you can bank on is that the real intention will be to put a certain group down.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org