Friends & Fellow Citizens

#127: Francis Hopkinson (NJ) - An Artist of America's Great Seal and National Flag

August 14, 2023 Sherman Tylawsky
Friends & Fellow Citizens
#127: Francis Hopkinson (NJ) - An Artist of America's Great Seal and National Flag
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When people think of the U.S. flag design, they often think of Betsy Ross...but not Francis Hopkinson. Hear how this Founder with artistic skills encountered a major bureaucratic obstacle in the young Congress and how his writing analogized the patriot cause of the American Revolution.

Support the show

Visit georgewashingtoninstitute.org for the one-stop shop of all things Friends & Fellow Citizens and George Washington Institute!
JOIN as a Patreon supporter and receive a FREE Friends & Fellow Citizens mug at the $25 membership level!
NEW MERCH STORE! Click HERE to get your podcast mug now!

NOTE: All views expressed by the host are presented in his personal capacity and do not officially represent the views of any affiliated organizations. All views by guests are solely those of the interviewees and may or may not reflect the views of the host or Friends & Fellow Citizens.

Speaker 1:

Patriotism, faith, national unity, education, fiscal responsibility, civility the values that define America. Fascinating stories and talks from America-loving patriots dedicate to preserving freedom, opportunity and justice. Welcome to the Friends and Fellows Citizens Podcast. Hello everyone, and welcome to Episode 127 of Friends and Fellows Citizens. I'm your host, sherman Heloske. Thank you all so much for joining me for this Sacred Honor series episode about Francis Hopkinson, the next signer in our Sacred Honor series, also from New Jersey. You will wrap up 2023 with the final two signers from the colony of New Jersey.

Speaker 1:

Before we get to our main episode content, be sure to subscribe to Friends and Fellows Citizens if you are enjoying this content. Also, be sure to check out our email subscription list. You can find those links down in the show notes below. Also, we are almost out of our current batch of Friends and Fellows Citizens mugs, so if you haven't already gotten yours, the best way is to become a Patreon supporter, and that reminds me to once again thank all of our Patreon supporters for their efforts to continue and really provide much needed boost for this podcast and to keep this podcast running. So a big shout out to our Patreon community. So be sure to check out the Patreon tiers down in the link below. There's actually a couple of edits I've made for the tier benefits and of course over time we're going to be improving those. So if you want to get your mug, the best way is to become a Patreon member. Donate at least $10 per month and after the first month you will get your Friends and Fellows Citizens mug complimentary from the podcast.

Speaker 1:

So today's signer is Francis Hopkinson. He was born on October 2nd 1737. He received quite a good education from the College of Pennsylvania, which is now U Penn University of Pennsylvania. He had a lot of different jobs, so I am not going to go through every single one of them and I don't even want to know how long his resume would have been if he had one. But he was one of many talents actually, and so I think he's probably the most renaissance man like of the signers we've covered so far. He actually used to play the Harpers Accord, which is interesting, and I think he was very artistic and I really believe that helped him a lot with the different kinds of careers that he had. And as someone who, of course, was coming from a state that bordered the ocean, he was involved in some business. Now he wasn't very successful in that it wasn't like John Hancock or anything having a huge, huge mercantile business, but none the less he was still able to make it through. He was out of many things. He was a customs collector, based in Salem in 1763. He was actually also a curator at the American Philosophical Society, served as the curator from 1776 to 1782.

Speaker 1:

I know I'm jumping around a little bit here, but it just goes to show that, keep in mind, this man here was very much a renaissance man, really had a lot of different talents I'll get to the art in just a bit because this will be interesting for all of you. But he was chosen in politics really to be a member of the New Jersey Provincial Council and he represented that council where he served in that council from 1774 to 1776. He really tried to work with these high ranking officials, including Lord North, the former prime minister of England at the time. He wasn't as successful maybe as some of the other founders we have covered and maybe some of the founders we just haven't covered yet. However, I would say Hoppegesson was very successful in making a name for himself. He had a law background, so he did do a lot of private practice and not to mention that it's probably really helped him out a lot in terms of serving as a delegate for all these important documents that ultimately would become the United States. As I mentioned earlier, he was a signer. He signed on August 2nd 1776 and he really was one, I think, to really be caught in a lot of unfortunate incidents because the incidents are not necessarily being captured or anything by the British. He was more of just being caught in the machine of bureaucracy and politics at the time.

Speaker 1:

I have said a few times before in this series, we tend to have a very glorified view of the founders. I think there's a lot of reason to do that. The circumstances really probably could not have produced a better group of people to form a country. I still believe that. I think a lot of people still believe that. However, this group of people also wasn't without its flaws. It was Ben frankly and I'm paraphrasing here a bit when he was discussing the different delegates of the Constitutional Convention, he was making the point of saying look, we're not going here and thinking that we're all just going to solve everything, that we're all magical people. He said that we're all coming in here with our successes and with our flaws. That was such a critical quote that and I wish I had that right here as we speak. Nonetheless, ben frankly really summed up why we also need to have some kind of examination into the things that didn't go well within the group, not just the course of the war, but really on the interactions of some of these members.

Speaker 1:

Now, going back to Hopkinson's art I should say artistic form I did not know. I'm doing research on these signers, a lot of these signers. I'm really just going in there with a blank slate. I mean a lot of these you may have heard of before or I've heard of before, but it's hard to remember a lot of these names. What I found fascinating is that in 1777, francis Hopkinson actually helped design the great seal of the United States and the early design of the United States flag. You would think that Yvette Seaross would get a lot of credit for that, and she probably does, but I did not know that Hopkinson actually played a role in this. I just don't know why we don't give credit, enough credit for these people. But you would think that that would be something of admiration and people would reward him for his work. But what I'm about to tell you right now shows a very different side of the bureaucratic element of the signers.

Speaker 1:

Now, with the help of a site from the descendants of the signers, I'm going to try my very best to even follow this as I read from my screen here, but you'll understand what this whole story means when it comes to this other side, the inefficiencies, I should say, of this early Congress. Now, before I get started, though, it's important to know that there are still people figuring out how the things were going to work Right. I'm not going to say that this was completely the fault of one person or another. However, it did, I think, really bring about at least to me and maybe to other people as well that the importance of having good systems of governance and not just having the right kinds of people, not just having your fingers crossed and hoping that the signers will come in a reincarnation of themselves in 2023 or any other future year.

Speaker 1:

What happened is that, in 1777, hopkinson does the helps to do the work, and he realizes that he's not getting a lot of compensation for this. It's not really to say that he was being greedy or anything. It's just that if you're going to be doing work, especially in those trying times, it's understandable that you should be getting the work that you worked for or you should be getting the credit that you worked for. He writes a letter to the Board of Animality in 1780 and he tells the board that he contributed to really the flag of the United States of America, the helping with that design, as well as the seals of the Animality and Treasury boards and, of course, the great seal of the United States. He asked them say, well, I've done all this work. I was asking if I could be compensating, maybe even a quarter cask of a public wine, maybe that could be a reasonable payment here. The board was like okay, thank you for your letter and they send it to Congress. You'll see how this journey is going to go. It's probably not going to be the smoothest journey ever.

Speaker 1:

When anything gets sent to Congress, it's sent to Congress and then referred to the Board of Treasury and it was then sent, I guess because of Congress and what Hopkinson did to send a bill really just outlining that the areas of compensation that he wanted sent to them the Auditor General, james Milligan. Then he sent it to the commissioners of the Chamber of Accounts and they responded in several days that actually Hopkinson should be paid and that these are reasonable charges and reasonable bills for the Congress to pay Milligan. The Auditor is like, okay, this sounds pretty good. Then he sends it back to the Board of the Treasury. Then this board is like, well, I don't know, we don't know if this is really reasonable for Mr Hopkinson. And they've returned it back to Milligan then and really said that there weren't any vouchers included in that bill. Basically, they didn't really find a good reason to be able to reasonably pay Hopkinson.

Speaker 1:

So Hopkinson gets back and gets back the news and he says, oh, okay, okay. So he sends another copy of this bill and once again didn't go through the Auditor. Again the Auditor is on his side here and he's saying look, let's look at this again and I think we should really really consider it. Then it was referred once again and then there was some filing of this request nothing for two and a half months. So Hopkinson is just anyone could be so fed up about this Already. It feels like a maze. Well, this is just the beginning here.

Speaker 1:

So Hopkinson writes to Charles Lee, who's the Secretary of the Board of Treasury, and he is so mad that he charges him of basically lying about receiving that bill and accused Mr Lee here of trying to postpone it and just not trying to, not even trying to deal with it. Hopkinson was just like, okay, I'm going to try again. And he this time though, he really goes after board and he says look, you guys really need to owe me this, and he writes against the board. He lists all the things that he would like from the Congress. So Congress has the most brilliant idea ever, and they say you know what? This is such an important issue. We're gonna create a committee to investigate what is going on here, and you can imagine where this is gonna go. Right, this is not gonna be. This is not one of those fast track kind of or expedited services that you might get, maybe at the passport office or anything. This is further gonna delay this, and the people in charge they've took a look at it.

Speaker 1:

And then the Board of Treasury ignored it and ignored a lot of these summons, and the committee then reported back to Congress and said well, I should say the committee, the special committee, went back to Congress and said that the present Board, the Board that's dealing with this issue, should be gone. And so then Congress was like, okay, well, you should probably look at this again as it's sent back to the committee. And then there was another investigation and another report came out, and this time the Board of Treasury said, okay, we'll answer the summons here that were being given. And it just became a bit of a mess, because now the Board is just telling everyone what to do, and I'm telling you all this just following kind of a paraphrasing line by line here, because it's such a complicated story and thank goodness someone took the time on this website to be able to summarize this. I'm sure there are even some little other details within this, not to mention the politic and that was going on. And so then the committee thought that well, there should be just be one person to deal with this and didn't even recommend anything.

Speaker 1:

And this continued on and on until August 1781, which and again it was a different time, right, but nowadays that seems pretty fast to deal with something in a year when it comes to the federal government. Of course, at this time it was still very sluggish, and not to mention, and Hopkinson was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and he still can't even get the compensation that he deserved for his design. He wasn't the only one to design the American flag or the great seal. But he certainly contributed and I think any reasonable person would say well, he should be compensated. But that's not how Congress really reacted to this.

Speaker 1:

And Hopkinson, he was just so, so fed up. You probably just couldn't believe that something like this could even happen with the country not even finished assigning a peace agreement with Britain. So I guess, on the one hand, yes, everyone's kind of going crazy because of the war, but on the other hand, how could such an institution, such a young institution, be so dysfunctional in not being able to process this claim that he had? And so, on July 23rd 1781, hopkinson left as a treasure of loans, which is the position that he was holding, and it just and really encapsulates a lot of what was going on wrong with the bureaucratic element of the Congress at the time and the board I mentioned earlier the board I was considering this matter again. They were saying that Hopkinson wasn't the only person and so he couldn't really get the whole thing. But the fact that they didn't even try to negotiate or try to make a different offer, it just goes to show that they were either uninterested or there were just people on the board who were political opponents of Hopkinson.

Speaker 1:

I really believe there's otherwise, there's really no other way to really explain this and people are just gonna act like the kind of agree, people aren't in politics in this case, but nonetheless it really is such a frustrating episode for Mr Hopkinson and the board kind of said other things. They felt like, well, maybe the people should be, should be getting some kind of amount or something along those lines and it was. What's crazy is how, when there was this examination of the records from the Continental Congress and he showed that he really did help design this flag, and you just wonder, you just throw your hands up like well, what was the issue? But that is just a long, winding story, but I hope that the point is that the bureaucratic element of the Congress was very real and something that I'll be honest with you, as I was doing this research and even just before I was doing this episode, I didn't really hear that many episodes of bureaucracy. Of course, in any government entity you're going to have that. But to see this example where someone was designing such a critical visual representing the nation and to not get credit because of a bunch of people who couldn't investigate, out of themselves, out of a paper bag. Well, that really brings about this different light, and we'll talk a little bit later about what I think those implications are.

Speaker 1:

But I'd like to move on to what Hodgkinson did. He was very involved in naval affairs. He was involved, as I mentioned earlier, with an animal team board earlier. He actually had to leave Congress in 1776, and he decided to not only go back to private practice but to serve on the Navy board in Philadelphia. As a son of a mariner, I certainly can appreciate this kind of work that Mr Hodgkinson did when it came to the, not just the design of the seal but I would say the face of our United States Navy. Perhaps a lot of that can be attributed to Francis Hodgkinson.

Speaker 1:

Now, if Hodgkinson was not just a musical person, he was also a bit of a writer and he liked to write satire, liked to write essays, and I've not read extensively on the Hodgkinson satire, but there is one piece here from 1774, so right in the middle of this action of opposing George III's efforts with all the intolerable acts and all the other crazy measures that he went to try and crack down on the dissent in the colonies, and this essay, or this story is called A Pretty Story and that's pretty much it. So it's basically almost like an analogous story of where the colonies were at the time of this writing. And just to preview before I read you an excerpt from this piece, the story really revolves around a family and settlers, and so the family is kind of the old man in the story is kind of representative of the king and the wife, and really just the adults in that family are representative of the British government, and settlers and at first everyone else are like the colony. So this is kind of the analogy. It's an analogy of not just a family but also of just settlers, and they're in this in this time when the settlers had already begun doing their own things and the British government had already consented to allow them to effectively explore and to settle, to have their own lives. But this is when things start to change and we're going to read just a couple excerpts here from this story and I hope that you'll get an understanding of why this story really resonates and puts, maybe takes the family analogy of a society or of a country perhaps to the next level, and so at this point the the old man is really starting to distance himself. You can probably see where this is going. It's distancing himself from the settlers and the kids, so basically the sons and daughters. He has a personal responsibility, of course, to take care of these people, but that that is not what is happening over time.

Speaker 1:

And so this is an excerpt from chapter four. It says, quote as the old nobleman advanced in years, he neglected the affairs of his family, leaving them chiefly to the management of his steward. Now the steward had actually debauched his wife and gained an entire ascendancy over her. She no longer deliberated upon measures that might best promote the prosperity of the old farm or the new, but said and did whatever the steward put into her head. And so entirely was she under his influence that she could not utter even I or no, but as he directed her, for he had commonly persuaded her that it was very fashionable for women of quality to wear padlocks on their lips. And he accordingly fastened a small padlock to each corner of her mouth. When the one was open, she could only cry I, and when the other was unlocked, she could only say no. And he took care to keep the keys of these padlocks in his own pocket, so that her words were the expressions of his will rather than of her own.

Speaker 1:

I'll stop there. What you see in this example is the old man basically weaponizing the steward against the wife who was supposed to take care of the children of the farm and of the settlers in general. But now she's being completely controlled. So the wife is kind of a bit like the analogy for the colonial governments, because they're closer to those people, and for the steward it's kind of been using like the power of parliament or, in this case, also in to some degree the military. And that coercion is really where Hopkins really gets into this mistreatment that he sees from the British regime.

Speaker 1:

Now, a little bit later on in this chapter, it discusses a bit more of how these settlers and these people felt about their government, about that the old man and it says, continues that. Well, the inhabitants of the new farm began now to see that their father's affections were alienated from them and that their mother was but a base mother-in-law governed by their enemy, the steward. They were thrown into great confusion and distress by this discovery. They wrote the most supplicating letters to their father in which they acknowledged their dependence on him in terms of the most sincere affection and respect. They reminded him of the difficulties and hardships they had suffered in settling this new farm and pointed out the great addition of wealth and power his family had acquired by their improvement of an unprofitable wilderness and showed that all the fruits of the labor must, by natural circulation, finally enrich his money box. Basically, the settlers really explaining that we have done so much to help the entire family, the entire household, that they're now being ignored. The settlers tried all kinds of ways to send these letters to try and let the old man know how they were feeling.

Speaker 1:

The story continues that, well, the earnestly pray that they might not be subjected to the caprice and tyranny of an avaricious mother-in-law whom they had never chosen and of a steward who was their declared enemy. So just to wrap up this chapter here, seeing that the old man was still continuing to ignore these people, and to even crack down on trying to stop this dissent. The people, however, took little notice of these pompous declarations. They were glad that the marking decree was nulled and were in hopes that by degrees, things would settle in their former course and mutual affection began restored. I will stop there. I don't want to read the entire story to you, but you can see that with that ending, that intent of trying to mend relations, as we all know that didn't happen, but nonetheless this really encapsulated a lot of what a lot of the signers felt at the time. They didn't necessarily want to completely break away from England, but it became to that point where they just could not make amends that they had to do nothing but declare independence. And that's exactly what Hopkinson and our other signers have done.

Speaker 1:

Hopkinson continued to serve for his community and he served in multiple different roles. He was actually chosen by George Washington, nominated by the President, to the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania. He was conferred by the Senate later, in September of 1789, but he would pass away on May 9, 1791 at the age of 53 in Philadelphia, and he's buried at the Christchurch burial ground, which is also the burial ground of other famous signers as well. I'd like to leave a few takeaways for all of you from this episode. The first is in politics people either take credit they don't deserve or they don't get enough credit that they deserve. I believe that this clearly exemplifies that story of Francis Hopkinson. Here was a man who greatly contributed and the journals reflect that could bear into the great seal of the United States and to the US flag, which we all have seen all around our communities, and yet he didn't even get compensation for what he did.

Speaker 1:

It really reminds us that politics is such a very dangerous game and it's a game that banks a lot on the elements of unfairness that there will be people, for natural and artificial reasons, people will try to do what they can to grab onto power, and they want to run around and not just grab onto power, but tell people about their power, tell them all the amazing things that they've accomplished, that they're the best person and maybe they are experts on certain elements. But I don't agree with this idea that there are people taking credit without even acknowledging the people who have worked to get to that point. One of the things I loved about working for the two members of Congress I did when I was an intern was that I felt that the members appreciated the work of the staff and I truly felt that that was what kept the office together. Working that turnover is a very big issue in Congress, but just to see that there are people there are still people out there who will give Credit where it's due, especially people who don't often get enough credit. That, to me, is a good sign of leadership and it's just an unfortunate reality that credit is Something that is stolen so much. It's probably stolen far more than it is purchased to, far, far more than what it has worked for, but that I don't think should really deter Leaders. I hope that leaders will keep in mind that the best kind of leaders are the ones who will give credit to people, even if there was a lot of work done by the leaders. But but that sign of that show, that demonstration that people care, that lead leaders care about the work of other people. That, I think, is what we need more in a society Nowadays.

Speaker 1:

I feel in a lot of these, a lot of people, and understandably there are political reasons to take credit for what you've done. However, to just to even ignore, ignore people, even ignore Constituents, who, the people who put these people in the office, I I hope that there's more of an effort For those who are not doing enough to have given credit to other people to do so, to change course and to give credit To those who deserve it. The second thing is I I think from that same story with Hopkinson and, you know, with the bureaucrat nature of the Congress, we can't just have better people in government, we have to have better systems of governance. Hoping that we're just gonna happen to have the right people in government is just not a strategy. It is not a strategy, it is completely wishful thinking, and I I, I personally felt that some countries really have that sort of philosophy.

Speaker 1:

One of the things that that I appreciate from my time in London is really getting to see the, the strengths and the weaknesses of the parliamentary system, and one of the things I noticed from that system was that there there was this seemed to be more of an emphasis on the, the specific people who were in office. Now, that's not to say that the people, specific people in office don't matter, it's that but it's the fact that, well, we don't. We have a really bad, for example, let's just say there was a bad defense secretary. Let's just say I'm not saying there was, but I'm just saying let's just say there was the. The idea that I've got from the media, from people, from my conversations with many people there was that, well, we just have a bad defense minister. If we just had a good defense minister, then things would go so well. Well, maybe, but that might not be the whole story. Maybe it's because the defense minister has too much power and that maybe there should be more power devolved to local governments. Maybe the defense minister has too little power, maybe should you should be getting given more power. Whatever, that conversation goes to this idea that, well, we just didn't have the right person. That that is not an excuse.

Speaker 1:

We people need to be able to plan what, especially when we design our government here in the United States. We can't just hope that every single person, all five hundred thirty five members of Congress, every cabinet member, every, every leader in every department, in every level of government, is going to be a good person. We cannot assume that, but we have what we can do is we can put mechanisms in place so that, when people do step out of line, there are checks and balances, that there are people who are held accountable, that they are not being, you know, completely authoritative in their, in their positions. They need to work in a system just like everybody else. And so I just bring this up, because I've here too. So just way too much about how well, we just didn't get the right kind, right kind of government. We just didn't get the right kind. Maybe that's true, but there's still so much more. There needs to be an examination of the system so that you prevent these people from making these mistakes. Perhaps you might mitigate Bad people in certain bad people in government if you had those, if you had those systems in place.

Speaker 1:

And the last take a while leave is Perhaps we need to look at the state of affairs and politics with family analogies. The reason why I bring up this family analogy element is because Perhaps, when we look at something from a family lens, we realize that maybe, maybe politics isn't as as as we might think it is. Maybe this kind of friendliness and this division we see, that we see perhaps is reflected in certain some of our family structures. Perhaps our family structures are perhaps more strong or stronger than then, than the political forces that we see now. When I read that story from Hopkins and I see that this is an analogy of people who have an obligation and yet when they don't have that same affection and the key word is affection when they don't have that affection here that you can't have a sustainable society. And so I hope that when we participate in politics, we don't just look at it as a business and People will look at it as a business and operate it look like a business.

Speaker 1:

But when we get to the heart of how, we know that so many people in this country love America, people, americans, love America, if we start there, just like how when family with family, we love our families but we we just have disagreements, all. But if we had that kind of approach, imagine how much better our discourse would be. Imagine if we started treating other people as maybe maybe not necessarily a close family member, but even just like, well, maybe maybe your cousin, maybe a cousin you didn't know very well. Still, you would still treat that the person with as much respect as you can and and sometimes certain circumstances have to allow other things. But this I the point is we we need to look at politics and perhaps in a different lens, not just strictly in a struggle for power, but on a larger level, seeing this as a ability for us to learn by politics, maybe through our families, knowing that you know what, maybe this person doesn't heat in America, maybe just has a very bad idea, just having those kinds of mindsets and saying, well, let me learn more about that perspective, let's see where we can agree.

Speaker 1:

I hope that will have more of that and you all know especially those who listened to the podcast for for these years, you know that I emphasize so much on civility and that's what we need to bring back, just like how we we need to try and bring back some level civility in our families. It would be nice thing to see that civility potential in our political society today and with that, thank you all so much for listening to this episode about Francis Hopkinson. I hope you enjoyed this episode and how we learned something about the signer from the colony of New Jersey. Have a great rest of your day and rest of your week and remember a day in America is always better, but we are with our friends and fellow citizens. You, you.

Francis Hopkinson
Bureaucratic Frustrations and Colonial Discontent
Reflections on Politics, Leadership, and Governance
The Importance of Civility in Politics