When George Washington choose his uniform, he could have literally chosen any color scheme, so why buff (tan) and blue. The choice was not arbitrary.  The Whig party in England (not to be confused with Andrew Jacksons divisive party in the 1830’s) had been standing against the abuses of the crown since 1688.  Their rallying colors were colors of buff and blue as opposed to their archrivals, the Tory party, whose color was simply blue.  Buff comes from the color of buffalo leather, and the old term “to stand buff” is based on the sturdiness of that leather.  The Whigs espoused constitutional limits on the Monarchy rather than the divine right of kings, which they perceived as a tyranny. The Whigs were the loyal opposition.  American revolutionaries were, of course, British citizens until the United States declared their independence. So, adopting colors related to British politics, especially prior to the Declaration of Independence, made a lot of sense.

A quick look at the ideals of the “radical Whigs” shows us why George chose their colors for his life guard. 

  • Religious liberty:  Whigs were in favor of allowing dissenters from the state religion.  Given that many of the earliest settlers of America came here because their religious expression was not aligned with the state, this ideal was especially important in New England and Pennsylvania
  • Constitutionalism:  We strongly idealize the idea of tax rebellion and protests against the abuses of King and Parliament as reasons for the American Revolution.  In an age when nearly all nations believed in the divine right of kings to rule as they pleased, the, radical Whigs insisted that the poser of kings must be confined to constitutional limits.
  • Representative Government:  The radical Whigs espoused the idea that a Parliament actually has supremacy over the king. This ideal finds its way into the very foundation of our republic.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence): “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
  • Rights of Man:  Whigs believed that all men had certain rights which superseded those granted by the government or society.  All government is the result of the intentional suspension of those rights for the common good but the rights are never abdicated, hence we have the right of revolt against a destructive government, Mr. Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, “the right to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government….
  • Right to Property:  Of course, whenever anyone discusses the American Revolution, we hear the words “No Taxation without Representation” and discuss the Intolerable Acts.  The Whigs were great partisans of property and its security. In the eighteenth-century debates over the value of commerce they were unalterably on the side of commerce, though suspicious of many of the financial institutions of commerce, especially when joined with state power. Whigs were in favor of free trade and of disentangling the state from the economy; they opposed rent-seeking behavior of all sorts.

Of course, the ultimate realization of Whig ideals predates the American Revolution in Great Britain’s Glorious Revolution, the more or less bloodless “revolution” that led to the end of the reign of James II and his replacement by William Duke of Orange and his wife Mary as monarchs – abolishing the reign of the divine right king James.

So, forget all this hogwash about “Red” and “Blue” states.  It’s time to live in a “Buff State!”

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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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