South Carolina Entrepreneur Lowers US Flag, Raises SC, Confederate Banners

Email Print

from any direction into Columbia, capital of the proud State of
South Carolina, and you will eventually see one of any number of
billboards advertising Maurice's B-B-Q Restaurants. The billboards
depict a graying man in a white suit and tie, grinning from ear
to ear. The Maurice in the picture is Maurice Bessinger, Columbia
entrepreneur and millionaire who made his money the old-fashioned
way: working for himself in the free market. With just a few thousand
dollars, a lot of know-how and a lot of motivation, Mr. Bessinger
has built one of the largest barbecue restaurant chains anywhere
in the South. His own mouthwateringly delicious mustard-based gourmet
barbecue sauce is now distributed nationwide. His achievements have
been noted in magazines from Southern Living to People,
and he once won an award from the Small Business Administration.

Bessinger is also a gadfly of the first order to the political establishment
here. An unreconstructed Southerner to the core, he fiercely opposed,
down to the last minute, efforts to remove the Confederate flag
from the State House Dome. Being on the losing side of that battle
hasn't stopped him. Mr. Bessinger had long flown the largest American
flag of any businessman in the area over his West Columbia headquarters
(known to locals as Piggie Park). Just this week he took the unprecedented
step of removing this and other US flags from the flagpoles at all
of his nine restaurants, and raising both South Carolina and Confederate
flags. On August 22, he issued a press release stating why. His
remarks are the product of a man who has given more than a few passing
thoughts to issues of state sovereignty, and the Washington government
looming like a colossus over all of us and everything we do. The
result is a good lesson in liberty and its origins.

Constitution, states Mr. Bessinger, spells out "the proper
relationship between the several states and the United States government."
The federal government was a creation of the states (all of whom,
except Rhode Island, sent delegates to the Philadelphia Convention
of 1787). It did not seize power. Its powers were originally few,
and carefully delineated. The Bill of Rights, appended following
a struggle with the so-called Anti-Federalists who believed the
new document gave the central government too much power, concludes
with the 9th and 10th Amendments. These read,
respectively: "The enumeration in this Constitution, of certain
rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained
by the people." "The powers not delegated to the United
States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States,
are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
The basic idea: rights antecede governments. They are not
created by governments.

Framers distrusted power. This was to be expected, given that they
had just participated in fighting, and winning, the War for American
Independence. After what they observed of King George's regime and
its abuses, they had every reason to be conscious of the dangers
of allowing power to become centralized all over again.

Bessinger's point is that since 1865, we have seen a near-complete
reversal of this. "… [S]ince the end of the War for Southern
Independence in 1865 the people who control the US government have
slowly, but insidiously, taken power from the states and vested
it in a centralized federal government. The fact that this action
is strictly forbidden by the Bill of Rights has made no difference
to those who seek to centralize all political power under their

US flag, he goes on to argue, has become a symbol of this centralization
of power in the federal colossus. This explains his symbolic removal
of his US flags from his private property. "It should not fly
over any state property at all. It should fly only over federal
property." Flying the US flag over state property – particularly
as it usually flies at the top of flagpoles, with the state
flag beneath it – sends an historically incorrect message about the
relationship between state and federal sovereignty. If the federal
government is the creation of the states, then the states ought
to be the political entities in the driver's seat if any governmental
entities are; the federal government was created to be the servant
of the states, not their master. Does it not follow that
the state flag should be at the top of every flagpole displaying
both, and the federal flag beneath it?

Bessinger observes, further, that the federal flag flies by itself
over federal property (post offices, federal courthouses, military
bases): "You will note that on federal government property
… there are no state flags flying. The federal government flies
only its own flag on its own property." So why should states
not do the same, flying only state flags over state property? This
would help define the correct relationship between the state level
and the federal level. "Our people should be able to tell at
a glance whether a court is a state court or a federal court – they
should be able to tell by the flag that flies on the pole outside
the building."

what is Mr. Bessinger's aim with this provocation? To open a new
discussion over the relationship between the states and the federal
colossus: "I would hope that members of the SC Legislature
would open a dialogue among themselves that would lead to the proper
understanding of the states as still sovereign over the federal
government. I am sure that a proper, reasonable and intelligent
discussion will lead to the removal of the federal flag from all
state property."

is worth noting that his Confederate flag is subordinate to the
flag of the State of South Carolina. The former flies beneath the
latter: "The state flag is the flag that represents our highest
sovereignty. The Confederate flag is to both remind people that
Southerners wrote the Constitution and that Southerners continue
to be its most loyal defenders, plus the Confederate flag is recognized
as the universal symbol of resistance to centralized tyranny."

is difficult to know where all this will lead, including whether
this will hurt Mr. Bessinger's business. One of the towns in suburban
Columbia, Lexington, has begun fining him $500 a day for displaying
a banner without a permit. Mr. Bessinger has not only refused to
pay the fines but threatened a lawsuit. He has stated that he will
fight all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Clearly he
has enough of a financial cushion that it won't matter significantly
if he does accrue some fines, and if his controversial stands drive
off the “fair weather customers,” then so be it. Mr. Bessinger clearly
has a loyal clientele that agrees with many of his positions on
issues, and admires how he places loyalty to principle ahead of
all else. Last winter he told me in an interview for the Edgefield
that “if you believe something you should say it, and
it should have no relationship to your business. Everybody ought
to have a Constitutional right to speak his mind. It's called the
First Amendment, and not enough people use it.”

this case, as we stand just four months away from the actual turn
of the millennium (January 1, 2001), centralized political solutions
to problems are almost taken for granted by many, and the orgy of
centralization is continuing. Not merely state sovereignty but national
sovereignty is under assault. Early next month, after all, the United
Nations convenes to discuss prospects for global governance. No
conspiracy here; what is being done, is being done right out in
the open. All the information one needs on the stealth move toward
global socialism can be had from the UN website.

we stand in the shadow not just of our own federal colossus but
of this still larger entity which would be more hostile to our liberties
than the federal colossus, the words and actions of a Maurice Bessinger
come like a breath of fresh air. Let whatever discussion he provokes
bear fruit.

26, 2000

has a PhD in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action
(San Francisco:
ICS Press, 1994). A frequent contributor to
and The Edgefield Journal, he lives and freelance writes
in Columbia, South Carolina. He is at work on a new book, The
Paradox of Liberty.

Yates Archives

Email Print