“Come and take it” is a common phrase used throughout history in multiple different languages and cultures as an expression of defiance against injustice, threats, intimidation, tyranny, and authoritarianism. Some claim King Leonidas I of Sparta made the expression in an exchange with King Xerxes of Persia at the Battle of Thermopylae. It is commonly claimed that Xerxes demanded the Spartans lay down their weapons, to which Leonidas responded, “molon labe.” This translates more literally to “having come, take” in modern English. It can also be loosely translated to the sentiment “come and take [them]” in reference to the weapons of the Spartans.
However, it is disputed that Leonidas and Xerxes actually had any verbal exchange at the Battle of Thermopylae. The occurrence of this expression is attributed to a list of common Spartan phrases associated with Leonidas in the Plutarch’s Sayings of the Spartans. If the exchange did occur, it most likely occurred during a written correspondence prior to the famous battle. Although, it has been noted that such a short exchange in writing may have been odd. It could be that the occurrence of the phrase in Sayings of the Spartans and the recorded written correspondences between Leonidas and Xerxes led to the belief in the expression of “molon labe.” Nevertheless, the sentiment of the expression was certainly well-documented between the two kings.
Another famous expression of this sentiment was the creation of the Gonzales Flag during the Texas Revolution in 1835. The Gonzales Flag is a simple, black-and-white banner with a star, a cannon, and the words “Come and Take It.” The Battle of Gonzales was the first armed confrontation between Texian rebels and the Mexican Army.
The Texians in the city of Gonzales had requisitioned a cannon from the Mexican government (Texas was part of Mexico at the time) to serve as a deterrent against raids by the Comanche tribe of Native Americans. Later, relations between the city and the federal government deteriorated due to outrage after a Mexican solider reportedly beat a Texian resident of the city. The Mexican government requested the cannon be returned, and the Texian citizens of Gonzales refused. The Texian rebels took the Mexican soldiers hostage who came to confiscate the cannon, and it was not long before the Mexican Army sent reinforcements to the city of Gonzales.
The Battle of Gonzales occurred on October 2, 1835. The Mexican Army soldiers began arriving earlier to retrieve the cannon, but the Texians used messengers to delay the confiscation with excuses and requests for more time. Simultaneously, support was being drawn from other cities, and more Texians came to the city of Gonzales. On October 1, the Texian rebels decided it was time to attack the Mexican Army camp and drive the soldiers away since they showed no intention of leaving. In the early morning the next day, they advanced and forced the Mexican Army to withdraw after several hours of fighting. The cannon was reportedly used in the battle, loaded with odd metal objects since the Texian rebels lacked cannonballs.
While seemingly small and insignificant, the Battle of Gonzales inspired many Texians to rise up in revolt against the Mexican federal government. A coordinated effort arose among the Texians to fight for independence and cooperate as a unified force. The battle also inspired the creation of the iconic Gonzales Flag. It is said that on the day of the battle, when a lieutenant of the Mexican Army requested the cannon be returned, a Texian pointed to the cannon where it was stationed and exclaimed, “There it is. Come and take it.”
In modern times, the ancient expression and the Gonzales Flag of 1835 have taken on many forms, while the original sentiment remains intact. The cannon has commonly been replaced with an AR-15 and AK-47. One of my favorite interpretations of the Gonzales Flag features a turkey in place of the cannon. This comical expression was produced as an Internet meme in reference to the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and the government restrictions issued on Thanksgiving Day gatherings which were infamously ignored by government officials who issued said restrictions.
To me, the historic expression “come and take it” and the numerous interpretations of the Gonzales Flag which came from it are important and inspiring pieces of human history. It fills me with hope and encouragement whenever I see that symbolism or hear those words. It reminds me of the courage and bravery we have in all of us to stand up for what is right. I know oftentimes it is hard to do so, but I just remember how our ancestors stood against insurmountable odds with no real hope of success at so many points throughout the history of our species, not knowing if they would see tomorrow. It reminds me how even a loss in defense of freedom, liberty, and justice can still inspire others to stand and defend what is right in the end. Sometimes, we have to stand up for what is right regardless of what might happen to us because what we are standing for collectively is more important than anything we stand to lose individually.
What does the expression “come and take it” mean to you? What is your favorite interpretation of the Gonzales Flag? Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and share this post with others who you think would enjoy it!
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