On Trump’s Assumption of Another Man’s Arms


Recently, the arms used by the Trump Organization has come into the public light. The New York Times, on May 28th, 2017, published an article by Danny Hakim entitled The Coat of Arms Said ‘Integrity.’ Now It Says ‘Trump.’. The article outlines the history of the arms, which were granted to Joseph Edward Davies in 1939. Mr. Davies was the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who built Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort now owned by the Trump Organization. What can be inferred from the article is that Mr. Trump, in his acquisition of Mar-a-Lago, also believes himself to have acquired rights to the arms in question.

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Image courtesy of the New York Times

I’ll do my best to avoid being political in my response to the notion of assuming another man’s arms. As a gentleman should, though, I try my best (and sometimes fail) to stay above the political quagmire. This particular issue, for me at least, is not of a political nature, but a question of honorable action.

I am not saying that Mr. Trump is dishonorable. I am saying that assuming someone’s arms that have been granted by a heraldic authority such as the College of Arms is a dishonorable action. I realize that the College of Arms has no jurisdiction in the United States, or anywhere outside its very limited realm of authority, but its still bad form. The arms displayed on Mar-a-Lago when Mr. Trump purchased it were not intellectual property or a trademark to be transferred with the purchase of that wonderful estate (if estate is a fitting term for a resort), but the personal property of a past owner, to be transmitted to his posterity, independent of where he might have displayed them in his lifetime. On this issue, I find myself at odds with Mr. Trump.

I realize that as the de facto leader of the free world, Mr. Trump faces intense criticism, much of which is of debatable validity. I am not here to heap burning coals. Heraldry, anachronistic as it may be, is nonetheless a passion of mine, and I do not wish to see it diminished by anyone, especially by someone such as Mr. Trump who seems to enjoy its use.

In fact, in December of 2016 after Mr. Trump was elected President of the United States I sent a letter to him, that in part, made this petition:

Now, to the main point of my letter: I am writing to ask your consideration in expanding the role of The Institute of Heraldry (www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil) to include civic, corporate, and personal grants of arms. I have observed that you are an admirer of armorial bearings, and I think the expansion of the Institute fits in with your pledge to make America great again. America’s greatness is displayed in our symbols, from Old Glory to the Great Seal to the bald eagle. The federal government and the military make excellent use of heraldic devices, I would love to see formal recognition of personal coats of arms.

To date, I have not received a response to this letter. Granted, I sent it care of the Trump Organization’s address at Trump Tower in New York, before he had been sworn in as President. Maybe I should resend it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I went on to make the case for a republic to have a heraldic authority:

Like you Mr. Trump, I have a coat of arms that I have assumed [N.B. I was not aware of the controversy surrounding his assumed arms at the time], which is all that is possible in America since there is no equivalent of the Court of the Lord Lyon or College of Arms for the granting of private arms. The best I can do to have my arms recognized by a heraldic body is to provide genealogical evidence of ancestry from a nation with an official heraldic body and petition for an honorary grant of arms. This is a very time consuming and costly effort. I could also petition another heraldic body that does not have descendancy limitations, such as the South African Bureau of Heraldry, which is less costly, but also carries less meaning since I have no hereditary affiliation to South Africa.

There are a few notable examples of republics that grant arms: South Africa, which I have already mentioned, and Ireland. Both of these republics have historical ties to Great Britain, as do we, and they do not find heraldry incompatible with their republicanism. Likewise several prominent Americans have been granted arms: President George Washington, through his decent from an armigerous ancestor; President Dwight D. Eisenhower, assigned/assumed in relation to his investiture in the Order of the Elephant; President John F. Kennedy, who was awarded a grant of arms from the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland; and Secretary Colin Powell, who matriculated a coat of arms granted to his father, a Jamaican subject, from the Court of the Lord Lyon based on his mother’s Scottish heritage.

In amending the mission of The Institute of Heraldry, which would be well within your prerogative as Chief Executive, you would enable thousands of Americans to obtain formal recognition for their assumed arms.

I think expanding the role of the Institute of Heraldry could solve Mr. Trump’s woes in his improperly assumed arms, and provide American citizens the opportunity to have recognized grants of arms. I realize that adopting arms that differ from those that rightfully belong to the male heir of Joseph Edward Davies would be very costly for Mr. Trump, but it is the right thing to do. It is not a display of integrity to reuse a man’s arms without difference, except for changing the motto on the scroll from “Integritas” to “Trump”. I realize in the United States this may be “legal”, but it is most certainly not “gentlemanly”.

Am I asserting that Mr. Trump is not a gentleman; by all means, NO. Mr. Trump was elected as President with the mandate to Make America Great Again. I support him wholeheartedly in doing so. I just happen to think that part of that making great also includes following tradition. I’ve prayed for Mr. Trump’s success as President in doing the will of God, just as I did for his predecessor Mr. Obama. I didn’t pray for their individual success, I prayed for God’s blessings on the Nation through their leadership.

Mr. Trump is not old money and he doesn’t come from an established line of American “aristocracy”. He is a self-made man. He doesn’t need the arms of another man to provide him standing in society. One of my favorite books is The Great Gatsby. Mr. Trump reminds me of Jay Gatsby. He’s got the money; he’s in the right places, yet the old money snobs will never accept him. Mr. Trump’s story, at the trajectory it is on, will end much better than that of Jay Gatsby. Most importantly, Mr. Trump has a family to carry on the great name he is making. They have the potential to be a leading family in the American nobility (I can hear the shrill liberal screams of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” as I type this).

I think that one thing that Mr. Trump could do to secure that legacy would be to adopt his own unique arms, or have conferred upon him by some foreign state with a heraldic authority unique arms. These arms would be differenced among his sons, and passed on to their sons’ sons. This legitimate armorial achievement might even be as enduring as those borne by General George Washington, which he had hereditary right to through an armigerous ancestor.

Even if wholly unique arms are a step too far, Mr. Trump should at least difference the arms currently in use enough that they then become unique. Add a bordure, a canton, or something. Put a bald eagle in chief. Just something. The brand recognition would be retained and heraldry geeks such as me wouldn’t be blowing a gasket.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “On Trump’s Assumption of Another Man’s Arms

  1. COL Blevins,
    I agree with you regarding usage of ancestral arms, but I think the problem is that most Americans have an imperfect understanding of their proper usage, as do most residents of Great Britain. That, and most people really aren’t all that concerned about it, given the fact they generally srldom if ever use them.

    I confess, when my son was young, I made him a plaque with a minature sword and shield, bearing the Somers arms. I don’t feel particularly condemed about it; it was never used ceremonially and now hangs in my workshop where it adds a certain amount of class.

    I agree – POTUS should have done it properly but almost nobody knows how to do that (or wants to spend a fortune if they do).

    Lastly, and you won’t agree, but being citizens of a country that does not grant either arms or peerage, I wonder how obligated we are to observe the customs of another country within the confines of our own.

    • COL (Hon) Somers,

      I agree that in America there is no laws regarding heraldry, nor many people who understand it, as you stated. Ignorance doesn’t make it right, though. If someone has a desire to use heraldry publicly as Mr. Trump has, it is my earnest opinion that it should be done with propriety. I acknowledge that for the most part, it is a moot point, but we have to recognize that American law is based on British Common Law.

      I find the Institute of Heraldry’s statement that “Consequently, the construction of early U.S. society included a rejection of traditional heraldry.” incongruent with the evidence of use of heraldic devices as evidenced by this listing provided by the American Heraldry Society. In other writings I’ve seen, the Founding Fathers republican ideology didn’t prohibit them from bearing arms, most often, close to the English and Scottish traditions that they didn’t completely eschew.

      I don’t disagree with you that we are not bound to customs of other countries. The only laws we have to obey are our own. However, I stand behind my view that if one desires to appropriate the trappings of a bygone era and the pomp and circumstance they represent, it is in poor taste to assume arms that so obviously belong to someone else. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Trump and I think he should be above this. He and I obviously have a difference of opinion in this matter. But to go back to something you said, you thought the arms hanging on your wall added class; the difference I see is that you did it for your personal enjoyment, whereas the Trump Organization has turned the misappropriated arms into an item of branding.

      At the end of the day, my fervored opinion in this matter is irrelevant. There are no laws of heraldry in the United States. The only way in America to protect arms is to trademark them as a logo, and this still isn’t bullet-proof. In our consumerist society, my whimsical attachment to such an anachronistic notion is quaint and meaningless. Heraldic achievements, like honorary colonelcies, mean very little to anyone save a few people.

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