Stars and Stripes: Reflections on Flag Day
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson made a request. This was a request that President Calvin Coolidge would reissue eleven years later, a request that Congress only passed by law on August 3, 1949, signed by President Harry Truman. Wilson requested for the national observance of Flag Day, a day to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of our nation’s flag, which has risen for 243 continuous years since June 14, 1777. We see the flag everywhere and pledge our loyalty to the star-spangled banner. But as a symbol of our independence, we have to inquire how it got there and why we let it fly o’er the land of the free.
When the American Revolution started in 1775, the thirteen colonies had no consistent flag. When it came to which colors to fly, it was every regiment and colony for themselves. Tired of the inconsistency and in desperate need of unity, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to create the first “American” flag to represent the Continental Army. It goes by many names: “The Grand Union Flag,” “Continental Colors,” “Congress Flag,” “Cambridge Flag,” and the “First Navy Ensign.” However, with a British Union jack in the top left corner, General George Washington asked the Second Continental Congress to later create an original set of colors to truly portray our newly independent nation instead of another British knockoff.
On June 14, 1777, the Convention passed a resolution stating: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Well as it stands, the design of the strongly-worded constellation was not spun the same way every time. We had more designs than we could count, all permutations of star shape, orientation, arrangement, and stripe alternation. Francis Hopkinson, a naval flag designer, was the only person to have ever claimed to create one of those first flags. That’s right. The Betsy Ross story is only apocrypha (without any more corroboration than her grandson William Canby’s account). Her creation, “Old Glory,” was but the third edition of the 39 United States historical flags. Thirty-six honorable mentions later, it was only in 1960 (15 years after Flag Day was established) that the current United States 50-star flag was hoisted, protected by law even before taking its final form.
On June 14, 1923 (97 Flag Days ago), the government created the United States Flag Code explicitly detailing all the rules, responsibilities, and specificities that came with our flag. Failure to comply with the code is not enforced, which means that disrespecting the flag is not a punishable crime, but a societal stigma. This brings us to today’s controversy: taking a knee. Although it is still politically and ideologically disputed, Colin Kaepernick’s action on the 26th of August, 2016, was unprecedented. Whether what he did was an act of desecration or revelation, Americans were tested whether their loyalty to the flag was that of patriotism or jingoism. Soon after, Americans were inundated with a wave of racial injustices, including the death of George Floyd.
This Flag Day, rather than contemplating whether the symbol of our nation should or should not be commemorated, we should contemplate what it symbolizes. Our flag will forever symbolize the values that sparked the creation of our country. It symbolizes the Declaration of Independence, the deceased soldiers who protected it during the revolution, and the nation born out of the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America needs problem-solvers under its flag, not chaos. Instead of pointing fingers at whoever we think started this crisis, we should hoist our colors up for the prospect of a better nation in the future. After all, it’s not about the stars and stripes, but rather, how we fly them.
Image Credit: Farmer’s Almanac