Thursday, June 17, 2004

21. You're a grand old flag

"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." And so the Continental Congress passed the first flag act on June 14, 1777. As to who designed or made the first flag, nobody is absolutely certain but the names Francis Hopkinson and Betsy Ross respectively, are credited, even if only through legend. While there is no record as to why red, white and blue were selected, in 1782 congress of the Confederation defined red for hardiness and courage, white for purity and innocence and blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The celebration of Flag Day is said to have begun on June 14, 1885. A schoolteacher in Fredonia, Wisconsin named B.J. Cigrand gathered his students to celebrate the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of our flag. Amidst the publicity and Cigrand's continued promotion, the idea spread to New York and Philadelphia. After years of state and local celebrations, President Woodrow Wilson officially established Flag Day in 1916. Finally, on August 3, 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day.

Flags, of course, are symbols- symbols that represent the history, cultural values, and governmental structure of a country. Symbols, and the ideas they represent, can be very powerful- capable of invoking feelings of happiness, fear or sadness. Consider several other powerful symbols- the hammer and sickle, the peace symbol or the Christian crucifix. How meaningful and personally significant are these symbols, what emotions do they generate?

When the United States won independence from England, it also won the right to create its own history, define its own cultural values and form its own government. It also won the right to create its own flag, and to develop its own symbol- one of meaning and emotion. What emotions are present upon viewing our America Flag? It was born out of the proclamation of inalienable rights- Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our individual rights include the freedom of speech (whose spirit of creation was to discuss political thought without retribution), freedom of religion (the right for all Americas to privately worship any religion of their choosing) and the right to bear arms (to protect itself from governmental unruliness.) America also gave rise to diversity, democracy and capitalism. America's democratic system is the envy of most countries and its system of capitalism has made it the super power it is today.

Today, in times of war and terrorism; times of uncertainty and difficult decisions- let us be reminded and remember the flag as it spoke to Franklin K. Lane in 1914, "I am what you make of me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself."

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