Library of Congress
Frederic Church, “Our Heaven Born Banner” (1861)
I learnt today that there is a national Flag Day in America- it’s the 14th of June for those interested. It observes the adoption of the American flag by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777. The same date is the birth date of the United States Army, but I suppose that if one were to mark an “Army Day”, one would be obliged to mark a “Navy Day” as well. It’s not a federal holiday, and only Pennsylvania observes it as a state holiday. I could not find very much information on the day, even though today marks its 150th birthday. There is, however, a reverence for the flag which I find somewhat puzzling and not a little disturbing in places.
According to the New York Times piece, Unhappy Flag Day, the holiday originated “as the offspring of idealism and commerce, midwifed into existence by journalists”, which is at some odds with what is told on the National Flag Day Foundation site which claims that “On June 14th, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19 year old teacher at Stony Hill School, placed a 10 inch, 38- star flag in a bottle on his desk then assigned essays on the flag and its significance. This observance, commemorated Congresses adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama issued Proclamation 8391 which stated that “The flag is still more than a historical symbol: it is part of our culture. In our schools children pledge allegiance to our flag and recite the ideals upon which our Nation was founded. Families sit on their front porches under a billowing Stars and Stripes. And each day as the flag is raised above military installations and government buildings, we are reminded of the great sacrifices that have been made in defense of our Nation.”
The New York Times’ article describes how Henry Beecher Ward (a brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) spoke of the American flag “quite literally in Christlike terms:
It was upon these streaming bars and upon these bright stars that every one of that immense concentric range of guns was aimed, when Sumter was lifted up in the midst, almost like another witnessing Calvary. … And do you know that when it
was fallen, in the streets of a Southern city, it was trailed, hooted at, pierced with swords — Men that have sat in the Senate of the United States ran out to trample upon it; it was fired on and slashed by the mob; it was dragged through the mud; it was hissed at and spit upon; and so it was carried through Southern cities! That our flag … should, in our own nation, and by our own people, be spit upon, and trampled under foot, is more than the heart of man can bear!”