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Celebrating Flag Day

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #87, 2009.

Flag Day seems to be a point in history long forgotten, but Sam Blumenfeld has brought it back to life.

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Sam Blumenfeld

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress replaced the British Union Jack, symbol of Britain’s royal and imperial power over its colonies, with a new American flag. And that is why Flag Day is celebrated each year on June 14.

The delegates in 1777 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.” The birth of our flag was a momentous event in the new nation’s struggle for Independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence had been signed the year before, and the former British colonies were now at war with the mother country, a war which did not officially end until the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

It is believed that this first American flag was sewn in Philadelphia by the famous seamstress Betsy Ross, who had been given a sketch of the new emblem, so we are told, by George Washington and a committee of patriots. But Francis Hopkinson, a delegate to Congress from New Jersey, claimed credit for having come up with the original design, which had six-pointed stars. However, it was Ross who supposedly suggested five-pointed stars . . . perhaps because she found them easier to sew.

A year later, this new flag, flown by Capt. John Paul Jones in the Ranger, received its first salute from a foreign state at Quiberon Bay, France, February 14, 1778. In 1795 Congress specified that the flag be fifteen stripes and that the union be fifteen stars in a blue field. For 22 years the flag of 1795 flew ashore and afloat over civilian, military and naval activities. It was the conquering flag in 13 out of 18 naval battles in the War of 1812. It inspired Francis Scott Key in 1814, during the battle at Fort McHenry, to write the stirring words of our national anthem, the immortal “Star-Spangled Banner.”

That glorious flag, 30 by 42 feet in size, had been made by Mary Pickersgill, an enterprising businesswoman who established a very successful flag-making business in Baltimore. There is a Star Spangled Banner Flag House museum in Baltimore, which homeschoolers in that area ought to visit.

It was Samuel Reid (1783—1861), commander of a famous privateer during the War of 1812, who, at the behest of Congressman Peter H. Wendover, helped design the 1818 version of the flag, which established the rule of keeping thirteen stripes to commemorate the thirteen colonies and adding one star for each new U.S. state. Today, of course, the flag has 50 stars to represent our 50 states.

Photo courtesy of www.act-clipart.com
However, it was Bernard Cigrand (1866—1932), who is considered the father of Flag Day. He was the first to organize a formal observance of Flag Day in 1885 at a school in which he was teaching at Waubeka, Wisconsin. Although he went on to become a dentist, he tirelessly promoted the idea of making Flag Day a national holiday. His unwavering, patriotic advocacy finally led President Woodrow Wilson to issue a proclamation calling for a national observance of Flag Day on June 14, 1916. However, Old Glory’s birthday did not become an official day of observance until August 1949, when President Harry Truman signed the legislation that proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day.

And so, while Flag Day is still not a national holiday, it has become a noteworthy day of observance by many Americans, particularly veterans of our many wars. Since Truman’s signing, Americans have fought and died for their country in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and lately the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we see so often see on TV, soldiers killed in battle are brought back to the U.S. in coffins draped with American flags, which at funerals are carefully folded and given to the wives, husbands, and parents of the fallen heroes.

On Flag Day all government buildings and officials are required to display the flag in celebration of its adoption as the official flag of the United States. Citizens are urged to display the flag from their private residences.

By Joint Resolution of Congress, a Federal Flag Code (Public Law 94—344) was enacted proscribing the proper ways to display and honor the flag in every possible situation. For example, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand being over the heart.” When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the right hand should also be placed over the heart.

Every homeschool should have a flag inside the house and, if possible, one flown outside, especially on Flag Day.

Education expert Sam Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics reading program is available on www.samblumenfeld.net. His latest book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, is about the Shakespeare authorship mystery.

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