Today, June 14, is Flag Day. Since the administration of President Woodrow Wilson — the year before the United States entered World War I — our nation's leaders have urged Americans to celebrate the day in honor of the principles for which the American flag stands.
June 14 is the anniversary of the official adoption of the original American flag. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution declaring the new nation's flag would be made up of stars on a blue background and 13 red and white stripes, one each for the 13 colonies that had broken away from British rule.
More than a hundred years later, President Wilson issued a proclamation officially recognizing Flag Day, a holiday that by then many had already been celebrating. Alluding to warfare in Europe and other circumstances that had threatened to divide the nation, Wilson said he thought it was appropriate to call attention to the principles that united Americans.
Flag Day, he said, "should this year and in the years to come be given special significance as a day of renewal and reminder, a day upon which we should direct our minds with a special desire of renewal to thoughts of the ideals and principles of which we have sought to make our great Government the embodiment."
The idea is enduring: That the day ought to be observed as a reminder to all of what the flag stands for, "the great mission of liberty and justice." He described the U.S. as a nation distinct from all others because of its clear conception of the rights and obligations stemming from that mission.
Many years before Wilson, another national figure appealed to the flag as a symbol of freedom. Here are the words of clergyman and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, whose sister you may be more familiar with — Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
"Wherever this flag comes, and men behold it, ... they see symbols of light," Beecher said in an address to a Brooklyn regiment of soldiers. "It is the banner of Dawn. It means Liberty; and the galley-slave, the poor, oppressed conscript, the trodden-down creature of foreign despotism, sees in the American flag that very promise and prediction of God: 'The people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up....' "
Beecher concluded his speech to the soldiers this way:
"Our flag means, then, all that our fathers meant in the Revolutionary War; it means all that the Declaration of Independence meant; it means all that the Constitution of our people, organizing for justice, for liberty, and for happiness, meant."
This Flag Day, let's remember the ideals our flag stands for and ponder how we can live up to them.