June 14, 2019 — It was 242 years ago yesterday that the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution, officially adopting what would be the first of 27 versions of what we recognize as the symbol representing the United States.
Less than two months later, on Aug. 3, 1777, soldier reinforcements arriving at Ft. Stanwix from Massachusetts brought news of Congress’s adoption of a flag consisting of 13 stripes alternating red and white, along with a smaller blue field with 13 white stars “representing a new constellation.”
In that moment, while under siege from the British, American soldiers cut up their shirts into white stripes while officers’ wives offered their flannel petticoats for red stripes.
The blue cloth coat of Capt. Abraham Swartwout was utilized for the Union rectangle adorned with 13 stars — all sewn together in haste amid cannon fire before being hoisted in a symbolic gesture representing a unified people under the United States of America.
Over the course of more than two centuries, Americans have waved our flag in celebration, hoisted it in defiance, wrapped themselves in it to represent achievement on behalf of all Americans, and draped it over those who have sacrificed their lives for the values our flag represents.
At the same time, some have even burned it in protest — an act that I personally find disgraceful and more than ironic, considering it is the very ideal our flag represents that affords them that freedom to begin with.
Admittedly, as a kid, I didn’t think much about those things as we stood — hand over our hearts — and gave our Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school. At the time, it was just something we did that ingrained within us a reverence for the flag I still carry today.
Over the last few decades, I’ve watched that same reverence erode as the morning Pledge of Allegiance in many schools has become optional — and in some cases challenged or dissuaded — out of concern for political correctness.
Granted, reciting the pledge to our flag contains the term “Allegiance,” which means loyalty, faithfulness or commitment to something — in this case, the American ideal of a democratic republic founded on rights and freedoms that support the pursuit of happiness.
I have no problem aligning myself with those principles.
And while “under God” is also a part of our flag’s pledge, every American has the right to eliminate it if they choose, in the same way they have the freedom to practice a religion — or, if they so choose, practice no religion at all.
Again, it’s because of what the flag represents that Americans — unlike many living in countries throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and parts of Europe — have the right to make their own choice.
In the same way that I didn’t think about these things as a kid, we seem to be thinking less and less about them as a nation.
However, today’s lack of appreciation stems more from a growing indifference or apathy rather than a lack of childhood perspective.
While I recognize we are far from perfect as a nation, the American flag itself isn’t about representing a particular policy, election, partisanship, event or individual in history.
It symbolizes the ideal of freedom, the hope afforded by that freedom, and our commitment as Americans in the endless pursuit of both.
Ultimately, it stands for more than the past or even the moment we live in; it’s a reminder of the infinite notion of freedom.
According to the New York State Historical Association, Capt. Swartwout was eventually reimbursed with a voucher for the use of his coat in the creation of our nation’s first makeshift flag.
Though the exact amount is disputed by scholars, the one thing they — and I’d like to believe all Americans — can agree on is that the ideal which inspired the hasty patchwork of that first flag is something immeasurable. Yesterday, as we recognize the American flag in ceremonies across our nation, I hope we considered the pledge to liberty and justice it represents, as well as the notion of a people undivided in their pursuit of freedom.
Even when that freedom includes not recognizing our flag at all.
Write Siuslaw News editor Ned Hickson at [email protected] siuslawnews.com or P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439