June 14 is the day the United States celebrates Flag Day. While it may not be as widely celebrated as other American holidays, it is one of the oldest. It was resolved by the Second Continental Congress in 1777, even before the conclusion of the American War of Independence, the Revolutionary War.
In 1885, BJ Cigrand, a Wisconsin schoolteacher initiated a “Flag Birthday” for his students on June 14. His continual promotion of this “Flag Day” inspired New York kindergarten teacher George Balch in 1889 to have similar observances for his students, and the State Board of Education for the state followed suit. The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia had a Flag Day in 1891 and the following year so did the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution. Other state organizations in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois followed suit.
A hundred years ago in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson set June 14 as the official Flag Day by proclamation and Congress established it in 1949. The “Stars and Stripes” represents the symbol of America and was originally created by Betsy Ross in Philadelphia. The flag of red, white and blue became a popular rallying point throughout various points in American history. In 1894 300,000 children participated in Flag Day celebrations in several parks in Chicago.
The flag is often featured in other holidays: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day. It appears on military and police uniforms and is the symbol of American troops who have fought in wars overseas. But it goes back to the beginning of America’s national history.
One of my favorite stories of that beginning was about Benjamin Franklin — one of the Committee of Five who worked on the Declaration of Independence (1776) as well as a contributor to the American Constitution (1787). As he left Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he was asked this question by a lady:
“Well Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin replied without hesitation:
“A republic, madam — if you can keep it.”
Is your flag flying today?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian