- - Thursday, June 11, 2020

As our country is in the grips of so many bitter struggles — some against Mother Nature, some amongst ourselves — we are unlikely to indulge even a passing notice to the upcoming June 14 holiday, Flag Day. For those who do, one can imagine the hardened battle lines that could form over our national emblem. 

Before someone torches or tears up the flag, they should perhaps consider how Flag Day arose. On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution establishing a uniform national flag. The Betsy Ross Flag was born. Although it almost certainly provided a rallying banner and a sense of pride, it was not particularly revered. Nevertheless, it was a symbol of the most free nation in world history.

Then came the Civil War and the lowering of the flag over Fort Sumter, South Carolina. That image triggered an outpouring of love for Old Glory.

Jonathan Flynt Morris, a banker and strong Republican Unionist, urged the editor of the Hartford Evening Press, Charles Dudley Warner, to craft an commentary about the need to respect — no — revere the flag. On June 10, 1861, Warner followed the advice and proposed that America establish a new holiday — Flag Day. In that editorial, he emoted, “This flag is our dearest symbol of nationality. It stands for civil liberty on this continent. To keep it full high advanced is our highest pride; to strike at it is to arouse all the passion of the nation to defend it, and to punish the perpetrators of the outrage.” 

Flag Day celebrations began in Warner’s home state of Connecticut, and slowly spread to schools in Wisconsin in 1885, New York schools in 1889, then Philadelphia and public buildings in New York State in 1894. An American Flag Day organization was created to further the movement. 

Democratic President Wilson issued the first federal recognition of the holiday on May 30, 1916. Wilson’s magnificent proclamation explained that Flag Day should include patriotic exercises and “give significant expression to our thoughtful love of America, our comprehension of the great mission of liberty and justice to which we have devoted ourselves as a people, our pride in the history ….” He also declared that we should re-dedicate ourselves to our principles of “independence, liberty, and right” which no person “can corrupt, no influence draw away from its ideals ….”

Finally, on Aug. 3, 1949, Democratic President Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.

Flag Day exemplifies our shared American creed. It was the brainchild of Republicans, spread nonpolitically and instituted by Democrats. Its purpose is to commit us to the founding First Principles declared in our Declaration of Independence and embedded in our Constitution. The First Principles include equality, limited government, the rule of law, unalienable rights, the Social Compact and the right to alter or abolish oppressive government.

Clearly, America did not fulfill those First Principles for all in 1776 or even today. But the belief in those First Principles has inspired generations of patriots to move us closer to their fulfillment. Abolitionism, woman’s suffrage and the civil rights struggles all called upon the First Principles to push the country toward better fulfill America’s promise.

Demands for equality, the equal application of the rule of law and protecting the unalienable rights of everyone are at the heart of the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death. Unlike any other country in the world, our flag stands for liberty and equality.

This is why Patriot Week’s celebration of a different historical flag each day of the week Sept. 11-Sept. 17, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks through the anniversary of the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution, is so vital. Included in those flags is the current U.S. flag, the Betsy Ross Flag, the Suffragette Flag (yes, they had one!), and the Fort Sumter Flag. They tell the story of America and how the battle for liberty and freedom is an unceasing struggle. 

More than ever, this Flag Day we should all proudly display Old Glory and re-dedicate ourselves to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and our First Principles.

• Michael Warren is an Oakland County, Michigan, Circuit Court judge and co-founder of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org) with his then-10-year-old daughter Leah.

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