On June 14, 1777, as the campaign for American freedom ground grimly forward, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution. “Resolved,” it read, “That the flag of the 13 United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” The resolution was adopted. So was born the first official flag of the fledgling United States. But would this audacious Flag Act, establishing a new standard for a new people, stand up to the firepower of the mighty British Empire?
May it wave as our standard forever,
John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay carefully affixed their signatures, just squeezing them in at the end of the document. Above their signatures, David Hartley, representing King George III of England, had scribbled his own. The date was Sept. 3, 1783. The document was the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the Revolutionary War. But many nations had been born. The real question was: Would the United States survive?
The gem of the land and the sea,
Thomas Jefferson was outraged. For years, pirates from the Barbary nations had plundered and looted American ships, demanding tribute from the American government. For years, Jefferson had advocated the use of force against the pirates. And for years, the government had ignored Jefferson and paid off the pirates. Now, as president, Jefferson was determined to fight back. America would not be bullied, Jefferson told Congress: “The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. …” The Barbary states quickly capitulated. But there were larger battles yet to come.
The banner of the right.
It was a scene from a picture book. Bridges, fields, forests, running rivers. And blood. Puddles of it, everywhere. Bodies strewn across the muddy battleground. The date was Sept. 17, 1862, and as the sun set, 23,000 Americans lay dead or dying at Antietam. The most brutal battle in American history, pitting brother against brother, friend against friend, and value against value, would end in stalemate. The future of freedom – and of sovereignty – remained foggy.
Let despots remember the day
Woodrow Wilson had won re-election with a simple slogan: “He kept us out of war.” But now war was coming. German Kaiser Wilhelm II had plunged Europe into chaos with his aggressive war policy; now the United States would lend a hand against the Kaiser. “Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its people,” Wilson told Congress. The Kaiser would indeed fall. But would Wilson’s pledge to fight for freedom prevent the rise of another German despot exponentially more dangerous than the first?
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
The madness of war engulfed Able Company, one of the first companies to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, 1944. “All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot,” wrote S.L.A. Marshall. “Already the sea runs red. … By the end of one half hour, approximately two thirds of the company is forever gone.” Would the carnage endured by the heroes of Able Company be rewarded with ultimate victory?
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
The men and women streamed down U.S. Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Harassed, cursed, assaulted, these freedom marchers would remind Americans that freedom is race-blind. “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,” Martin Luther King Jr. stated on the steps of the state Capitol building in Montgomery. “That will not be the day of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” It was March 25, 1965.
That by their might and by their right
“[F]reedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman and child,” President George W. Bush recently stated. “[T]he path to lasting peace in our world is liberty.” So too thought the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Liberty is the fundamental human right. But how best can we ensure its continued ascent? We can begin by stamping the flag of liberty – the American flag – on our hearts and the hearts of our children.