When you see a flag flying at half-mast, it is natural to wonder, “Who passed away?” Typically, the American flag is flown at half-staff when someone has died, as a mark of respect, but it can also mean distress, to be in mourning, or, in some cases, a salute. This custom traces back to 1612 and an ill-fated mission. Continue reading
A true Native American, the bald eagle can be found from Alaska to the northern border of Mexico, and from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. It is the only eagle found exclusively in North America, so it is very fitting that it is our national emblem. Not only was it decided early on but, contrary to myths and folklore, it was a quick and widely supported decision.
Since Roman times, the eagle has been associated with strength, and the Legions used it as their standard. Rightfully so, as the American bald eagle weighs between 7 and 14 lbs., males being smaller than females, and their wing spans measure 6 to 8 feet. This incredible size and power allows them to fly up to 10,000 feet in the air and dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.
The eagle is a sea bird and feeds on turtles, snakes, fish, and ducks. They are also known to add rabbits, muskrats, and dead animals (think roadkill). They are an incredible bird of prey with acute eyesight and sharp talons, giving them the ability to attack from the air.
So, with the knowledge of all these qualities, it is no surprise that our founding fathers chose this bird to be our national emblem. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to come up with an official seal. With the brain power of these three, you would think it would be an easy task. They failed to design something that would satisfy Congress. They turned to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress.
Finally, on June 20, 1782, the Great Seal was adopted. Thomson chose the best elements from various designs and changed the small white eagle (originally in a design by William Barton, a lawyer from Pennsylvania) to the American bald eagle. Thus, our national emblem became the American bald eagle.
There are stories told about Benjamin Franklin’s opposition to this choice. The myth is that Franklin wrote:
“I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly, you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to its nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him…. Besides he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest. . . of America.. . . For a truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.”
While it is a humorous tale, the truth is that he penned a letter to his daughter, once, stating that the bald eagle was “a bird of bad moral character.” While Franklin had his opinions, the American bald eagle was a strong symbol of American pride, which made it necessary to pass the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940.
Congress passed the act because the population was being diminished by the use of DDT. The chemical was widely used as a pesticide after World War I all across the U.S. The eagles were consuming animals who carried the pesticide and became a silent killer of the eagles. Thankfully, once this act was in place and the use of DDT was prohibited, the population has grown over the years.
This majestic bird is now associated with the United States by countries and people all around the world. The American bald eagle strikes a chord of pride and patriotism in Americans just as the American flag does, and it will continue to do so for many more centuries to come.
Throughout history, flags have served as an excellent display of cultural and geographic identity. A flag tends to be viewed as a physical representation of the intangible idea of the nation. Every weekday children across the United States of America say The Pledge of Allegiance to Old Glory, and they could easily explain to you that the thirteen red and white stripes are for the thirteen original colonies, and that the fifty stars stand for the fifty current states in the union. Continue reading
Orson Welles once said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Such a truth exists in that statement, as it is only by choosing to connect with the people around us that we are able to experience a fulfilling existence. In America, that is done by expressing a deep affection for our country, by being patriotic.
There are certain times, particularly when tragedy strikes, that we see people come together in support of America. It is during these times that their patriotism shines through. The question is, why are people proud of where they come from and, as it pertains to America, why does being patriotic matter to people in the first place?
Let’s go deeper into what makes patriotism such a necessity for so many people.
A Sense of Belonging
On the surface, needing to belong may sound ugly, but the truth is, it’s human nature to long for social interaction, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. The reason that we need this is because it’s the only way to achieve personal growth, to advance past where we are. Having a sense of belonging involves more than just being acquainted with other people. It is being accepted and supported by other members of a group.
How Being Patriotic Is Instilled at an Early Age
When those who grew up in the United States think about their younger days, one of the memories that inevitably comes to mind is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This was often done before many of us knew what it meant or why we were saying it in the first place. As we grew up and learned more, we gradually became aware of what it meant to salute our flag and be an American citizen.
Growing in Our Patriotism
Everything we learned, from how our country came to exist, how our freedom was fought for and won, and the significance of the Founding Fathers, to how current events play into that history, made us more enlightened about patriotism. Eventually, we knew that we were saluting a flag with 13 stripes representing our original 13 colonies and 50 stripes representing each state in our union. The red, white, and blue became more than just colors – they were symbols of what we should strive to be.
Why We Need to Be Patriotic
“United we stand, divided we fall.” This phrase and variations of it have been attributed to many sources, from the ancient Greek fable-weaver Aesop, to Founding Father John Dickinson, to the New Testament of the Bible (Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17). While it may be difficult to pin down the original source of this quote, its meaning is abundantly clear – not only our failure, but our very survival, depends on working together. Failing to do so will inevitably lead to us paying the ultimate price.
So, being patriotic is more than just something we should do on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veteran’s Day. In fact, few of us take those days as seriously as we should, but patriotism is something we all need year-round. Together we will accomplish more, and America will be more successful. Patriotism gives us a sense of belonging, a place where can all fit, regardless of our individual backgrounds.
Patriotism All the Time
Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of being patriotic, never wavering from their belief in what they envisioned for our country. We tend to cling to our patriotism in times of great need – after 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings, and other acts of violence. It is during these times that being patriotic crosses all political, racial, and cultural lines, bringing us together as one people. However, if we are to fulfill our potential as a free nation, patriotism should be a part of our everyday lives.
Too often we are divided based on small differences among ourselves rather than coming together based on what we have in common. The American flag is the ultimate symbol of patriotism and is a great representation of what are. The 13 stripes represent all 13 original colonies. Each individual colony was different from the next, but, ultimately, they all became unified to become part of something greater than what they were by themselves.
Where to Find Some of the Most Famous American Flags
With its 13 stripes and 50 stars, the red, white, and blue banner that serves as the flag of the United States is one of the world’s most recognizable symbols. It even has a slew of nicknames, including “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory,” and even simply “The Red, White, and Blue.” There have been many versions of the American flag over the years, but certain variations have a particular historical significance for United States citizens the world over.
The stories of the most famous flags are preserved in museums throughout the United States, but where exactly are the flags? In some cases, they are kept alongside the stories that go with them, but in others they may not be where one might expect.
The Betsy Ross Flag
It is widely accepted that, in 1776, Betsy Ross sewed the first United States flag at the behest of none other than George Washington. The flag she designed featured 13 white stars arranged circularly over a square blue background and alternating red and white stripes. The following year, Ross’s flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. This day, June 14, 1777, was established Flag Day (origins of this day are heavily debatable, but that’s for another time).
Where to Find This Flag
Unfortunately, our nation’s first flag isn’t around anymore, but that doesn’t mean Betsy Ross’s involvement in designing it hasn’t been properly acknowledged. In fact, the headquarters for Flag Day are in the Betsy Ross House, located in Philadelphia, where she is believed to have sewn America’s inaugural flag. If you go there, you’ll be treated to a tour, complete with actors and backdrops of that time period.
The Star Spangled Banner
Every American knows that “The Star Spangled Banner” is the United States’ national anthem, and most know that it was written by a man named Francis Scott Key. While this is all common knowledge, it’s often overlooked that there was a specific flag that was the source of Key’s inspiration on a war-torn day during the War of 1812. The Star Spangled Banner flag was such a symbol of unity and encouragement throughout the War of 1812 that it became arguably the most beloved flag in American history.
Where to Find This Flag
One would assume that the banner and the anthem it inspired would be in the same place, but that’s not the case. If you want to see the anthem, you’ll have to go travel to Baltimore (where Key penned the anthem) to what is known as The Star Spangled Banner Flag House. Along with the national anthem, this site also features exhibits centered around the War of 1812 and other historical items related to life in Baltimore during that time period.
So, where is the original Star Spangled Banner flag located? Just a short drive from Baltimore, in Washington D.C.
The Flag from 9/11
The 9/11 flag is the unofficial flag of our modern times. Famous for being flown over Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 attacks, this flag has served as a reminder of not only the tragedy itself, but of our nation’s identity and its ability to come together and persevere through adversity.
Where to Find This Flag
The 9/11 flag has been used as a traveling exhibit many times, but it can typically be seen as part of New York City’s September 11th Memorial. In 2012, Flag Day became a very healing occasion, as the 9/11 flag was transported to the Flag House Museum in Baltimore to have some of the Star Spangled Banner’s threads sewn into its fabric.
Visit America’s Famous Flags
When planning a tour of America’s most historically significant sites, most of us think of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, or even the Paul Revere House in Boston. Thoughts of seeing the nation’s flags are often overlooked, likely because most people don’t know where they are or that they are even available to be seen.
So, when you make your way on a tour of United States historical sites, take the time to visit some of the flags that symbolized what America was, what it is, and what it wants to be in the future.
It’s a good question. Texas has been governed by six different nations over the course of its history, it has its own state flag, and there is the matter of Texas’s constitution allowing it to split four new states away from itself, which would all require new flags for themselves. We’ll get into that part of the problem later.
First, let’s discuss the flags that have already flown over the state. Texas was originally settled by Europeans around 1685. The French established a colony called Fort Saint Louis, which they had originally meant to place on the Mississippi River. The colony only lasted a few years before collapsing, but its presence meant that the Spanish felt they had to reestablish their claim, having made landfall and a map a century and a half earlier, then largely ignoring it.
The Spanish thus constructed missions in East Texas, which were routed by native resistance. They tried again after the French started settling southern Louisiana, establishing San Antonio in 1718 as the first civilian Spanish settlement in Texas.
This gives us two of the famous “Six Flags Over Texas”: Spain (twice: 1519 – 1685, and then again from 1690 – 1821), and France (from 1685 – 1690). Which flags were they, though? Spain used several different flags during its exploration of the New World. One of the most commonly seen on “Six Flags” displays, since it was chosen by the Texas Centennial Exposition committee, is the Castile and Leon royal banner, consisting of two lions and two castles:
Nice, right? Unfortunately, Spain wasn’t using this flag during the period they were in Texas – it’s the banner used by Cortez during the conquering of Mexico. They mostly were using this one at the time:
Which is fine, representing the House of Burgundy, except that nobody seems to recognize it as a Spanish flag anymore. The Texas Historical Commission proposed in 1996 that the Spanish flag from 1785 be used. It is supplanting the royal banner in displays as per the Historical Commission’s recommendation.
The French flag is even less clear. There was no official national flag of France, at the time, and the flag carried by the leader of the colony is unclear. A few proposals were made, including one with three white or gold fleur-de-lis on a blue banner.
Two down. Next is Mexico, which controlled the area from 1821 – 1836. Its flag was adopted in 1823 and is more or less the same today, barring some artistic variance:
Nowadays you are more likely to see a stylized eagle in place of the realistic one depicted here. Very little controversy or confusion with this flag.
Next, of course, the state of Texas itself. It has had two different official flags. The first is extremely straightforward – a yellow star on a blue banner. It only lasted from 1836 – 1839. It was then replaced with the current flag. Everyone knows this one.
The Confederate flag, flown over Texas between 1861 – 1865, brings us back to vagueness and confusion again. Their flag went through several changes during their existence, from the Stars and Bars, which was never actually officially adopted by the Confederacy, but nonetheless was used for two years; to the Stainless Banner.
The one most commonly seen in displays is the Stars and Bars; as mentioned, this was never legislatively adopted as an official flag, largely because it resembles the Stars and Stripes of the United States too strongly. This made it unsuitable as a war banner, to say the least.
The Stars and Stripes, of course, is the flag of the previous (1845 – 1861) and next (1865 – present) nation to claim Texas: the United States of America.
The design is well-known, as is its symbolism. The thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies, with the field of white stars on the blue canton representing the total number of current states.
After the Civil War, the United States controlled Texas.
This brings us to the point of how Texas actually entered the Union. On December 29, 1845, statehood was granted to Texas, with the proviso that it be a slave state. The Missouri Compromise, however, forbade slavery north of the 36-degree 30-minute northern latitude line, as well as west of Missouri. The new territory extended further in both directions. In order to overcome objections to the violation, Congress passed a joint resolution that allowed Texas to split itself into as many as five states.
Technically, it allows Texas to split off up to four new states, and the remainder would retain the name and statehood of Texas, but that’s just wording. The idea with this compromise was that any new states would follow the Missouri Compromise rules according to location; new states above the restriction would automatically be free states, while any remaining in the area where slavery was still allowed would hold a popular vote to determine their slavery status.
In 1850, with the admission of California to the United States as a free state, Southerners wanted to split off an additional slave state from Texas to balance it. Instead, Texas was given ten million dollars in exchange for ceding its territory north of the line and west of Missouri, which eventually became parts of Colorado and New Mexico. A few years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and, thus, the question was settled for all time.
Except that the Civil War happened, and, with its end, slavery was no longer allowed in any state, which meant that Texas’s ability to split into new states was unneeded. However, and this is the important part, it was never repealed. Technically, Texas can split off new states if it wants to do so.
Ordinarily such a move would require an act of Congress, which is fine; Congress has been doing that sort of thing for a long time. If it wanted to split a state after its ratification, it only needs permission from the state’s legislation. That’s how the nation was built in the first place, after all.
Land purchases were made, and then, after some time to let new settlers sort of eke out an idea of where to live and what to concern themselves with, Congress would divide them up into various states and those states would start concerning themselves with legislature and government. But it seems that Texas can do this without any permission from the federal government; indeed, without any input whatsoever.
Related to this ability is the common belief that Texas can secede from the United States at any time; this statement is more plainly false. (See above note on the Civil War and how that is not allowed.) This seems to stem from Texas’s long history of independence and the fact that it entered the Union as a sovereign republic nation. However, it was not the first republic to join the Union, nor the last. In fact, the last republic to do so was a kingdom prior to that, and Hawaii has no legal right to secede, either.
Back to the problem of the division, though. There is the issue of how to divide Texas: probably along county lines. Nate Silver came up with a method of dividing the state up into politically sound parts in 2009. He considered things like population density and demographics, to wind up with:
New Texas is where Austin, the current capital of Texas, is located. It would be the technical remainder of the previous state of Texas and thus retains the name. Trinity has Dallas and Fort Worth; Gulfland has Houston and Corpus Christi, and would rely largely on offshore oil drilling for its economy; Plainland and El Norte would each have only about two and a half million people. This would change the political balance of power of the United States, although perhaps not as much as some might think, especially given the divisions outlined above.
So, all we need to know now is what each of our new states wants to have for its flag, right?
Not quite. There are several other proposals for division that have been raised and denied in the past; any of these previous attempts would have an equal claim for their own flags as well. For example, the best-known effort was in the late 1860s, for a vertical division into East and West Texas, which was presented to Congress but not ratified. An attempt to break off the panhandle into the state of Jefferson was floated in 1915 but also went nowhere. It’s been tried several times, most recently in the 1990s.
So, sure, on paper it looks like Texas has a unique ability to stymie Congress and suddenly add up to four stars to the flag. Can it, in fact, do that?
Now we run into the legal ramifications of precedent and what that means for Texas. In order to see what the meaning of “state” is, we turn to the Supreme Court’s decision in Escanaba Company v. the City of Chicago [107 U.S. 678 (1883). In this case, Chicago was legislating when certain drawbridges could raise and lower, and the Escanaba Company determined that the schedule was inconvenient to them and their profits. So they sued. In the briefing, Justice Stephen Field acknowledged that states have certain rights, and that they are superseded by federal jurisdiction where necessary, in this case covering free trade between states, which Escanaba claimed was being overruled by Chicago. It eventually comes to this phrasing in the opinion of the court:
Whatever the limitation upon [Illinois’s] powers as a government whilst in a territorial condition, whether from the [Northwest] Ordinance of 1787 or the legislation of Congress, it ceased to have any operative force, except as voluntarily adopted by her, after she became a State of the Union. On her admission she at once became entitled to and possessed of all the rights of dominion and sovereignty which belonged to the original States. She was admitted, and could be admitted, only, on the same footing with them. The language of the resolution admitting her is “on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever”… Equality of constitutional right and power is the condition of all States of the Union, old and new. (Escanaba Company v. the City of Chicago [107 U.S. 678 (1883)])
Meaning what, exactly? The last line is the important one: equality … is the condition of all States of the Union, old and new. This reveals that regardless of what a state’s constitution contains, the very fact that it is a state constrains it to abide by the rules and regulations that all the other states abide by.
If a thing is constitutionally allowed to one state, it is allowed to all others; conversely, if a thing is not allowed to all other states, it is not allowed to only one state. Therefore, since no state can divide itself without express approval from Congress, Texas cannot either.
So, the legal result is clear: Texas does not get to just produce four additional states at whim, much though some people might like it. This means, unfortunately, that there will be in this case no additional state flags produced, although designing them might be an interesting project for a rainy afternoon. If the reader does so, please remember that flags with animals on them are popular for American states and that none of them so far have any armadillos. Now is your chance to rectify this oversight!
Maybe another one that is nothing except tiny gold stars strewn on a blue field, to reflect the previous French flag above? Certainly, though, the flag that is the most needed is a jackalope rampant, probably on a red and blue field. This would cement the ambitious reader with fame in the vexillology community for all time.
Did you know that a majority of the colonists felt that declaring independence from the British was a radical idea? Men like Jefferson, Franklin, and the rest of our forefathers were considered radical thinkers for their vision of a free, independent United States of America. So, how did the political climate change to the point men and women picked up arms against the red coats?
First, it is important to understand how the American colonies came to be in the first place. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain was expanding their empire. Colonists came to America and first settled in Virginia in 1607, and the Pilgrims arrived just thirteen years later to New England. Coming here wasn’t initially a bold move for freedom but an economic expansion of the British Empire.
Of course there were many benefits for the colonists who wanted out of Europe and to embark on an adventurous life. Largely, the British ignored the colonies and didn’t spend much time, energy, or money supporting them. The colonists were pretty much free to do as they pleased, emulating the parts of English life they liked and changing what they didn’t.
Until the mid-eighteenth century, the colonists barely heard a boo from Britain. As France rose in power, challenging the British economically and politically, wars began sprouting between the two. From India to Europe, and on to North America, the British and French were fighting across the globe. These wars were costly to the British Empire, and they needed a way to refill their coffers.
Here’s where the colonists enter. For over 100 years, the colonists had lived in relative peace, dealing with the occasional issues with Native Americans or the British and French fighting on their doorstep. Now it was time for the colonists to help them fund the wars they were fighting with the French. The British monarchy tried taxing the Americans various ways, and each time the colonists refused to pay.
Because the British sought to impose a more firm rule, including taxing them wherever they could, the colonists began to sway toward the more radical thinkers. By the time the first shot was fired on Lexington Green in April 1775, the colonists were fed up and wanted freedom so badly they were willing to fight to the death for it. The Revolutionary mindset was spreading, and the proof was in Thomas Paine’s publishing of Common Sense in early 1776.
“These proceedings may at first seem strange and difficult, but like all other steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar and agreeable; and until an independence is declared, the Continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity. “
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted and declared independence from England. That day was so profound, John Adams wrote to his wife saying, “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” It wasn’t until two days later that Jefferson and the rest of our founding fathers signed the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.
While Adams was right about the celebrations, he was off on the day. We celebrate July 4th as our nation’s Independence Day because that is the day the declaration was signed, truly making it official. Jefferson was charged with writing the declaration and took a mere two days to write it. The document itself is of critical importance to the birth of our nation in that it defines our basic principles of American democracy which we follow today, 240 years later.
The men who signed the Declaration may have been considered radicals, but they feared for their lives once they signed it, for it was the ultimate act of rebellion. We celebrate our Independence Day today because there were men brave enough to stand up for the rights of the people. It is the day our nation’s flag, the Stars and Stripes, flew over a free, sovereign nation born of a radical vision and revolution.
The events leading up to July 4, 1776 are well documented in U.S. history books and historical documents, and almost every American will tell you that we became a free nation on the Fourth. Technically, that’s not entirely true.
The British imposed the Tea Act of 1773, which set everything in motion. Up to that point, the settlers who had come to America were impartial to the rule of their prior homeland. Essentially, the Tea Act was an effort to save the East India Company by lowering their tax rate and giving them a monopoly on the tea trade in the Americas.
Outraged, the colonists revolted by tossing eighteen thousand pounds of tea into Boston Harbor, known as the Boston Tea Party. This angered the British so much they put Boston under military rule. So, not only did they try to enforce tax tyranny, but punished the colonists by closing the city to merchants.
Imagine what our history would look like had the British not drawn up the Tea Act?
Of course, this led to the fateful day of April 19, 1775 when the first shots were fired on the Lexington green. Thus began the Revolutionary War in which the colonists fought for their freedom. They wanted freedom from tyranny and religious persecution, with a burning desire to lead a life in which one could pursue happiness in whatever manner they deemed fit.
After fighting for fourteen months, the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. Yes, you read that right: July 2nd, not the 4th. Some think the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, when in fact it was signed on August 2nd. Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in June of 1776.
So, what did actually happen on July 4th? That was the day that the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was accepted by the Continental Congress. It was a document that was created in an effort to communicate to the colonists, the British, and to the whole world that this nation would become and exist as a free land.
Our forefathers saw America as a land where government was decided by the people, for the people. Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper and elegantly wrote the words that sent a wave around the world, striking a chord in the heart of every revolutionary and every monarch:
“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence was our forefathers way of sharing their vision in creating a nation where the people ruled the government, not the other way around. When you look at all the Amendments, the Bill of Rights … it is clear that the goal was to create a country in which every man was equal, just as he is in the eyes of God.
How far we have strayed from that ideal today.
Jefferson also wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
So, this Fourth of July, when you enjoy your hot dogs and cheeseburgers under the American flag while watching the spectacular fireworks in your home town, remember why we are celebrating the birth of our nation and how it came to be. Remember the vision our forefathers had: living in a nation where you are free to speak your mind without fear of government retribution, to do as you please within the confines of the law.
And remember… our forefathers would never trade liberty for security. In the famous words of Patrick Henry in 1775: “Give me Liberty or give me death!”
Before the American Revolution, the political temperature throughout the world was shaky all around. France and Britain were in competition to be the most powerful nation in the world, the American Colonies were still settling into their new homelands, deciding if they should expand west or finally organize a revolution to throw off British rule.
The French claimed the entire Mississippi basin extending from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada. Britain and France had long debated over the borders of their territories in the Americas. Austria changed allegiances, Prussia was backing Britain … everything was changing.
At the same time, Benjamin Franklin was getting concerned about future of the colonies. He realized how disorganized they were and just how powerful they could be if they united as one voice, one military and political force. Each of the colonies had been going in their own direction, drifting further apart. On May 9, 1754, the Pennsylvania Gazette printed the first political cartoon ever printed in the U.S., created by Franklin.
The flag depicted a snake in segments, each labeled for the colonies, with New England representing one section, and the remaining 7 pieces in order of how they are positioned on the coastline. (See image on the right).
The cartoon was originally done on wood, then printed. Interestingly enough, if you look at the shape of the snake, it loosely represents the eastern coastline. It is considered a “cartographic cartoon” because of this, which was again the first of its time.
The reason he had the snake in pieces was to represent the separation and drifting apart of the colonies. Just as a snake would die if it was in pieces, the same would happen to the colonies if they didn’t unite. In the 18th century, it was a commonly held belief that if you buried the pieces of a snake before sunset, it would reconnect and become whole the next dawn. Franklin wanted to unite the colonies before that happened.
His cartoon became a rallying standard for the colonies in the French and Indian War. It served as an inspiration for unity and turned their focus on to battling a common enemy. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, the slogan was used to unite the colonies with the British, to the point that they passed the Stamp Act in 1765 which was a tax the colonists paid to the crown for every printed piece of paper.
Once the colonists were united, the Join or Die flag became a standard for freedom. The Revolutionary War saw many flags, battle cries, and other inspiring propaganda, but Franklin’s Join or Die snake cartoon was by far the most widely recognized and inspiring of all of them.
Throughout our nation’s history, the Join or Die slogan and flag have resurfaced at various points. The North used it in the Civil War to promote unity of the states. Even in the 2000 election, the Republicans used it to push for party unity. It just proves that Franklin knew how to tap into the American hearts and psyche with his clever depiction, and that kind of propaganda lasts as long as the country stands united.
On the heels of Memorial Day, many people take the opportunity to post sentiments on social media about the true meaning of the holiday. Usually the three day weekend is an opportunity to get outside for cookouts, picnics, fireworks and just spending time with friends. But what are we celebrating?
With the bevy of posts on social media about supporting the veterans (always a great cause, without the need for a holiday to do so), it seems people have forgotten what the difference is between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Both are related to the military, and they both are symbolized by the American flag being waved throughout neighborhoods and businesses across America.
Memorial Day began three years after the Civil War ended, originally called Decoration Day. General John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), declared May 30th as a day when men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice would be honored by decorating the graves of these fallen soldiers.
The first observance of a grand scale was in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant hosted the ceremony from their home on the property of the cemetery. It concluded with the GAR, accompanied by children from Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home, decorating the graves with flowers and singing hymns as they made their way through. It is rumored he chose the end of May because flowers would be in bloom across the country at that time of year.
Initially, the holiday was only to honor those who died in the Civil War. It wasn’t until after World War I that it was expanded to include all who gave the ultimate sacrifice in any American war. By an act of Congress, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday in 1971, to be observed on the last Monday in May. The holiday continues to be celebrated to this day, and many observers decorate graves on this day to truly honor those who have died for our country.
World War I was called “The Great War” and officially ended on June 28, 1919 with the signing of the Treaty at Versailles. However, the fighting stopped at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when an armistice was called between the Allies and Germany; hence, the symbolic nature of November 11th, Veterans Day.
In November 1919, President Wilson declared the 11th to be Armistice Day. His speech was moving and powerful:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …” (Schmid, “Yesterday’s Reflections: A Repository of Memories”, pg 78)
An act of Congress on May 13, 1938 declared November 11th as a national holiday, honoring the veterans from World War I, the war to end all wars. A mere three years later, World War II began, which marked the largest mobilization of military our nation had ever seen. In 1954, the 83rd Congress amended the initial act to include all American veterans who served our country.
Around the world, November 11th is a day to remember those who fought for their country. In Canada, it is known as Remembrance Day, and countries from Africa to Australia, Britain to South America all honor those who gave selflessly to their country.
Lieutenant Colonel John McRae was a Canadian soldier fighting on the Western Front in World War I who died in 1918. A physician and soldier, he wrote a poem that is without a doubt the most famous poem from the Great War. It encompasses the emotions and heart-felt feelings of those celebrating Veterans Day and Memorial Day:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
So, when you enjoy the holiday with a day off from work and a family barbecue, take a moment to remember why these holidays exist, and honor our military accordingly.