In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14 and commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States. On Flag Day, the president will issue a proclamation “urging the people to observe the day as the anniversary of the adoption on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America.” The flag should be displayed on all government buildings. Some organizations and towns hold parades and events in celebration of America’s national flag and everything it represents
History of the Flag
When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, the colonists weren’t fighting united under a single flag. Instead, most regiments participating in the war for independence against the British fought under their own flags. In June of 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to create the Continental Army—a unified colonial fighting force—with the hopes of a more organized battle against its colonial oppressors. This led to the creation of what was, essentially, the first “American” flag, the Continental Colors.
For some, this flag, which was composed of 13 red and white alternating stripes and a Union Jack in the corner, was too similar to that of the British. George Washington soon realized that flying a flag that was even remotely close to the British flag was not a great confidence-builder for the revolutionary effort, so he turned his efforts towards creating a new symbol of freedom for the soon-to-be fledgling nation.
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress took a break from writing the Articles of Confederation and passed a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
A flag of this design was first carried into battle on September 11, 1777, in the Battle of the Brandywine. The American flag was first saluted by foreign naval vessels on February 14, 1778, when the Ranger, bearing the Stars and Stripes and under the command of Captain Paul Jones, arrived in a French port. The flag first flew over a foreign territory in early 1778 at Nassau, Bahama Islands, where Americans captured a British fort.
How the Flag Came into Observance
Observance of the adoption of the flag was not soon coming, however. Although there are many claims to the first official observance of Flag Day, all but one took place more than an entire century after the flag’s adoption in 1777. The first claim was from a Hartford, Conn., celebration during the first summer of 1861. In the late 1800s, schools all over the United States held Flag Day programs to contribute to the Americanization of immigrant children, and the observance caught on with individual communities.
The most recognized claim, however, comes from New York. On June 14, 1889, Professor George Bolch, principal of a free kindergarten for the poor of New York City, had his school hold patriotic ceremonies to observe the anniversary of the Flag Day resolution. This initiative attracted attention from the State Department of Education, which arranged to have the day observed in all public schools thereafter.
Soon the state legislature passed a law making it the responsibility of the state superintendent of public schools to ensure that schools hold observances for Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Flag Day. In 1897, the governor of New York ordered the displaying of the flag over all public buildings in the state, an observance considered by some to be the first official recognition of the anniversary of the adoption of the flag outside of schools.
Another claim comes from Philadelphia. In 1893, the Society of Colonial Dames succeeded in getting a resolution passed to have the flag displayed on all of the city’s public buildings. Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin and the president of the Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania, that same year tried to get the city to call June 14 Flag Day. Resolutions by women were not granted much notice, however, and it was not until May 7, 1937, that Pennsylvania became the first state to establish the June 14 Flag Day as a legal holiday. Flag Day is a nationwide observance today, but Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday.
Both President Wilson, in 1916, and President Coolidge, in 1927, issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be observed as the National Flag Day. But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance, and President Harry Truman signed it into law.
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