OTD in History… June 14, 1777, Continental Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes as the American flag, 1916 President Wilson proclaims it as Flag Day
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted in a resolution the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the newly formed United States of America. Nearly one hundred and forty years, later on, June 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson celebrated the first proclaimed Flag Day honoring and celebrating the American flag. The next year he delivered an address just two months after declaring war and plunging the US into the First World War. Flag Day officially became an observed holiday on June 14, 1949, under President Harry Truman when Congress passed it as a law.
In 1777, the Continental Congress passed the Flag Act to regulate the general appearance of the flag. The act stated, “Resolved: That the flag of the United States be made of 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Who actually designed and created the first is more myth than fact, with the common theory that General George Washington commissioned the flag, “New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson” designed it and the first was “sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross.”
President William Howard Taft signed the first act that standardized the flag’s appearance. He signed an executive order on June 24, 1912, regulating the proportions and placement of the stars and stripes on the flag. After Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the stars arrangements on the flag to fit stars for all 50 states.
Flag Day, however, did not start as a government proclaimed holiday. Bernard J. Cigrand, a teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin first observed the holiday in 1885, and he is considered the “Father of Flag Day.” Cigrand, gave over 2,000 speeches in his life promoting Flag Day as holiday and he served as the president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society. He first suggested the national observance in “an article for the Chicago Argus entitled ‘The Fourteenth of June.’”
President Wilson first proclaimed Flag Day on May 30, 1916. In his proclamation, he wrote:
I therefore suggest and request that throughout the nation and if possible in every community the fourteenth day of June be observed as FLAG DAY with special patriotic exercises, at which means shall be taken to 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 and our enthusiasm for the political programme of the nation, our determination to make it greater and purer with each generation, and our resolution to demonstrate to all the world its, vital union in sentiment and purpose, accepting only those as true compatriots who feel as we do the compulsion of this supreme allegiance.
The next year as the country entered World War he gave his address “at the Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument,” where he listed Germany’s transgressions as reasons for war, and claimed the “military masters of Germany,” were a “sinister power that has at last stretched its ugly talons out and drawn blood from us.”
At the start of his speech, President Wilson linked the World War to other conflicts where the flag was flown:
“We meet to celebrate Flag Day because this flag which we honour and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us. — speaks to us of the past, * of the men and women who went before us and of the records they wrote upon it. We celebrate the day of its birth; and from its birth until now it has witnessed a great history, has floated on high the symbol of great, events, of a great plan of life worked out by a great people. We are about to carry it into battle, to lift it where it will draw the fire of our enemies. We are about to bid thousands, hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, of our men. the young, the strong, the capable men of the nation, to go forth and die beneath it on fields of blood far away, — for what? For some unaccustomed thing? For something for which it has never sought the fire before? American armies were never before sent across the seas. Why are they sent now? For some new purpose, for which this great flag has never been carried before, or for some old. familiar, heroic purpose for which it has seen men, its own men, die on every battlefield upon which Americans have borne arms since the Revolution?
These are questions which must be answered. We are Americans. We in our turn serve America, and can serve her with no private purpose. We must use her flag as she has always used it. Wo are accountable at the bar of history and must plead in utter frankness what purpose it is we seek to serve.”
Congress passed a statute recognizing Flag Day in 1949, and President Truman signed on Aug. 3 of the year. Flag Day is not an official holiday but each President has declared the day ever since.
Leepson, Marc. Flag: An American Biography. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006.
Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.