Our US Flag and Its Meaning
The Pledge of Allegiance became the official national pledge to the US Flag on December 28, 1945. The prominent American clergyman and speaker, Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), reminds us of the meaning of our flag.
During the Civil War, the Reverend Beecher published several of his discourses in Freedom and War (1863), one of which was “The National Flag”.
In the following excerpts, he tells of some of the history surrounding the birth of our US flag and then reminds us of the meaning of the flag.
A Bit of the History of our US Flag
by Henry Ward Beecher
”…On the 4th of July, 1776, the Declaration of American Independence was confirmed and promulgated. Already for more than a year the Colonies had been at war with the mother country. But until this time there had been no American flag. The flag of the mother country covered us as during all our colonial period; and each State that chose had a separate and significant State banner.
In 1777, within a few days of one year after the Declaration of Independence, and two years and more after the war began, upon the 14th of June, the Congress of the Colonies, or the Confederated States, assembled, and ordained this glorious National Flag which now we hold and defend, and advanced it full high before God and all men, as the Flag of Liberty. It was no holiday flag, gorgeously emblazoned for gayety or vanity. It was a solemn national signal. When that banner first unrolled to the sun, it was the symbol of all those holy truths and purposes which brought together the Colonial American Congress!
Consider the men who devised and set forth this banner. The Rutledges, the Pinckneys, the Jays, the Franklins, the Hamiltons, the Jeffersons, the Adamses, - these men were all either officially connected with it, or consulted concerning it. They were men that had taken their lives in their hands, and consecrated all their worldly possessions – for what? For the doctrines, and for the personal fact, of liberty, - for the right of all men to liberty. They had just given forth to the world a Declaration of Facts and Faiths out of which sprung the Constitution, and on which they now planted this new-devised flag of our Union.”
The Meaning of Our US Flag
by Henry Ward Beecher
”…If one asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him, It means just what Concord and Lexington meant, what Bunker Hill meant; it means the whole glorious Revolutionary War, which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny, to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known, or has since known, - the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties.
In solemn conclave our fathers had issued to the world that glorious manifesto, the Declaration of Independence. A little later, that the fundamental principles of liberty might have the best organization, they gave to this land our imperishable Constitution.
Our flag means, then all that our fathers meant in the Revolutionary War; it means all that the Declaration of Independence meant; it means all that the Constitution of our people, organizing for justice, for liberty and for happiness, meant.
Our flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings … in its glorious insignia, it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: Divine right of liberty in man.
Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty: not lawlessness, not license; but organized, institutional liberty, - liberty through law, and laws for liberty!
This American Flag was the safeguard of liberty. Not an atom of crown was allowed to go into its insignia. Not a symbol of authority in the ruler was permitted to go into it. It was an ordinance of liberty by the people, for the people. That it meant, that it means, and, by the blessing of God, that it shall mean to the end of time!
… Under this banner rode he (Washington) and his armies. Before it Burgoyne laid down his arms. It waved on the highlands at West Point … This banner streamed in light over the soldiers’ heads at Valley Forge and at Morristown. It crossed the waters rolling with ice at Trenton and when its stars gleamed in the cold morning with victory, a new day of hope dawned on the despondency of this nation.
… Accept it, then, in all its fullness of meaning … It is a whole national history. It is the Constitution … Forget not what it means … be true to your country’s flag.”
Find out how to properly and respectfully display the US flag here.
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