June 14 is, by coincidence, the birthday of both the US Army (1775) and our flag (1777). Popularly known as Flag Day, it is appropriate to fly the emblem of our country. We enjoy our freedom because our military — all branches — regularly prove they come from the home of the brave.
Our flag evolved from the British flag. On July 3, 1775, Alexandrian General George Washington, who on June 15 had been appointed to take command of the Continental Army, arrived in Cambridge, Mass., across the Charles River from Boston, occupied by the British. He continued to build fortifications along the siege line, and soon 4,000 men camped on Prospect Hill, despite British volleys and a smallpox outbreak.
On Jan. 1, 1776, Gen. Washington ordered that a new flag be raised on a 76-foot schooner mast placed on Prospect Hill. This was the first American flag representing the united colonies. The Continental Congress had not approved its design which included the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George with 13 red and white stripes, but Washington and others liked it. At the time most Americans were fighting for respect and representation, not independence, so this allusion of loyalty to the crown was appropriate.
The need for a new flag became apparent because the similarity of the British and American flags caused confusion amidst the smoke and confusion of battle, and on July 4, after Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, we were a new country. After nearly a year, on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress authorized the Stars and Stripes. The first Flag Act declared: "Resolved, that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
Our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag notes that our country is a republic (not a democracy!) as provided by our Constitution, adopted in 1787 in Philadelphia with George Washington presiding at the Convention. However, during the Walking with Washington tours I’ve conducted for the last seven years, when I ask participants to explain what a republic is, no one has given a complete answer.
Ultimate authority in both a democracy and a republic is vested in the people. In a democracy, all eligible voters may vote on all issues. The majority rules, and its decisions can infringe on the rights of an individual or minority. The Founding Fathers, fearing a democracy would devolve into dictatorship and chaos, put safeguards into the Constitution to prevent that catastrophic result.
By contrast, in a republic, eligible voters choose representatives to vote on the bills, resolutions and/or ordinances — informed by their constituents’ communications, research, use of common/specialized knowledge and their best judgment. A republic operates under rule of written law, and all are equal under the law. The rights of the individual/minority are inviolate and, in our republic, stated in the Bill of Rights.
Celebrate our Army, flag and freedom on June 14.
Ellen Latane Tabb