Idahoans once celebrated a holiday most of us today have never heard of. The Idaho Statesman waxed patriotic on Jan. 9, 1877, with this editorial: “A Great Anniversary. The 8th of January will always bring grateful and joyous recollections to the minds of the American people. Sixty one years ago yesterday, was fought and won a most important battle — that at New Orleans, which took place on the 8th of January, 1815.”
In January 1884, the paper reported, “St. Jackson’s Day was duly observed at Fort Boise, and numerous salutes were fired during the day.” From all we have read about Andrew Jackson, among other things that he was a founder of the Democratic Party, he was no saint, but an American hero remembered for his defeat of the British at the battle of New Orleans. This man, whose face is familiar today through his portrait on the $20 bill, was elected to two terms as president of the United States, 1828-1836. In 1898, Jackson Day was still remembered in Boise with this note in the Statesman: “The Pioneer Building floated the Stars and Stripes Saturday in honor of Jackson Day, the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans.”
Annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinners, held by local Democrats across the country for many years, are now being renamed in some states because both men were slave-holders. Some also want the portraits of Jefferson and Jackson removed from our currency, but since George Washington also had many slaves at his Mount Vernon plantation, removing his portrait as well would constitute a major departure from tradition not likely to happen.
Flag Day, honoring the official adoption by the Continental Congress of the stars and stripes as our national flag on June 14, 1777, is a holiday first observed in a few public schools in the 19th century, and has the honor of being the first now claimed by several states.
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World War I was in its third bloody year in June 1916 when the Rev. Willsie Martin of Boise’s First Methodist Church delivered a sermon the Idaho Statesman called “a fitting prelude to Flag Day.” Martin told the history of the flag and called it “the symbol of the highest American ideals; it represents the establishment of a new type of nationalism based not on the homogeneity of race, but on homogeneity produced by loyalty. It represents a square deal, a fair chance, and a tolerable life for all humanity.”
The next day, Boise Mayor Samuel H. Hays urged that the owners of every automobile in the city turn out for a grand Flag Day parade, decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Aside from a prize of $10 for the best decorated auto and $5 for the second best, the six movie theaters of the city offered free admissions to the driver of the winning car and his entire party, and for the drivers of the six next best decorated cars. The judges were selected from among young female employees of the city’s six department stores, “girls who will be specially qualified to judge artistic decorations.” On that 1916 Flag Day, more than 300 cars paraded through the city, and the Idaho Statesman enthused, “There were probably more high priced cars in the line than any city in the country the size of Boise can boast.” The parade was headed by Boise’s town band, playing “its full repertoire of patriotic airs,” followed by veterans of the Civil War, Ladies of the G.A.R., the Women’s Relief Corps, and Sons of the American Revolution.
Boise’s Flag Day in 1917 was different from all that had gone before. The United States was at war with Germany, and Idaho men were fighting and dying in the trenches along the Western Front in France. The day had “an altogether new meaning and significance,” observed the Idaho Statesman. “In the past we have celebrated on June 14 merely the anniversary of our own national banner, but this year the democracies of the world are celebrating the appearance of our flag on those far-flung fronts where the liberal peoples of the world are fighting against aggression and autocracy.” In 1941, only 24 years later, we would be fighting in a far costlier war against the aggression of Germany and Japan.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.