“So, the young men and women will meet at the church Wednesday morning at 6 a.m.,” came the announcement. A few audible groans rose from the congregation, followed by muffled laughter. The same reaction was heard around the nation in churches, youth groups, scout troops and other service-oriented organizations as they prepared to display American flags in yards throughout their neighborhoods.
What is it about this piece of cloth that brings youth out of their beds early on holiday mornings and makes each of us proud to display it in front of our homes? What is so sacred about the banner that brings us to our feet when it passes and to which we teach our children to pledge allegiance?
Although no people respect their flag more than Americans, flags have been around almost as long as civilization. Flags are mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament, usually translated as “banners,” “standards” or “ensigns.”
Flags were used to identify the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Numbers 2:2). But the first evidence of a “national” flag was Scotland’s, which originated in 832 AD, during a battle fought in the dark ages. Austria adopted a flag in 1230 and Latvia in 1280. The oldest national flag whose design is still in use is Denmark’s “Dannebrog” from 1307.
The United States flag was authorized by Congress on June 14, 1777, and was first flown from Fort Stanwix in New York State on Aug. 3, 1777. It was first under fire three days later in the Battle of Oriskany.
Borrowing from the Bible’s terminology, Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” on Sept. 14, 1814, after witnessing the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
The first version of the Pledge of Allegiance was composed by Captain George Thatcher Balch, a Union Army Officer during the Civil War. It simply stated, “We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!” An early version of our current pledge was penned in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. It was first recited in public schools on Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1892, pursuant to a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison. It was not until 1942, however, that Congress officially adopted the pledge, and the words “under God” were not added until 1954.
Reflecting upon its origin, Francis Bellamy declared that “the true reason for allegiance to the flag is the Republic for which it stands.” The American flag is a symbol of the country it represents — an ensign to all nations signifying the principles upon which our nation was built: liberty and justice for all.
On July 4 we celebrate the beginning of this great Republic. As part of the celebration American flags will wave at rodeos and parades, from public buildings and private businesses. Scouts and veterans will conduct public flag-raisings around town and, yes, patriotic young people will plant a flag in our front lawns commemorating the birth of a new nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
That is America. That is the Republic for which our banner stands. Long may she wave.
Brent Hill is president pro tempore of the Idaho State Senate.