A year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, on June 14, 1777, the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated:
“Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
The thirteen stripes on the American flag symbolized the original thirteen colonies, while the thirteen stars symbolized the colonies that replaced those governed by Great Britain. Today, the American flag has fifty stars, each of which represents one of the country’s fifty states.
President Woodrow Wilson established Flag Day – the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 – on May 30, 1916; while President Harry S. Truman signed an Act of Congress in 1949 that designated June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.
The “why” of Flag Day is best found in the lyrics penned by Francis Scott Key after beholding the American flag still raised after the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
O! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming: Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming, And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; O! say, does that Star-spangled Banner still wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam — In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream; 'Tis the Star-spangled Banner, O! long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. And where is that band who so vauntingly swore That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion A home and a country should leave us no more? Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave! And the Star-spangled Banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. O! thus be it ever when free men shall stand Between their loved homes and the foe's desolation; Bless'd with victory and peace, may our Heaven-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just — And this be our motto — "In God is our trust!" And the Star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Image credit: Francis Scott Key via The Smithsonian