Published June 2008 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd FLAG DAY As we celebrate Flag Day in June and look forward to the Fourth of July, I thought it an appropriate time to reflect on the origins of "Old Glory".
Early in our nation's history, many flags flew over the land that would become the United States of America. The British Union Jack, the Spanish flag, the French flag, and others identified territory and colonies under the control of those nations. As the colonies and various fighting forces organized themselves to take up the call of the new nation-to-be, many new flags began to fly. The flags, with their various designs and slogans, sought to establish a separate and often defiant new identity for our burgeoning nation.
During the War of Independence, the Continental Congress had to choose a flag under which the armies and colonies could unite. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution establishing a national flag for the United States. It stated simply, "... the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white upon a blue field, representing a new constellation." The thirteen stripes and stars symbolized the thirteen colonies that had fought for and won the liberty to establish the new nation.
The flag grew and changed, adding stripes as well as stars before it was recognized that the expansion of the states was greater than the flag's pattern could bear.
Early in 1818, a Congressional committee presented a report recommending a proposal by Chester Reid, a naval captain and hero of the war of 1812. His suggestion was that the thirteen-stripe flag honored the original thirteen Colonies, and that new states could be honored by the simple addition of stars, to reflect the growth of the new constellation.
Old Glory still serves to unite our nation today. It is both commonplace, seen daily in front of post offices and schools, and yet hallowed, placed with solemn care over the coffin of a veteran or flying at half mast to mark a tragedy. It is also a symbol of patriotic pride, carried proudly by Olympic athletes or streaming in the wind behind a mighty warship. And who can forget the sudden, spontaneous, outbreak of U.S. flags that erupted across the nation in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy? That act captured the essence of our flag and the American spirit -- a nation defiant, strong, and united in the face of adversity.
June 11, 2008