This year maybe more than any in recent memory, Americans need a source of unity more durable than any source of contention. Let it be our flag.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially established June 14 as Flag Day because it was on June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted our first national flag. The resolution stated the “flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
“A new constellation” is a phrase tinged with excitement. The Founders were keenly aware of their unique position in history. Few peoples in the history of the world have had the opportunity to create a new nation and choose how they will be governed. The thirteen colonies represented on this flag were different in population, geography, ethnicity, and religion. Daily life in New York or Pennsylvania bore a dim resemblance to that in South Carolina or Georgia. Still, what united them under that flag, what they held in common, was more powerful than any source of division and turned out to be more powerful than the greatest empire the world had seen -- belief in the promise of freedom.
Flags are powerful symbols. Like all symbols, they are subject to interpretation and the American flag has changed over time to reflect the growth of the nation from 13 former British colonies to 50 independent states. Americans in those states are as different from each other today as the colonists were over two centuries ago. Life in Texas is very different from life in California (may it ever be so). Yet the unity to which we must hold firm is in the same promise of freedom. America at its core is that most precious, hope-filled, soul-stirring idea that when men are truly free, anything is possible.
Our flag represents our highest, most noble aspirations. It was carried by those who freed the slaves. It was carried in civil rights marches by those who sought to stir the national conscience, and succeeded. In calling our country to live up to its promise, those who carried our flag declared though life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the God-given birthright of all humanity, America will be the place where that most daring of dreams comes true. Our flag reminds us that when Americans are at our best, we can even heal the self-inflicted wounds from when we are at our worst.
No other flag has been carried into more countries by forces dedicated not to conquest, but liberation. No other flag has draped the caskets of so many who gave their lives in selfless dedication to their countrymen and to the freedom of all men. No other flag has welcomed more weary pilgrims from all corners of the Earth. No other flag stands on the moon.
This is the flag of a people humble enough to admit when we have been wrong and still take pride in our ceaseless striving to be right. We can look back at our history and learn from the triumphs and tragedies of our past. We can look forward to a better future for our children. There above it all, drawing our gaze upward to life on a higher plane flies our flag, the symbol of what is possible when free men live up to our highest expectations. Long may she wave.
Lathan Watts is Director of Public Affairs for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm and think tank dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans and a Regional Fellow of National Review Institute.