SAN JOSE, Calif., June 14, 2015 — Flag Day in the United States, celebrated on June 14, has undergone some degree of revival in recent years. Still, it is not high on the list of favorite summer holidays like the celebration of Memorial Day or Independence Day. Even worse, many people in the United States are not aware that on the same day of Old Glory’s birthday, there is a celebration of the birthday of the U.S. Army. It is amazing is that these two celebrations occur on the same day; yet, when understood from a deeper historical perspective, they both represent a significant concept often missed in the contemporary American environment.
While the alignment of these two celebrations may go unnoticed by most Americans, the significance of the two days is forever bound to the birth of the United States of America. On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the rag-tag band of men and boys who had defended their right to bear arms, powder and ammunition before the troops of King George III. Additionally, on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes, the official U.S. flag was born. In each case, an official act of the Second Continental Congress established a powerful foundation for the future development of a new nation.
The “army” that the Continental Congress had formally adopted, however, did not resemble a genuine army because they were simply a volunteer force: farm hands and farmers, clerks, merchants and shop-keepers, dockworkers and sailors, doctors and teachers. It was on June 14 that Rep. John Adams rose to address the delegates of the Second Continental Congress and convey the appeal of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to avoid a disaster should the British troops manage to break out of Boston and “spread desolation as far as they could go.”
Adams’ resolution was for the Congress to take charge of the band of amateur troops and to appoint someone as commanding general to take charge of the troops in the field. Some of what Adams recommended has been recorded regarding who should lead such an “army,” and he proclaimed that he “had but one Gentleman in… Mind for that important command, and that was a Gentleman from Virginia who was among Us… a Gentleman whose Skill and Experience as an Officer, whose independent fortune, great Talents and excellent universal Character, would command the Approbation of all of America, and unite the cordial Exertions of all the Colonies better than any other person in the Union.”
After Adams finished his proposal, George Washington consented to his nomination to “that important command.” Congress subsequently affirmed Adams’ resolutions. Thus, on June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the rag-tag band of men and boys who had stirred up such a great amount of trouble when they started shooting at the real army in North America. The United States Army was born and a commander-in-chief was appointed. Col. Washington willingly accepted command of the newly adopted “Continental Army.”
The “real army” consisted of the most powerful military force on the planet at the time. That British army was essentially the most disciplined, the best equipped and the strongest force of soldiers in the world. Like senselessly stirring up a hornet’s nest, the rag-tag army had dared to shoot at the king’s troops, an act equivalent to shooting at the king himself. The action was an outright act of rebellion. The real army was in the colonies by order of King George III, who was resolved to discipline the rabble-rousers in the colonies and crush the rebellion before it became any more of a problem. The real army did not honestly view the band of Americans as a serious threat to the mighty British military.
While the significance of the birth of the U.S. Army may be lost to most Americans outside of the ranks of the nation’s military, the birthday of Old Glory should be remembered because the birthday of the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777, is directly linked to them. The American flag is a symbol of the American people more than it is a symbol of the U.S. government. How could that be? The historical record is quite revealing. The birth of the U.S. Army occurred before the birth of the nation and before the establishment of the government of the “United Colonies of North America.” Additionally, the birth of Old Glory occurred before the Articles of Confederation, which were enacted by Nov. 15, 1777.
The Stars and Stripes, the official U.S. flag, was born after Gen. Washington initiated a simple request to have a flag representing the new nation that would not reflect the official flag of Great Britain. The first flag on the U.S. was raised before there actually was a U.S. On Jan. 2, 1776, obviously well before the Declaration of Independence, had been approved by the Continental Congress, Gen. Washington raised the Grand Union flag at Cambridge, Mass. That flag had the Union Jack where the field of stars exists on the flags today. Note that the declaration was not the creation of a new government, but the intent to do so.
Even one year after the Declaration of Independence had formally expressed the conception of a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” as Lincoln expressed it, the new government did not exist and would not for several years more. The Continental Congress could be described as a “provisional government” yet to be determined, an “experiment,” as many of the Founding Fathers viewed it both privately and publicly. The actual first U.S. government was enacted through the passage of the Articles of Confederation, the formal document that gave birth to the newly conceived “United States of America.” However, the articles had been approved by the Continental Congress in 1777, five months after the flag.
Yet in reality, the new government of the United States of America did not come into existence until 1783, six years later. When the Congress approved the articles, that act did not substantially establish the United States. They were not formally ratified by the states until 1781, the year that Washington accepted the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Even the peace treaty with Great Britain did not officially acknowledge the U.S. It was not until the peace treaty was signed by Great Britain, France and the new United States that the U.S.A. was born. While such chronology may seem inconsequential, it may represent a deeper significance.
Both the birth of the U.S. Army and Old Glory preceded the birth of the nation and formal government of the United States of America. Washington’s leadership of the Continental Army can be understood as the formal embodiment of the willingness to offer his life for the sake of his country. What country? It did simply did not exist in 1775! His leadership has been the focus of much documentation; yet at the core can be seen his physical embodiment of Patrick Henry’s cry: “Give me Liberty, or give me death!” This was reflected in many of the Founding Fathers who were willing to die for freedom. Washington’s effort to create a new banner of freedom led to the creation of Old Glory, the symbol of freedom to so many over the years.
The significance of these two days is totally bound to the birth of the United States of America, not as a government but as a human effort to fight for freedom at the risk of one’s life. The U.S. Army, and by association, the entire U.S. military, is associated with this willingness to fight for freedom at the risk of one’s life – not just freedom to be enjoyed within the U.S. only, but to be obtained throughout the entire world. If one considers all the armies in history, or all the flags that have flown over those troops in battle, there are very few armies before the creation of the United States of America that could be associated with the concept of liberation and the fight for a foothold of freedom of a people.
May we the people again resolve “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”