SAN JOSE, June 14, 2013— June 14 is a very special day in the history of the United States. On this date in 1775, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the rag-tag band of men and boys who had started shooting at the King’s troops in Massachusetts. In addition, on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes, the official flag of the U.S. was born. In each case, an official act of the Second Continental Congress established two powerful foundations for the future nation.
Ironically, any official act of the Second Continental Congress was essentially operating outside of the British law, and not considered completely or legally binding by the British Crown as all such public assemblies ultimately were deemed treasonous at the time. With respect to the adoption of the men and boys fighting around Boston, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had sent an urgent request to the Second Continental Congress for assistance with and organization and some assumption of authority over the various volunteer militia aggregating in Massachusetts intent on fighting the British.
Serious fighting would eventually begin. The rebellious minutemen and militia in New England had no serious chain of command, nor a single recognized commander because each band answered to their own colonial leadership as they were armed, equipped, and supported by the colonies that dispatched them. So in Massachusetts, the revolutionary leadership saw the real need to re-organize the “American troops” in order to create a more cohesive and realistic fighting force. The New England revolutionaries also saw the need to rally support from the rest of the colonies if they were going to be able to offer any meaningful challenge to the most powerful army on the planet at the time.
As news spread throughout the Northeast of the shootings at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, tensions increased between the colonists and the British. From surrounding colonies, many leaders marched volunteers together toward Boston in a simplistic strategy to surround the British forces and trap them in the city. Within three weeks, by May 10th, the Continental Congress reconvened in order to decipher eyewitness accounts of the battles against the British regulars, and to decide what steps to take in light of regular arrivals of shiploads of more British troops in New York City.
Eventually, in anticipation of the escalating crisis and the likelihood of further hostilities, the Second Continental Congress began to consider practical steps that would lead to the formal adoption of the revolutionaries surrounding the British Army in Boston. Finally on June 14, John Adams rose to formalize the appeal of the Massachusetts assembly and address delegates of Congress with the urgency to avoid a disaster should the British troops manage to break out of Boston and “spread desolation as far as they could go.” Adam’s resolution was for the Congress to take charge of the band of amateur troops, and to appoint someone to be a commanding general to take charge of the troops in the field.
Some of what Adams recommended has been recorded with regard to who should lead such a “Continental 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, Congress voted to affirm his resolutions and the Army was born and a Commander-in-Chief appointed. And as it is said, the rest was history.
With respect to the flag, George Washington is also at the center of the legend. After he assumed command of the troops near Boston on July of 1775, Washington began the most challenging task of defeating the most powerful army in the world. However, after fighting the British with his troops trying to rally around various regional banners, or worse, a flag bearing the Union Jack emblem in the upper corner, Washington must have requested a respectable flag that would represent the infant nation.
The legend involving Washington and Betsy Ross is famous, but there are various renditions. But the one that is most familiar is not totally verifiable since it originates from Betsy Ross’s grandson, William Canby, as his testimony of stories that his grandmother shared with him. According to the most prevalent version, George Washington, himself, visited Ross with a couple of members of the Continental Congress with a design for a new flag for the newly forming nation. It is reported that Ross talked the gentlemen out of their favored design of a flag with six-pointed stars due to an easier method of cutting five-pointed stars from fabric with a single cut. It is also reputed to be Ross’s circular arrangement of the thirteen stars that won favor with the gentlemen.
As with all legends, it is hard to get to the facts of the matter, but official Congressional records indicate that the delegates passed an official resolution on June 14, 1777, “that the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Unfortunately, with this decree came no specific direction of how the stars were to be arranged and such lack of direction led to several different designs of stars - some arranged in a circle, and some arranged in horizontal lines. It was essentially up to the specific flag maker’s discretion as to how the stars were to be arranged on the field of blue.
Thus, the official flag of the United States, the Stars and Stripes, was born on that day in 1777. The design of the flag is recognized as a symbol of the people: the red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies and the stars represent each new state that entered the Union. Fundamentally, the flag represented the organization of each of the populations in their respective geographic regions. The flag essentially represented the unity of the people in their genuine desire for freedom.
In other words, while the chronology may seem inconsequential, it may represent a deeper significance. The flag was intended to be a symbol of the unity of people and not just a representation of the government of the United States. In actuality, at the time the design for the flag was adopted, there was no U.S. government. The birth of the flag, reflective of the unity of the people in their desire for freedom from tyranny, was eventually followed by the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, the initial guiding principles of the first U.S. government.
Ironically, these two resolutions of Congress that created the Continental Army and the official U.S. flag, were generated before the U.S. government came into existence. These two cornerstones of America actually needed to exist before the country could be. With no support of the military, the nation could not have been born. And the flag was the fitting symbol of the unity and of a free people and the Union became the symbol of a free people. Throughout our country’s history, the flag represented hope and the symbol of freedom from tyranny. Long may “that Star-spangled Banner wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
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