Old Glory is the name that originated with a 17x10 foot banner made in 1824 for sea-captain William Driver from Salem, Massachusetts. It had 24 stars and was designed to fly from the mast of his ship, the Charles Doggett. Several years later, Driver re-settled with his family in Nashville and during the Civil War flew the banner from his home. Old Glory became the most popular symbol of loyalty to the Union. In 1862 when Union troops from Ohio entered Nashville they took for their motto “Old Glory”. Today, Driver’s 17x10 foot banner is kept in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Over the years, Old Glory has become the name given to all American flags.
The design of the nation’s flag was set forth by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. “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.”
Old Glory is associated intimately with many significant events in the history of the United States. A few are enumerated below.
In 1814 it flew over Fort McHenry located in the City of Baltimore where its defending garrison withstood the bombardment of the English fleet anchored in Chesapeake Bay. Francis Scott Keyes called attention to the garrison’s resolve throughout the night in his words penned about the flag still flying “by the dawn’s early light.” Many years later Keyes words became our National Anthem.
In 1864 the American flag carried by the 84th Infantry Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops into battle, primarily in Louisiana, is preserved in the National Museum of American History.
In 1906, inspired by an encounter with a Civil War veteran who referred to his own personal flag as a “grand old rag,” songwriter George M. Cohan wrote “You’re a Grand Old Flag” with lines such as this: “You’re the emblem of the land I love, the land of the free and the brave.” It has become one of the most popular songs for American marching bands.
In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson, taking note that the design of the American flag had been set forth by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, designated the 14th of June as Flag Day. In 1946 President Harry Truman repeated Wilson’s proclamation.
In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed into law a resolution of the House of Representatives designating the Star-Spangled Banner as the National Anthem.
In 1945, the Marines planted Old Glory on the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Their heroic action, while the battle was still raging elsewhere on Iwo Jima, is represented in the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia which honors every Marine who has died in the service of his country since 1775.
In 1963, President John Kennedy’s casket was covered by Old Glory as it was drawn through the streets of Washington on a caisson pulled by a rider less horse to Arlington Cemetery. An unforgettable moment is captured in which his three-year-old son John John is shown, standing outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral, saluting his fallen father.
In 1968 the Flag Protection Act was passed condemning the burning of the flag, along other abusive action, and imposing a fine and imprisonment of up to one year for violations.
In 1969 Neil Armstrong planted Old Glory in the very first landing on the moon of the Apollo program launched years before by President Kennedy. In a speech where he set the goal of landing on the moon he said “… space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.”
In 1989 the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson that burning Old Glory is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In a similar case regarding Old Glory brought before the Court in 1990, the justices rendered essentially the same opinion. In both instances, the vote was 5 to 4.
In 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, along with the successful passenger take-over and deliberate crashing of a fourth plane intended to be crashed into the White House, Old Glory was displayed all across America in a spontaneous burst of love of country.
Old Glory has appeared on U.S. postage stamps on many occasions. To name just three: the 2001 stamp depicting three firefighters lifting a flag pole and raising Old Glory on the site in New York of the fallen Twin Towns; the 1991 stamp showing Old Glory over Mount Rushmore; the 1968 stamp displaying the original flag approved by the Continental Congress in 1777.
Prompted by the tumultuous events of the past year, I personally looked for Old Glory on public display over the Memorial Day weekend in select areas in West Monroe and New Orleans. I was struck by the few that I was able to count in driving past. Was my experience just a set of casual observations suggesting nothing at all about Old Glory as an “emblem of the land I love”? Or does it say something much more significant about the “land of the free and the brave” after a year of public protests, some of which became violent, a contested presidential election, ransom-ware attacks on schools, hospitals, a metro transit system, an oil pipeline, and angry words exchanged by elected public officials who put dividing ahead of unifying the American people? Perhaps we will know more on the Fourth of July.
Edward J. O’Boyle is a Senior Research Associate with Mayo Research Institute. He has offices in West Monroe, Lake Charles and New Orleans. He can be reached at (318) 381-4002 or email@example.com.