And the rocket’s red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there
— “The Star-Spangled Banner,” 1814
July Fourth: A day filled with barbecue, patriotic baby contests, hula-hoop competitions and watermelon consumption followed by sundown and an anticipated explosion of pyrotechnic sound and color in the sky.
Independence Day 2022 is sure again to be one of the most memorable days of summer, with plenty of flag-waving and singing of patriotic songs.
So, a quick history lesson:
Old Glory, the American flag, consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 Colonies that joined forces to declare independence from Britain, and the stars — as of July 4, 1960 — represent the 50 states of the Union.
The first time the flag was carried into battle was during this country’s Civil War, where the war dead on both sides number upward of 650,000. At one time there was discussion of removing the stars of the Southern states that seceded from the union, but President Abraham Lincoln refused, believing it would give legitimacy to the Confederate states, so they remain.
The Star-Spangled Banner was written as a poem on Sept. 14, 1814, after Fort McHenry was bombarded by British ships in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812 — a conflict arising over territorial expansion in North America and escalating over trade restrictions that crippled the economy of a young America. The battle at Fort McHenry, a month after British troops had burned Washington, resulted in a U.S. victory; the poem’s author was inspired by the sight of the large American flag flying above the successfully defended fort as the sun rose.
The poem was later set to the music of a song popular at the time and became the national anthem by congressional resolution on March 3, 1931.
Any student of American history knows our country’s freedoms have not been easily won; but so far our Constitution, rule of law and unity of purpose have sustained us through the first 246 years of this country’s noble experiment in democracy.
It’s important to reflect on this history as we celebrate this year’s Independence Day. That omnipresent red, white and blue flag represents the historical strength of our union, the fireworks remind us of past battles we’ve endured, and that Star-Spangled song blasting is less of an anthem of individual freedom than an expression of gratitude that our union survives.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor