When the initial battles in the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were considered radical.
By the middle of the following year, however, many more colonists had come to favor independence, thanks to growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments such as those expressed in the bestselling pamphlet “Common Sense,” published by Thomas Paine in early 1776.
On June 7, when the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence.
Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution, but appointed a five-man committee—including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York—to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.
On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote (the New York delegation abstained, but later voted affirmatively). On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
On July 4th, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of
Independence, which had been written largely by Jefferson. Though the vote for actual independence took place on July 2nd, from then on the 4th became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.
In 1824, a sea captain from Massachusetts named William Driver bestowed the nickname “Old Glory” on his American flag, which crowned the main mast of his ship and had been sewn for him by his mother and other female admirers. After he retired from seafaring and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, he continued to proudly display Old Glory outside his house. Legend has it his 10-by-17-foot Old Glory withstood numerous Confederate attempts to deface it during the Civil War, and that Driver flew the flag over the Tennessee Statehouse once the war was over. In 1922, Driver’s daughter, Mary Jane Roland, presented Old Glory as a gift to President Warren G. Harding, who then gifted it to the Smithsonian.
A Grandson’s Pride
When you were young, it’s likely you learned about Philadelphia seamstress, Betsy Ross, the darling of the American-flag creation tale who was said to have designed the first iteration of our stars and stripes. While it’s a
well-documented that Betsy Ross sewed a lot of flags in her day, there is no evidence that she actually created the first American flag. The story of Betsy Ross as mother of the first flag was introduced by her grandson in 1870,
almost 100 years after the flag debuted, and his claims were supported by affidavits from family members, only. It’s possible Ross did create the flag, but not one letter, diary entry, or bill of sale exists to support the claim.
Once Upon a B-minus
The flag, as it flies today with 50 stars and 13 stripes, was designed in 1958 by 17-year-old high school student, Robert G. Heft, of Lancaster, Ohio. While his teacher only awarded Heft a B- for the sewing project,
President Dwight D. Eisenhower chose his design out of 1,500 entries. Thankfully, Heft’s teacher made good on her promise to raise his grade in the unlikely event that his design won the contest.
Fourth of July Celebrations
In the pre-Revolutionary years, colonists had held annual
celebrations of the king’s birthday, which traditionally included the
ringing of bells, bonfires, processions and speechmaking. By contrast,
during the summer of 1776 some colonists celebrated the birth of
independence by holding mock funerals for King George III as a way of
symbolizing the end of the monarchy’s hold on America and the triumph of liberty.
Festivities including concerts, bonfires, parades and the firing of cannons and muskets usually
accompanied the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence, beginning immediately after
its adoption. Philadelphia held the first annual commemoration of independence on July 4, 1777, while
Congress was still occupied with the ongoing war.
George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of
independence in 1778, and in 1781, several months before the key American victory at the Battle of
Yorktown, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
After the Revolutionary War, Americans continued to commemorate Independence Day every year,
in celebrations that allowed the new nation’s emerging political leaders to address citizens and create a
feeling of unity. By the last decade of the 18th century, the two major political parties—the Federalist
Party and Democratic-Republicans—that had arisen began holding separate Fourth of July celebrations in
many large cities.
Not just any Red, White, or Blue
There are very specific colors used to create
the flag of the United States of America.
It’s the Textile Color Card Association of the
United States (TCCA) that creates the palate of
colors used for both private and public institutions, and the U.S. Army that issues a reference guide of
acceptable shades to be used in local, state and
national flags. So if you’re trying to produce a truly
authentic American flag, you’ll need to use the
exact shades of white, “Old Glory Red” and
“Old Glory Blue,” specified in the guide.
However, mass-market flag manufacturers have
been known to fudge a bit and use the more-easily
processed Pantone Matching Shades of Dark Red (193 C) and Navy Blue (281 C).