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The American Flag

A thoughtful mind, when it sees a nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the government, the principles, the truths, the history, which belong to the nation which sets it forth.

When the French tricolor rolls out to the wind, we see France. When the new-found Italian flag is unfurled, we see resurrected Italy. When the other three-cornered Hungarian flag shall be lifted to the wind, we shall see in it the long-buried but never dead principles of Hungarian liberty. When the united crosses of St. Andrew and St. George on a fiery ground set forth the banner of Old England, we see not the cloth merely; there rises up before the mind the noble aspect of that monarchy, which, more than any other on the globe, has advanced its banner for liberty, law, and national prosperity. This nation has a banner, too; and wherever it streamed abroad, men saw daybreak bursting on their eyes, for the American flag has been the symbol of liberty, and men rejoiced in it. Not another flag on the globe had such an errand, or went forth upon the sea carrying everywhere, the world around, such hope for the captive, and such glorious tidings.

The stars upon it were to the pining nations like the morning stars of God, and the stripes upon it were beams of morning light. As at early dawn the stars stand first, and then it grows light, and then as the sun advances, that light breaks into banks and streaming lines of color, the glowing red and intense white striving together and ribbing the horizon with bars effulgent, so on the American flag, stars and beams of many-colored light shine out together. And wherever the flag comes, and men behold it, they see in its sacred emblazonry no rampant lion and fierce eagle, but only light, and every fold significant of liberty.

The history of this banner is all on one side. Under it rode Washington and his armies; before it Burgoyne laid down his arms. It waved on the highlands at West Point; it floated over old Fort Montgomery. When Arnold would have surrendered these valuable fortresses and precious legacies, his night was turned into day, and his treachery was driven away by the beams of light from this starry banner. It cheered our army, driven from New York, in their solitary pilgrimage through New Jersey. It streamed in light over Valley Forge and Morristown. It crossed the waters rolling with ice at Trenton; and when its stars gleamed in the cold morning with victory, a new day of hope dawned on the despondency of the nation. And when, at length, the long years of war were drawing to a close, underneath the folds of this immortal banner sat Washington while Yorktown surrendered its hosts and our Revolutionary struggles ended with victory.

Let us, then, twine each thread of the glorious tissue of our country’s flag about our heartstrings; and looking upon our homes and catching the spirit that breathes upon us from the battle-fields of our fathers, let us resolve, come weal or woe, we will, in life and in death, now and forever, stand by the Stars and Stripes. They have been unfurled from the snows of Canada to the plains of New Orleans, in the halls of the Montezumas and amid the solitude of every sea; and everywhere, as the luminous symbol of resistless and beneficent power, they have led the brave to victory and to glory. They have floated over our cradles; let it be our prayer and our struggle that they shall float over our graves.

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