Presidents Day 2015: Fly your flag today

February 16, 2015

It’s Presidents’ Day on most calendars, though the official U.S. holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.”

You’re already flying your flag today, right?  Let’s recapitulate from last year

Dr. Bumsted reminds us we need to emphasize that the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday, not a day to honor presidents generically.  See the explanation from the U.S. National Archives.

Presidents Day is February 16, 2015 — fly your U.S. flag today.

National Park Service photo, Lincoln Memorial through flags at Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial, seen through flags posted at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Photo via About.com

Oddly enough, some controversy arises from time to time over how to honor President Washington and President Lincoln, and other presidents.  Sometimes the controversy simmers over how to honor great Americans — if Lincoln deserves a day, why not FDR?  Why not Jefferson? — and sometimes the controversy covers more mundane ground — should the federal government give workers a day off?  Should it be on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to boost tourism?  About.com explains the history of the controversy:

Presidents’ Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or “Old Style” calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split – some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd.

When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington’s identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day”, but the idea didn’t go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. [Take THAT you Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore fans!]

Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.” From that point forward, the term “Presidents’ Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales.

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.

Fly your flag, read some history, enjoy the day.

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English: Air Force One, the typical air transp...

President’s airplane, Air Force 1, flying over Mount Rushmore National Monument, in South Dakota – Image via Wikipedia; notice, contrary to Tea Party fears, the bust of Obama is not yet up on Rushmore (and also note there remains no room for another bust).

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  This event occurs every year.


Remember the day Utah flew the flag backwards, to honor the Union?

January 4, 2015

In 2013, Holly Munson at the Constitution Center wrote up a piece about Utah’s perhaps odd path to statehood, certainly complementary to my reminder that you could fly your flags on January 4, to honor Utah’s statehood, under the U.S. Flag Code.  Munson’s piece was distributed on Yahoo! News.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.  Remembering history takes constant reminders.

Her report is very solid, even though brief, and interesting.  Utah history is nothing if not a convoluted path to statehood through what amounted to a civil war, the Mexican War, the discovery of gold in California, the transcontinental railroads, mining and immigration, Indian wars, old west shootouts, rampant environmental destruction with sheep grazing and mineral extraction and smelting, union strife, astonishing agricultural applications, and a lot of books written from tens of thousands of Mormon pioneer journals — Mormonism appears to be impossible without ink and paper and time to write.

Go read her story.

What caught my eye was the George W. Reed photograph of the Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the LDS, or Mormon church.  The Temple and the Tabernacle, also in the photo, both have their own unique architectural histories, and quirks that make them noteworthy purely from architecture.  (This George W. Reed should not be confused with the Civil War Medal of Honor winner, George W. Reed)

Reed was an early photographer for newspapers in Salt Lake City, and he took some wonderful photos for posterity.  He was also a founder of the leading non-Mormon paper in the state, The Salt Lake Tribune.  At points in its history, it’s been known as an anti-Mormon paper.  The University of Utah’s library holds about five dozen of his photos in their collection, indexed electronically if not quite available yet; there Reed is described:

A pioneer in the development of Utah newspapers, George Reed was originally employed by the Deseret News and in 1871 helped in establishing the Salt Lake Tribune. His photographs include nineteenth century views of Salt Lake City, individuals at Reed’s Avenue home, Wasatch Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and a photograph of the American flag hung on the Salt Lake Temple in 1896 to commemorate Utah’s statehood.

In the collection of Utah State University, in Logan, Reed has yet more papers.  There we get a bit more of his history:

A pioneer in Utah journalism, George W. Reed was born in London, England, on April 7, 1833. He emigrated to Utah in 1862 and became manager of the Deseret News, a position he held until 1871 when he founded the Salt Lake Tribune. In 1882, after a decade at the Tribune, Reed sold his interest in the paper to P. H. Lannan. He married Elizabeth Tuddenham in 1866 and passed away December 1, 1909.

U.S. flag on the Mormon Temple, at Utah statehood in 1896

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, draped with a U.S. flag in 1896, commemorating the completion of Utah’s statehood campaign when President Grover Cleveland declared Utah a member of the Union. Photo by George W. Reed; Reed worked for the Deseret News, and helped found the Salt Lake Tribune. I do not know whether this photo was published in either paper.  From the George W. Reed Collection, University of Utah Libraries.

Yes, you’re right!  That flag is backwards.  Well, it’s backwards according to the modern U.S. Flag Code, which specifies that when hung from a building, the flag’s union should always be in the viewer’s upper left corner (“northwest” corner were it a standard map).  In the photograph, the union is in the opposite corner.  No, we know the photo is not reversed, because it accurately portrays the location of the Tabernacle, to the west and slightly south of the Temple.

(From what platform did Reed get that photo?  I’ll have to check to be sure it was there in 1896, but I’m thinking he shot from the Salt Lake County Building; it’s a distance, though.  A photographic historical mystery!)

But we hear the protests:  The U.S. Flag Code did not exist in 1896!  How can that be a violation of a code that did not exist?

That’s right, too.

That is an indication that the traditions of flag display that some people get riled up about, that many people think we should amend the Constitution to protect, are new inventions more than old traditions.  Flag code violations are legion by well-meaning citizens celebrating the flag and patriotism, and rare by anyone with any malignant motives.

After a 49-year fight for statehood, through wars with the U.S., fighting with the U.S. forces in Mexico, the administrations of several presidents and 25 different U.S. Congresses, and pledges to change the rules of the church to ban polygamy and put that ban in the state constitution,  the people of Utah, especially the Mormon officials, were not trying to insult America by displaying the flag incorrectly.  Somebody said ‘fly the flag from the Temple,’ and some engineer or custodian got it done.  By 1896, most of the First Amendment litigation done in the U.S. had involved whether Mormons could keep their marriage policies (Mormons lost).  There was no intent to violate any rule of separation of church and state — nor would that be considered a violation today.  Churches may fly the nation’s flag with all the approval that suggests; it’s the government which may not fly a church’s flag.

Finally, there is no grand story in the flag’s being flown backwards.  It’s just one of those historical footnotes that mark the changing mores of the times, in this case, for standards of how to fly the U.S. flag.

Perhaps Utah history textbooks should make note of the day the U.S. flag was flown, backwards, to honor statehood.

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Utah at 119 years: Fly your flag today for Utah statehood, January 4, 1896

January 4, 2015

Utah Capitol, with flags

South entrance (main) to the Utah State Capitol, with U.S. and Utah flags flying on the single flag poll, and the snow-dusted Wasatch Mountains in the background. Utah State Law Library photo.

Utah joined the Union on January 4, 1896.  It had been a 49-year slog to statehood for Deseret, the Mormon settlement in the Desert.  The size had been pared down, so it would not be the biggest state, incorporating parts of what is now Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico.  New capitals had been tried and cast aside (Fillmore, Utah).  Democratic Party rule was broken when LDS church authorities went door-to-door, calling every other family to the Republican Party, and party parity.  The Mormon Church abandoned polygamy, and adopted a state constitution that gave the vote to women.

Finally, Utah became the 45th state.

You may fly your U.S. flag today for Utah statehood, especially if you’re in Utah.

Happy birthday, Utah!  119 years old today.

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U.S. flag in Capitol Reef NP

U.S. flag flying at Capitol Reef National Park, in Utah. Photo by longyang0369, via Flickr

Much of this material appeared here before; this is an annual event, after all.


Fly your U.S. flags on these dates in January

January 3, 2015

Flag House in 1936, 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland) (cropped). Image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

Flag House in 1936, where Mary Pickersgill sewed the garrison-sized, 15-star flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore in 1814; one of the sites where the U.S. flag may be flown 24 hours. The house is at 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland). Cropped image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

January is loaded with flag flying dates, when we add in statehood days, dates those states are invited to fly their U.S. flags.

In January, the U.S. Flag Code urges citizens to fly flags on these dates:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1, a federal holiday
  • Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a federal holiday on the third Monday of January; that date is January 18, in 2014; King’s actual birthday is January 19, and you may fly your flag then, too
  • Inauguration Day, January 20, the year after election years (next one in 2017)
  • January 2, Georgia Statehood Day
  • January 3, Alaska Statehood Day
  • January 4, Utah Statehood Day
  • January 6, New Mexico Statehood Day
  • January 9, Connecticut Statehood Day
  • January 26, Michigan Statehood Day
  • January 29, Kansas Statehood Day

You may fly your flag any other day you wish, too; flags should not be flown after sundown unless they are specially lighted, or at one of the few places designated by Congress or Presidential Proclamation for 24-hour flag flying.  According to Wikipedia’s listing, those sites include:

  • Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948).
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore, Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954).
  • Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961).
  • Lexington Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965).
  • White House, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970).
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971).
  • Any port of entry to the United States which is continuously open (Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972).
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4, 1975).

Iowans fly flags: Iowa Statehood, December 28, 1846

December 27, 2014

Iowans may fly their flags today in celebration of the anniversary of Iowa statehood.  Iowa’s admission to the Union came on December 28, 1846; Iowa was the 29th state admitted.

“Millions of acres. Iowa and Nebraska. Land for sale on 10 years credit by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. at 6 per ct interest and low prices.” Poster advertising land in Iowa, circa 1872, from the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Co. – Library of Congress Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 134, Folder 13; via Wikipedia

The Flag Code, 4 USC §6 (d), notes that the U.S. flag may be flown on “the birthdays of States (date of admission),” in addition to the other score of dates specifically written into law.

Randy Olson photo of flags at rodeo in Spencer, Iowa, 1996

American Flag, Spencer, Iowa, 1996caption from the National Geographic Society: A man rolls up U.S. flags at the end of the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. “Although the population of Spencer is only about 12,000, the fair draws some 300,000 visitors. Once a year, rising from the endless flatness of the Iowa countryside, a crowd forms—to stroll, to hear big country music acts like the Statler Brothers, to sell a grand champion boar, to buy a new silo.” (Photographed on assignment for, but not published in, “County Fairs,” October 1997, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Randy Olson; copyright National Geographic Society

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Is December the flag-flyingest month?

December 16, 2014

November offers several flag flying days, especially in years when there is an election.

But December may be the month with the most flag-flying dates, if we include statehood days.

December 7 is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  It’s not in the Flag Code, but it is in a public law (P.L. 103-308) that the president should issue a proclamation asking Americans to fly flags.

December 25 is Christmas Day, a federal holiday, and one of the score of dates designated in the Flag Code.

Other dates?

Several states attained statehood in December, so people in those states should fly their flags (and you may join them):

  • Illinois, December 3 (1818, 21st state)
  • Delaware, December 7 (1787, 1st state)
  • Mississippi, December 10 (1817, 20th state)
  • Indiana, December 11 (1816, 19th state)
  • Pennsylvania, December 12 (1787, 2nd state)
  • Alabama, December 14 (1819, 22nd state)
  • New Jersey, December 18 (1787, 3rd state)
  • Iowa, December 28 (1846, 29th state)
  • Texas, December 29 (1845, 28th state)

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, marking the day in 1791 when the Bill of Rights was declared ratified; but though this event generally gets a presidential proclamation, there is no law or executive action that requires flags to fly on that date, for that occasion.

Eleven flag-flying dates in December.  Does any other month have as many flag flying opportunities?

Have I missed any December flag-flying dates?

Flags at the Washington Monument, looking down the Capital Mall towards the U.S. Capitol.

Flags at the Washington Monument, looking down the Capital Mall towards the U.S. Capitol.


Fly your flag December 7, 2014, for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

December 7, 2014

President Obama paid respects to those who died at Pearl Harbor on a visit in 2011; White House caption: President Barack Obama places a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 29, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama paid respects to those who died at Pearl Harbor on a visit in 2011; White House caption: President Barack Obama places a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 29, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

From the White House:

Presidential Proclamation — National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 2014
NATIONAL PEARL HARBOR REMEMBRANCE DAY, 2014

- – – – – – -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese planes thundered over Hawaii, dropping bombs in an unprovoked act of war against the United States.The attack claimed the lives of more than 2,400 Americans.It nearly destroyed our Pacific Fleet, but it could not shake our resolve.While battleships smoldered in the harbor, patriots from across our country enlisted in our Armed Forces, volunteering to take up the fight for freedom and security for which their brothers and sisters made the ultimate sacrifice.On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we pay tribute to the souls lost 73 years ago, we salute those who responded with strength and courage in service of our Nation, and we renew our dedication to the ideals for which they so valiantly fought.

In the face of great tragedy at Pearl Harbor — our first battle of the Second World War — our Union rallied together, driven by the resilient and unyielding American spirit that defines us.The millions of Americans who signed up and shipped out inspired our Nation and put us on the path to victory in the fight against injustice and oppression around the globe.As they stormed the beaches of Normandy and planted our flag in the sands of Iwo Jima, our brave service members rolled back the tide of tyranny in Europe and throughout the Pacific theater.Because of their actions, nations that once knew only the blinders of fear saw the dawn of liberty.

The men and women of the Greatest Generation went to war and braved hardships to make the world safer, freer, and more just.As we reflect on the lives lost at Pearl Harbor, we remember why America gave so much for the survival of liberty in the war that followed that infamous day.Today, with solemn gratitude, we recall the sacrifice of all who served during World War II, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion and the families they left behind.As proud heirs to the freedom and progress secured by those who came before us, we pledge to uphold their legacy and honor their memory.

The Congress, by Public Law 103-308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 7, 2014, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.I encourage all

Americans to observe this solemn day of remembrance and to honor our military, past and present, with appropriate ceremonies and activities.I urge all Federal agencies and interested organizations, groups, and individuals to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff this December 7 in honor of those American patriots who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

If your flag staff doesn’t have a half-staff ability, fly the flag anyway.

If you’re wondering: no, this flag-flying date has not been added to the Flag Code; but according to the law, it will recur every year.

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