On January 1, 1776, while the British laid siege to Boston, George Washington raised the Grand Union Flag on Prospect Hill near his headquarters in Cambridge. It was the first flag of the united colonies. It was known as the Congress Colors, the First Navy Ensign and the Cambridge Flag and could be considered the official flag of the American Revolution. It had 13 red and white stripes and a blue field with the red cross of St. George of England and the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland.
In history we find some of the best writings to be apologetics or in defense of rights. In 1774 the Continental Congress published its Declaration and Resolves stating in part: “…By the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following rights… life, liberty and property.” The British Parliament had passed the “Intolerable Acts” (laying siege to Boston, shutting down colonial assemblies, making British officials immune to criminal prosecution, and quartering soldiers) as punishment for the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Intending to isolate Boston, England was shocked by the response of Colonies sending in supplies and calling a day of fasting and prayer. And it was prayer the initial prayer of the delegates that was the source of the clarity written in the Declaration and Resolves.
It may come as a surprise to learn that it was a prayer meeting in 1806 and the work of missionaries in 1820 followed by a major revival that began the process of bringing the Hawaiian Islands into the United States. In 1959 Congress gave its approval, in June 93% of the people of Hawaii voted to enter, and on August 21 President Eisenhower certified Hawaii as our 50th state. On July 4, 1960, the new flag of the U. S., with 50 stars, became official. But why did it take nearly 140 years?
The Declaration of Independence was always considered inseparable with the Constitution since every charter by necessity must have a set of by-laws. However, in our day, as Americans celebrate the 242nd birth of their nation on the 4th of July, they may do so without an understanding that the truths declared in that charter is the foundation upon which our liberties rest. We have become accustomed to selective constitutional obedience in large part because we no longer interpret it from the premises set forth in the Declaration.
The Pledge of Allegiance has an interesting history and has gone through several revisions before its final rendition in 1954 which we continue to recite today. The phrase “under God” has clarified our unity as a nation and is consistent with our history. This phrase has kept us from the dangerous trend toward nationalism on one hand (my country right or wrong) and secularism on the other (having no declaration of God’s sovereignty over the nation at all).
Many may not realize that the original Pledge did not have the phrase “under God” within it. But did you know that the addition of this critical phrase came from a sermon? Let’s rehearse the rest of the story.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery on April 5, 1856 in southwest Virginia. Initially, like most slaves, he was known by his nickname “Booker” with no middle or surname. But what began as a tragic result of the sin of slavery that stained the Declaration’s promise of God-given liberty for all was overcome by one of the most amazing stories of courage, character and faith one will read in American history. In my estimation, Booker T. Washington is as big a hero as any founder because he overcame one of their sins and through Christ demonstrated forgiveness and respect.
On March 1, 1781, the first constitution of the United States, called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, officially became the first American covenant of law. Since the ratification required all 13 colonies to agree before it could be finalized, there were 39 months between the first colony, Virginia, who ratified in December of 1777, and Maryland, who ratified it in February of 1781.
It is popular today to assume that the belief that men and women can solve all problems without God or the Bible (the “enlightenment”) was the dominant influence at the time of our Declaration of Independence and the writing of our first (Articles in 1781) and subsequently final (1789) Constitution. However, this is simply not supported by a more thorough scholarship which affirms that orthodox Protestant beliefs, rooted in the Scriptures, was the most influential ideology that directly affected the writing of these documents. It was biblical ideas that found their way into our laws, form of government and philosophy of rights at the formative period of the United States.
When people think of the historic Boston Tea Party that took place in 1773, they often have images of wild and lawless men destroying the personal property of others and throwing it into the sea in a riot, just so they don’t have to pay a very small tax. About the only thing that is accurate in this description of the event that took place on Thursday, December 16, 1773 is the fact that the proposed tax was small! It is time to rehearse the rest of the story, which is often left untold.
Noah Webster defined the word Providence to mean “foresight; timely care… foresight accompanied with the procurement of what is necessary for future use… the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures.” One key word in this definition is “timely”. In other words, God times events for His purposes, and California is such an example.
Though Natives discovered gold in 1841, nothing came of it. Though gold was again discovered in 1844, a misinterpretation of the Spanish language led to the abandonment of the enterprise. Why would years of inactivity “suddenly” occur, and gold “officially” discovered on January 24, 1848 in the little town of Coloma, become so significant? Hopefully, this history lesson provides a hint as to what God may have had in mind.
America’s Quadracentennial provides a time when Americans of all persuasions can rejoice together that the seeds planted at her birth were of such quality as to bring forth the civil liberty we still enjoy today. Yet, those conducting the “commemoration” (one cannot say celebration these days) of America’s four hundredth birthday find it difficult to give honor to whom honor is due.
It is common today to view all the European settlements, especially Jamestown and Plymouth, as an invasion. Since we must come to conclusions based upon a bias of historic interpretations (all have such a bias), it may be important to highlight the biased assumptions of some of today’s historians.