On the Anniversaries of the Stars and Stripes and the United States Constitution, Reaffirm Our Commitment to the Rule of Law


Independence Day festivities are almost always associated with fireworks, picnics and concerts. National Constitution celebrations in September, on the other hand, are usually more cerebral and low-key. Those outside of public colleges and universities, which are mandated to commemorate the occasion, may not even know that the U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787.

An even more overlooked date is September 14, which marks Francis Scott Key’s writing in 1814 of what would become known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The poem, later set to music, served unofficially as the national anthem long before Congress declared it such in 1931.

Key wrote the poem after the valiant defenders of Fort McHenry prevented the British capture of Baltimore during the ongoing War of 1812, often seen as the second American Revolution. Although it brought almost no change in British policy against which the United States was fighting, the fledgling nation had once again demonstrated that it could stand up to the greatest empire in the world.

As Francis Scott Key anxiously watched the fiery British bombardment of Fort McHenry from a ship, where he had come to negotiate the release of a captured British doctor, he had no way of knowing what the morning would bring. The first verse of the dawn-inspired song of joy opened and ended as it should with a question: Was the flag, the star-spangled banner of a new constellation of American states, still flying? If so, was it still hovering over “the land of the free and the homeland of the brave”, or was it hovering over a people once again subject to a foreign king?

In his fourth stanza, Key attributed the victory (which depended in part on an unexploded device lodged in the roof of Fort McHenry’s powder magazine) to a higher power that “made us and preserved us a nation”. He helped create an American motto when he concluded that “we must conquer when our cause is right, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.'”

Our flag is an object of reverence, but, like other symbols, it remains susceptible to being used for propaganda and manipulation purposes. Knowing that individuals are carrying a flag or waving a flag in the back of a van or shouting “under God” while repeating the oath of allegiance tells us very little about the justice of their cause.

An iconic photograph titled ‘The Soiling of Old Glory’, which was taken in 1976, the year of the United States’ bicentennial, depicts an angry white teenager in Boston attacking a helpless African-American man with the finial on his pole of the American flag in his hand serving as a spear. More recently, protesters brought Confederate flags into the United States Capitol after they attempted to overturn the results of a valid presidential election and threatened to hang the vice president and assassinate the speaker of the House of Representatives. the United States.

It feels good to “conquer” our enemies, but winning internal party competitions is pointless and unrewarding unless the causes we are fighting for are just.

As we celebrate the signing of our Constitution, we must renew our commitment to the rule of law. As we sing our national anthem, we must also pledge to ensure that our nation remains free, that we remain brave enough to defend it, and that our cause remains just.

John R. Vile ([email protected]) is a professor of political science, dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University, and author of “The American National Anthem: ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ In U.S. History, Culture and Law.”

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