Whatever you call it: “Continental Colors”; “Congress Flag”; “Cambridge Flag”, or “Grand Union Flag” — it was the first national flag of the United States. According to historical lore, George Washington unveiled it January 1, 1776 –during the American Revolution—but the stars and stripes motif encompassed a replica of the British flag in the upper left-hand corner.
“It was sort of a compromise between the radicals who wanted to see a separate nation, and the people who were more conciliatory, and wanted to see some accommodation with the crown,” according to historian and flag expert David Martucci.
The History Channel noted in June of 1777 that “the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating, ‘the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white’ and that ‘the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation’.”
To learn more, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Kevin Keim’s and Peter Keim’s A Grand Old Flag: A History of the United States Through its Flags.
It is difficult for the iPhone generation to fathom the complexities of communication throughout history. For decades, telephones used hard-wired landlines to commence a call. And before that: the telegraph – an invention by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, who demonstrated its “efficiency” via an electrical impulse on January 6, 1838. It came with a code that Morse created using dots and dashes–instead of the alphabet–to move a message from point A to point B.
He formulated the idea in 1832; by 1838– with the assistance of his two partners, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail, he had a working model. Morse requested funding from Congress to make the prototype–it included construction of overhead wires between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland— but the legislators demurred.
Five years later, he garnered the approval–and the money–to proceed; on May 24,1844 Morse sent his first telegraphic message: “What hath God wrought.”
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lewis Coe’s The Telegraph: A History of Morse’s Invention and Its Predecessors in the United States.
The U.S. Constitution was signed into law by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in September of 1787. It structured the Federal government; explained the essential laws of the country and guaranteed basic rights for every citizen.
But it was not the first American Constitution. That inaugural document was written and adopted on January 14, 1639 by the settlers from the original Massachusetts Bay Colony, who had migrated to the Connecticut River Valley. It was known as the Fundamental Orders.
According to History.com, “Roger Ludlow, a lawyer, wrote much of the Fundamental Orders, and presented a binding and compact frame of government that put the welfare of the community above that of individuals. It was also the first written constitution in the world to declare the modern idea that ‘the foundation of authority is in the free consent of the people.’ In 1662, the Charter of Connecticut superseded the Fundamental Orders, though the majority of the original document’s laws and statutes remained in force until 1818.”
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends A. Chamberlain’s The First Constitution Of Connecticut: The Fundamental Orders.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.