A flag speaks about patriotism

Franklin K. LaneOn Flag Day more than 100 years ago, Franklin K. Lane, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, delivered a stirring address about the American flag to more than 1,000 of his employees.

His words are even more patriotic when his birthplace is considered: Prince Edward Island. At the time, that made him a British citizen (the island is now part of Canada). He became a U.S. citizen when his family moved to California.

After a stint in journalism, Lane entered politics and served in the cabinets of three presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

Small flags cover the Mall in Washington, D.C. (wikipedia.org)Lane’s Flag Day remarks began: “This morning,…the Flag dropped me a most cordial salutation, and from its rippling folds I heard it say: ‘Good morning, Mr. Flag Maker.’

“‘I beg your pardon, Old Glory,’ I said, ‘I am not the President of the United States, nor a member of Congress, nor even a general in the Army. I am only a government clerk’” who was just doing his job.

Replied the flag, “The work that we do is the making of the Flag. I am not the Flag; not at all. I am but its shadow. I am whatever you make me, nothing more.”

A homemade wooden flag. (James Breig photo)Old Glory continued by asserting that “I am your belief in yourself, your dream of what a people may become. I live a changing life….Sometimes, I am strong with pride, when men do an honest work, fitting the rails together truly. Sometimes, I droop, for purpose has gone from me, and cynically I play the coward….

“But always, I am all that you hope to be and have the courage to try for. I am song and fear, struggle and panic, and ennobling hope. I am the day’s work of the weakest man and the largest dream of the most daring.

A folded flag lies among yard-sale items. (James Breig photo)“I am the Constitution and the courts, statutes and state-maker, soldier and dreadnaught, drayman and sweep, cook, counselor and clerk….

“I am no more than what you believe me to be and I am all that you believe I can be. I am what you make me; nothing more.”

The theme of Lane’s speech – that the flag is a reflection of what Americans make of themselves – became instantly famous. For years, newspapers and magazines reprinted it, and schoolchildren recited it.

What do you make of the American flag in 2017?

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