American Symbols: Do you have the Star-Spangled Banner’s missing star?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series American Symbols
A piece cut from the Star Spangled Banner now back at the Smithsonian

This is one of the pieces cut from the famous flag that now is back in the Smithsonian collection. CLICK this photo to read the Smithsonian story about the restoration effort.

“Do you have the 15th star?”

That’s the question curators at the Smithsonian Institution will ask a visitor who is a descendent from the War of 1812, especially if the visitor is related to the family that owned the flag. It seems that someone cut out the 15th star as a souvenir. Its whereabouts are unknown.

It would be sacrilegious today to cut a piece of an historic flag, but that was a regular and accepted practice in the 1800s. As a result, the original Star-Spangled Banner—yes, the one that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key—is about 20% smaller than it should be, according to an article this month in the Smithsonian Magazine.

The flag was owned by descendents of Lt. Col. George Armistead, the commander at Fort McHenry. They often received—and granted—requests for a piece of Old Glory. Wealthy people and dignitaries got some, as did historical groups, family friends, and household staff, according to the article.

Some swatches will never be recovered, such as the piece buried with a veteran of the battle or the one at the Francis Scott Key Monument (Golden Gate Park, CA). Every now and then, a piece will show up at auction or discovered in a dusty old attic. In its restoration effort, the Smithsonian has even had to place secret bids in auctions, according to the article.

The missing 15th star was “cut out for some official person,” according to Georgiana Armistead Appleton, daughter of the commander of Fort McHenry. But she never said who got it. Its location is a mystery to this day.

Do you have the 15th star from Old Glory?

What do you think of the practice of taking souvenirs?

Is it OK to own a piece of the Berlin Wall? Or, the World Trade Center?

American Symbols: Join the largest “group sing” of the national anthem!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series American Symbols
Smithsonian Museum of American History Raise It Up Star Spangled Banner

Click the logo to visit the Smithsonian page for the event.

Flag Day is Saturday, and this is a special Flag Day because it celebrates the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s poem that became our national anthem. Events are taking place around the country, but there’s one you can join no matter where you live: RAISE IT UP! Sponsored by the National Museum of American History in our nation’s capital, it’s the largest group sing of the national anthem in history.

Will you sing?

If you want to add your voice, mark your calendar for June 14, 2014, at 4:00 PM EDT. There are many ways to participate:

Find and join a local Anthem celebration in your community that’s registered at the RAISE IT UP! web site. (Click on the logo above.)

Host your own Anthem party. The Smithsonian even provides recipes for making Star-Spangled treats and desserts.  And, the Smithsonian store offers Star-Spangled Banner products, including T-shirts, tote bags, pint glasses, coffee mugs, and more.

If you’re in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., you can join the national sing-along at the American History Museum (National Mall between 12th and 14th Streets). If you arrive by 2:30 PM EDT on June 14th, you can enjoy a free concert, featuring guitarist Kristen Capolino, the U. S. Air Force Concert Band, a 400-person choir, and the “Singing Sergeants”—the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force.

If you can’t get to the National Mall, the concert will be live webcast starting at 2:30 PM EDT, also shown later that evening on the Smithsonian Channel.

Do you have a reason to not participate in the celebration of our flag and national anthem?

Will you participate?

Or, is this Saturday simply another day on the calendar?

American Symbols: Why is THIS Flag Day so special?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Symbols
American flag on the Moon from United America gallery

INSPIRED by this classic photo? CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to check out Dr. Wayne Baker’s Gallery of American Images, part of the “United America” project.

Flag Day is this Saturday, June 14. It’s an annual celebration of the day the American flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.

Today, I hope you’ll think about this question: What makes this Flag Day so special?

The American flag and the national anthem are both potent symbols. Together, they represent what’s called “symbolic patriotism”—an emotional attachment to country expressed through love of American symbols. Symbolic patriotism is one of the 10 core values I document in United America.

Foreign observers are always amazed at the near-reverence with which Americans embrace their symbols. But if you are American, you understand completely. Seeing the flag fly or hearing the national anthem makes just about any American feel good.

Hearing the anthem this year should make you feel especially good because it marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of what became our national anthem. On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key espied the “broad stripes and bright stars” at the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. It inspired him to write the poem that became our national anthem.

Almost any American can sing the first stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner, though the range of the song makes it difficult for many.

Did you know that the way it is sung now is quite different from the way it was sung in Key’s day?

Care to know how it was originally sung? University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague, an authority on Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, arranged to reproduce the original tune. You can hear how it was sung in Key’s day in the video clip below. Listen—and tell us what you think!

Mark Clague’s web site—Star Spangled Music—is a treasure trove of facts, history, recordings, and more—all about the 1814 event that figures so prominently in the American consciousness.

What does the national anthem mean to you?

Do you like—or dislike—the say the tune was sung in Key’s day?

Do you care about Flag Day?

Divided America: Still “A City upon a Hill?”

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Divided America
The ship Arbella where John Winthrop spoke of City on a Hill

A sketch of the ship Arbella where John Winthrop talked of this new country as a “City upon a Hill.”

Should American values actively be spread around the world?

If you say yes, then you probably believe that America has a special role—perhaps a sacred place—in the world and world history.

Does America have a moral destiny? Belief in the moral destiny of America is a prominent theme in American history, dating back to the Puritans. John Winthrop used the phrase “city upon a hill” in a 1630 sermon aboard the ship Arbella. It comes from the biblical parable of Salt and Light in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Winthrop borrowed the phrase to remind the colonists of the ideal community that were striving to found in the new world. This was the origin of what historian Arthur Schlesinger called “the mystical idea of an American national destiny.”

Is America still that city upon a hill?

Many Americans believe it is. Almost four of ten Americans agree that American values should be actively spread around the world, according to my national surveys. About the same number disagree, however. About 20% are neutral.

Would the world be a better place if people from other countries were more like Americans? More than three ten Americans say it would be. Just under half say it would not. Only about 20% are neutral.

In other words, belief in the moral destiny of America is one of the areas of intense disagreement in American society.

Do you believe that American values should be spread around the globe?

Would the world be a better place if more people were like Americans?

Do you believe in the nation’s moral destiny?

Images of America: Lincoln Memorial

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Images

Lincoln Memorial with InscriptionMy wife and I spent an anniversary in Washington, D.C., visiting many famous memorials and monuments. For me, none stood out as much as the Lincoln Memorial. At other memorials, visitors walked through the exhibits, pausing to gaze, read inscriptions and reflect–but then hurrying to the next place. But at the Lincoln Memorial, people lingered, often sitting and conversing on the steps. Many seemed reluctant to leave.

Have you visited the Lincoln Memorial? What does it mean to you?

This week, I’ve perused our gallery of 100+ American Images, selecting five of my favorites and describing what each means to me. We began with the image of Buzz Aldrin and the American flag on the moon, and then considered the image of immigrants at Ellis Island “climbing into the Promised Land,” a Stand Down for homeless veterans, and Mark Twain as a critical patriot.

We conclude today with the Great Emancipator.

The Lincoln Memorial is filled with symbolism. It includes the text of the Gettysburg Address and the 16th president’s Second Inaugural Address. Legend has it that Lincoln’s fingers make the letters A and L in American Sign Language, a legend that could be true because the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, had a son who was deaf.

There are many reasons why people might linger at this memorial. It could be its location, the magnificent view from its steps, or its association with other historic events. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from these steps in1963.

His preservation of the union is the most important reason, in my opinion. Lincoln faced the greatest threat the nation has ever seen and, as it says in the epitaph, he “saved the union.”

Our so-called culture war today pales in comparison. It’s not a hot war. It’s not a shooting war. If we could preserve the union when faced with a bloody civil war, how could we not find a way to rise above our polarized politics today?

What does Lincoln mean to you?

If you’ve visited the Lincoln Memorial, what did it stir in you?

Which of the five images we’ve viewed this week your favorite?

NOTE: Be sure to read Duncan Newcomer’s essay on Lincoln and the 10 Core Values, as well as other Lincoln resources we offer. And, visit our inspiring gallery of American Images, along with instructions on how to use these images to have a civil dialogue about American values.

American Images: Star-Spangled Banner & a Flag on the Moon

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Images
Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

A single image can evoke emotions, memories—and entire eras.

As part of the unfolding United America book launch, we’ve assembled a magnificent gallery of over 100 images of America. I love them all, but today I picked my favorite one—Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. flag on the moon. My reasons are biographical and scientific, as I will explain below.

Take a look at our new gallery: What’s your most meaningful image of America?

First, a few words about the gallery itself and how you can use it. Every image comes from Wikimedia Commons, which means that you can freely download and use the gallery images. We’ve used these images in small groups as an effective ice-breaker to begin discussions about our core values, based on my new book United America. However, the exercise doesn’t require anyone to have read the book beforehand. (We also provide free downloadable instructions for running this exercise.)

Why is this image my favorite?

I was 15 years old in 1969 when the first lunar landing took place. I was enthralled. I read everything I could find about the astronauts and the mission. Neil Armstrong took this iconic image. It symbolized so many positive American attributes and was of historic significance for all humankind. Years later, I met Michael Collins—the command module pilot—and I thought I had met a rock star.

This image is also my favorite because it represents the core value of symbolic patriotism—an emotional attachment to country evoked by such national symbols as Old Glory and the national anthem.


TONIGHT, Monday February 17 at 8 PM Eastern time, you can tune into the musical performance of Poets and Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Organized by University of Michigan music historian Mark Clague, this performance presents “a musical history of the U.S. national anthem to celebrate the release of a U-M funded recording project that tells the story of an English tune becoming America’s anthem.” The event is part of the elaborate celebration of the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of what became our national anthem. (The performance tonight is open to the public and will be live-streamed.)

What did The Star-Spangled Banner sound like in 1814? Quite different from the tune we know today!

You can hear the 1814 rendition at the performance tonight and on YouTube right now. The 2-CD set includes the 1814 rendition, the English drinking song on which it was based, and 35 others tunes from early American history. (To learn more and to access a wealth of resources, visit

Does seeing the American flag flying or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

What are your reactions to the image I selected today?

What is your favorite image of America?

United America, Core Value 10: Critical patriotism

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series United America
STAY TUNED! One week from today, "United America" is released nationally. You'll hear a lot more next week about how much the OurValues project contributed to this new book.

CLICK THE BOOK to learn more, to download a free chart of the 10 values, to download free Discussion Guides … and more.

Two members of the Russian punk-rock protest group Pussy Riot appeared at an Amnesty International concert in New York this week, doing something that got them prison time in Russia: criticizing the Russian government, President Vladimir Putin in particular. Putin freed the punk-rockers in December as part of a general amnesty, which many said was just an attempt to polish his image before the Sochi Olympics.

Whatever you think of Pussy Riot, their story illustrates what happens in many places around the world: Criticize the government, go to jail—or worse. In America, however, “critical patriotism” is a widely practiced core value. Openly criticizing elected officials or opposing government polices won’t land you in jail.

Are you a critical patriot?

“Critical patriotism” is one of the 10 core values widely shared by Americans. It is defined as “tough love of country,” where “criticism of America stems from love of country and desire for improvement.”

The other core values, which we’ve discussed this week and last, are: respect for people of different faiths, races, and ethnicities; symbolic patriotism; freedom; security; self-reliance & individualism; equal opportunity; getting ahead; pursuit of happiness; and justice & fairness. (Click here to download a free chart of the 10 values.)

Most Americans enjoy the opportunity and freedom to criticize elected officials, U.S. policies, the government, and other institutions. But we often disagree on specific issues. For example, Americans are divided on Obamacare—everything from its very existence, to all the problems with its roll-out, to how much it will cost, to how much it will really help Americans.

But, at the end of our tour of America’s 10 core values, I come back to Thomas Jefferson’s observation: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”

The 10 core values are the guiding principles that a large majority of Americans hold dear. These 10 are America’s common ground. We can make more progress by starting with what unites us than by starting with what divides us.

When have you exercised the core value of critical patriotism?

How do you feel when others criticize the nation?

After our tour of the ten values, what’s your conclusion?