Americans of Scottish descent have played a vibrant and influential role in the development of this country. However not until 1997 was this influence recognized by a single-year U.S. Senate Resolution that appeared in the Congressional Record of April 7, 1997. In 1998, National Tartan Day of April 6 was officially recognized on a permanent basis when the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 155 recognizing April 6th as National Tartan Day. This was followed by companion bill House Resolution 41 which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 9, 2005. The passage of this bill was due to the work of the National Capital Tartan Committee, Inc. and president James Morrison.
The date of April 6 commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, which asserted Scotland’s sovereignty over English territorial claims, and which was an influence on the American Declaration of Independence.
Canada has been celebrating “National Tartan Day” since 1993. The idea and motivation for creating a similar American holiday was provided by the Scottish Coalition, a group of national Scottish-American cultural organizations.
History of National Tartan Day
The following account of the creation of National Tartan appeared in the Winter 1999 issue of Caledonia News, a publication of the Caledonia Foundation, and is reprinted by permission.
Tartan Day – April 6, 1997: A Great Success!
The first Tartan Day in the United States was observed at the national level on April 6, 1997. Previously, there had been observances by individual states, counties and other regional entities, but the year 1997 was the first time the observance swept across the nation.
Since then, the question has been asked many times: “How did this get started?” It seems desirable, since undoubtedly the question will continue to be asked, to give the background of this historic event.
In 1995, The Caledonian Foundation invited the Scottish-American organizations operating at the national level to meet in Sarasota, Florida, for the purpose of exploring ways in which all might cooperate and advance their programs. When the conference was held March 8-10, 1996, Duncan MacDonald, a trustee and executive vice president of The Foundation, having learned of the observance of Tartan Day in Canada, placed this item on the agenda for discussion.
Neil Fraser, Secretary-Treasurer of the Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada (CASSOC), was asked by Col. John H. Napier, III, moderator of the meeting, to give an overview of this special event which has been observed in Canada since 1993. Following Neil’s remarks, the project received unanimous approval as one to be further explored.
When a second national meeting was convened February 7-9, 1997, there was further discussion and plans were made for the observance in the current year. It was agreed by the six national organizations – American-Scottish Foundation, Association of Scottish Games & Festivals, The Caledonian Foundation, the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations, Scottish Heritage USA, and the Tartan Educational and Cultural Association that this observance did provide an excellent venue to give visibility to Scottish heritage.
Following the conference, ads were placed in “The Highlander” in “Scottish Life” and in “Family Tree,” producing an enthusiastic response from across the country.
JoAnne Phipps, a member of Clans of Scotland, Inc. and also a Caledonian Foundation member, working with the staff of Senate Majority’ loader Trent Lott, took the lead in preparing materials and background information for the Senate Resolution that appeared in the Congressional Record of April 7, 1997. We would like to note parenthetically that the Senator’s staff was provided with Duncan Bruce’s book, ‘”The Mark of the Scots,” which has important background information that was then included in the Resolution.
Around the country, a true grass-roots effort took place. Thousands of Scots-Americans found ways to observe the first Tartan Day in churches, on village greens, at Scottish festivals, at social gatherings, and in the home. It would seem that at last the Scots in America had found a cause around which all could rally. Tartan Day was observed on April 6, 1997, for the first time in U.S. history. And it is a day that will be observed so long as there are Scots who care about their heritage.
Special thanks to Ms. Duncan MacDonald of the Caledonian Foundation for providing this information.