History, Research

You’re a Grand Old Flag…

The Stars and Stripes, the Star-Spangled Banner, and Old Glory are just a few nicknames that we as Americans have for our national flag. We see it hoisted above government buildings, in front of houses, on the back of cars, and even printed on consumer goods. It is a symbol for the country that is ever-present in our society. Flag Day, celebrated on June 14th, is a day in which we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of our first flag as a nation. The day was officially proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916. This day can be celebrated by prominently displaying the American flag on the front of homes and businesses and some areas even hold parades or other public events.

The first Flag Act, passed by the Second Continental Congress in 1777, established our first official national flag featuring “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” We are often inundated with the myth of Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag, but research has often proven that to be that, just a myth.

Another law followed with the passage of the Flag Act of 1794 altering the design to include two more stars and two more stripes to include representing the new states of Vermont and Kentucky. It wouldn’t be until the Flag Act of 1818 where we would get most of our modern rules for design. After this last act, the stripes would be fixed at 13 for the original colonies and the stars would match the current number of states in the union taking effect on July 4th after each new admission.

There have been 26 changes to the US flag since the first flag resolution. Our current flag still has the 13 stripes with a total of 50 stars for 50 states proclaimed in 1960 once Hawaii was admitted as a state. It has not changed in almost 60 years making it the longest flag design in our history.

The flag of the United States is one of the most recognized symbols in the world. Its symbolism often refers to the American ideals of freedom, justice, and valor. Controversy escapes few symbols and the flag is no exception. There are constant debates over proper ways to show respect to the flag and the consequences of not doing so from altering its design to its burning. First Amendment rights protect individuals expressing free speech using the flag as a symbol. We have had a national flag symbolize our country for almost 250 years, but its interpretation is still up to us individually.

The Smithsonian Institute has a web page entitled Facts About the United States Flag

And for information on the history of Flag Day, the Library of Congress provides Today in History — June 14.

What does the flag mean to you?

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