History of the United States Flag
National flags are not merely symbols of a
country. Their colors and designs convey past history and future goals. Flags
have powerful connotations. They speak to the people and politicians. People of
one country will burn the flag of another with whose politics they do not
agree. To show their anger, students display their own nation's flags with the
design altered or cut out completely. Dictators fly flags; dissidents rip them
down. In every country of the world, the treatment of a flag displays an
opinion or statement.
Americans take the treatment of their flag
seriously and in the 20th century this has become an important issue. Included
in the code of ethics are such rules as:
What Every Scout Should Know
The National Flag cannot be used for advertising.
It cannot cover a monument or any ceilings.
It must not be folded while being displayed.
No one should write on an American flag.
Ships can lower their flags slightly in greeting each other, but otherwise
should not be dipped for any other object or person.
In the late 1960s, American students wore small
flags sewn to the back of their jeans, symbolically insulting the American
government and protesting its involvement in the Vietnam War. They burned the
American flag in front of the Capitol Building in Washington as a statement of
protest. In the early 1990s, senators suggested an amendment to the
Constitution that would make this treatment of the flag illegal. The
proposition was opposed because many others felt that this change would be a
violation of Americans' constitutional rights to express their opinions freely.
For all the controversy, it is interesting to
point out that the United States did not even have a standardized flag until
1912! Called the
"Stars and Stripes"
, the flag is one of the most complicated in the
world. No other flag needs 64 pieces of fabric to make. The current flag has 13
red and white alternating stripes (representing the original 13 states) and 50
stars (each star represents one of the states of the Union) on a blue
The American flag has also changed designs more
than any other flag in the world. The first flag, called the
, was first flown at the headquarters of the
Continental Army on January 1, 1776. Betsy Ross, a seamstress, is said to have
contributed to this design. She had an upholstery business which made flags for
navy ships in Pennsylvania. A legend still persists that she showed George
Washington how to make a five-pointed star and suggested thirteen stars in a
circle for the first flag. Her descendants claimed that she offered the design.
Actually, she and George Washington never met! George Washington did design the
but an often-quoted remark attributed to him
might not be true:
"We take the stars from heaven, the red from
our mother country, separate it by white in stripes, thus showing that we have
separated from her..."
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress
proposed that the United States have a national flag instead of the British
Union Jack. The 13 stars of the flag represented the 13 new states. There were
few public ceremonies honoring the
"Stars and Stripes"
until 1877, when on, June 14, it was flown from
every government building in honor of the centennial of the adoption of a
Schools had unfurled American flags over their
doors oroutside the buildings long before this; but in 1890, North Dakota and
New Jersey made a law that required their schools to fly the flag daily.
The first official Flag Day was observed in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1893. New York also proclaimed June 14 as Flag
Day 1897. Other states were slow to follow. Some people thought that the day
was too close to Memorial Day and Independence Day. In August 1949, President
Harry S. Truman proclaimed June 14* as Flag Day. Since then the President
proclaims the commemoration yearly, and encourages all Americans in the country
to display the Stars and Stripes outside their homes and businesses. Individual
states determine how they will observe the day. In Pennsylvania and American
Samoa it is a public holiday. Usually the flag is flown from all public
buildings, speeches are made in public places and ceremonies take place in
towns or cities. In
, Flag Day is celebrated on April 17th.
The famous name,
, was coined by Captain Stephen Driver, a
shipmaster of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1831. As he was leaving on one of his
many voyages aboard the brig CHARLES DOGGETT (this one would climax with the
rescue of the mutineers of the BOUNTY) some friends presented him with a
beautiful flag of twenty four stars. As the banner opened to the ocean breeze
for the first time, he exclaimed "Old Glory!" He retired to Nashville in 1837,
taking his treasured flag from his sea days with him.
By the time the Civil War erupted, most everyone
in and around Nashville recognized Captain Driver's
. When Tennessee seceded from the Union, Rebels
were determined to destroy his flag, but repeated searches revealed no trace of
the hated banner.
On February 25th, 1862, Union forces captured
Nashville and raised the American flag over the capital. It was a rather small
ensign and immediately folks began asking Captain Driver if
still existed. Happy to have soldiers with him
this time, Captain Driver went home and began ripping at the seams of his
bedcover. As the stitches holding the quilt-top to the batting unraveled, the
onlookers peered inside and saw the 24-starred original
Captain Driver gently gathered up the flag and
returned with the soldiers to the capitol. Though he was sixty years old, the
Captain climbed up to the tower to replace the smaller banner with his beloved
The Sixth Ohio Regiment cheered and saluted - and
later adopted the nickname
as their own, telling and re-telling the story of
Captain Driver's devotion to the flag we honor yet today.
Captain Driver's grave is located in the old
Nashville City Cemetery, and is one of three places authorized by act of
Congress where the Flag of the United States may be flown 24 hours a day.
The Pledge of Allegiance
On September 8,1892, the Boston based "The
Youth's Companion" magazine published a few words for students to repeat on
Columbus Day that year. Written by Francis Bellamy, the circulation manager
and native of Rome, New York, it was reprinted on thousands of leaflets, was
sent out to public schools across the country. On October 12, 1892, the
quadricentennial of Columbus' arrival, more than 12 million children recited
Pledge of Allegiance
thus beginning a required school-day ritual.
At the first National Flag Conference in
Washington D.C., on June14, 1923, a change was made. For clarity, the words
"the Flag of the United States" replaced "my flag". In the following years
various other changes were suggested but were never formally adopted. It was
not until 1942 that Congress officially recognized the
Pledge of Allegiance
One year later, in June 1943, the Supreme Court
ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it. In fact, today
only half of our fifty states have laws that encourage the recitation of the
Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom!
In June of 1954 an amendment was made to add the
words "under God". Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower said,
"In this way we are reaffirming the
transcendence of relgious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way
we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be
our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."
Why the American Flag Is Folded 13 Times
Have you ever wondered why the flag of the United
States of America is folded thirteen times when it is lowered or when it is
folded and handed to the widow at the burial of a veteran?
We fold from the stripes toward the stars, for
the stripes symbolize the 13 original colonies that founded our republic are
now embodied in the 50 sovereign states of the nation. So when our flag is
secure, the stars cover the stripes.
Our flag is folded in a triangle to teach us that
our government is formed of three interdependent bodies–the executive,
legislative, and judicial. There are thirteen folds, one for each of the
original thirteen colonies. All are encased in the blue seal to remind us that
they, as well as we, are under the love and care of the Almighty God, a free
and united nation.
When the flag is completely folded, the stars are
uppermost reminding us our National Motto, "In God We trust".
After the flag is completely folded and tucked
in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the
soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the sailors and
marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their
comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for
us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.
The next time you see a flag ceremony honoring
someone who has served our country, either in the Armed Forces, or in civilian
services such as the police department or fire department, keep in mind all the
important reasons behind each and every movement. They have paid the ultimate
sacrifice for all of us by honoring our flag and our country.