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The Story Behind The American Flag

There is as much fascination surrounding the history of the American flag as there is with the American Republic itself. The flag has survived battles, inspired symphonies, and evolved in response to the development of the country it represents. You probably already know what the flag of the United States of America looks like today. But did you know its design has evolved? The design tended to closely mirror the political turmoil and changes throughout the history of the United States.

While many people associate “Betsy Ross” with the American flag, its history is not that popular. Throughout 1775, dissatisfied colonists wanted an independent flag to represent their independence. There was a flag with a snake on it with the slogan “Don’t Tread On Me” that was very famous in early times. Eventually, the snake was replaced with an evergreen tree donning a red, white, and blue stripe pattern, known as the “Liberty Tree.”

The Many Versions of the American Flag

Other versions shoed up in late 1775 with the British Union Jack and 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies. Yet another design showed up five months later designed by a seamstress from Philadelphia. Betsy Ross was the seamstress. She replaced the Union Jack with a circle of 13 stars, one star representing each part of the original colony. This design has been recognized as the first flag by many American up to this day.

Congress approved the country’s very first flag on June 14th, 1777. In 1949, President Harry Truman made June 14th Flag Day a national holiday to recognize the day. Until today, we remember this day and celebrate it with pride. During that time, however, the country was rapidly expanding due to the end of the Colonial Period. More and more states became part of the United States and the flag needed to represent them and the changing times. Because of this, Congress altered the American flag’s design many times between 1777 and 1960, each version adding in a new star for newly admitted states.

Since adding new stripes for every state would have been to clutter, the number of stripes stayed the same to represent the original 13 colonies. Each state’s participation in the country is therefore reflected in the number of stars placed in the box on the flag’s leftmost corner. The Confederacy states abandoned the American flag during the Civil War and instead designed, built, and flew their own flag, dubbed the Confederate Battle Flag.

Carefully Designed

Were you aware that the colors of the American flag have a historical significance as well? These colors were not just randomly picked, but there is actually a deeper meaning to them. Let start off with the color red. Red, the color of strength and bravery, signifies hardy and noble qualities. The color white represents purity, while a blue color symbolizes perseverance and justice.

A great deal of controversy surrounds the American flag. Still, it has also inspired artists, such as Jasper Johns and Francis Scott Key, the composers of the famous “Star-Spangled Banner” composed it after observing the huge garrison flag survive the 24 hours long shelling of Fort McHenry by the British.

The American flag that was the inspiration for Key’s song is under conservation by the National Museum of American History. Besides taking their flag abroad, Americans have also taken their flag to outer space; in 1969, Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon) planted the American Flag on the moon. The flag was also raised on top of Mt. Everest by Barry Bishop in 1963 and at the North Pole by Robert Peary in 1909. Furthermore, the American flag also flies high on holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day.

When a beloved public figure passes away, the flag is lowered at sunset and often to half-mast. Nevertheless, some places in the US where the flag is always flown, including the US Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and the White House.

Knowing the history of the American flag can make you appreciate it more. When you see the flag next time, stop and take note of how much history it represents.

Customs to Follow In Displaying The American Flag

The U.S. flag is handled and displayed in accordance with the Federal Flag Code, known as Public Law 94-344. The federal flag code does not impose penalties for the Flag’s misuse, but the states may enact penalties for flag abuse. Under the federal code, the Flag represents a living symbol of the country. It must elicit respect at all times in all situations.

Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989 in response to a Supreme Court ruling stating that state laws prohibiting flag burning violated the Constitution. Under the law, anyone who intentionally desecrates the Flag will be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. In 1990, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Flag Protection Act violated the First Amendment, which provides freedom of speech.

What You Need to Know

According to customary guidelines, flags should only be flown from sunrise to sunset. However, the Flag can be kept up at all times if it’s illuminated during the night. The American Flag should not be displayed during inclement weather or days with strong winds unless they are all-weather flags. In addition to being displayed often, it should also be displayed on national and state holidays and special occasions. In public places, including school buildings, polling places on election days, and public institutions, the Flag should be displayed. The manner of execution should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

You should never fold or drape the Flag. Bunting in red, white, and blue should be draped as decoration, with blue at the top and red at the bottom. A new federal or state government official may be honored by lowering the flag to half staff on the president’s or governor’s orders. It is a custom for the flag to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day until noon.

Here are more customs to follow with illustrations:

  • The American Flag should be presented at front and center in a flag line when carried during a procession with other flags. It should be either on the marching right or to the front and center when carried in procession. During a parade, the flag should be hung from a staff or suspended so that it falls freely. The Flag should not be draped over a vehicle.
  • When presented with another flag placed from crossed staffs, the American Flag should be displayed to the left of it, facing the wall, and its staff should be in front of the other Flag’s staff.
  • A U.S. flag should always be at the highest point in a group of flags duly displayed by staff.
  • It should be displayed flat when without a staff or suspended for display without clinging to a staff. Put the unions over a street-facing North or East, depending on which direction the street faces.
  • The union should always be at the Flag’s top when placed on a building’s side when the Flag is displayed as projected from a building. A flag should be hoisted, union first, from a pole extending from a building when that Flag is suspended from a rope.
  • If there are flags from more than one state, city, or organization flown together, the United States should be at the top of the staff (except during church services at sea conducted by Navy chaplains).

The Correct Way to Dispose of an American Flag

  • As the Flag becomes too damaged to serve as an emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified and ceremonial way, preferably by burning.
  • Typically, every year on Flag Day (June 14), your local American Legion will conduct a ceremony to retire old or worn flags; if you cannot do so yourself, contact your local chapter. In addition, you could ask your Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts troops if they want to retire your Flag.