Tradition, History, Pride – and Intrigue
The American Flag is rich with history, pride, and even intrigue. That’s why the United States Flag Code, and millions of patriots who try their best to publicize and enforce the rules, is adamantly vigilant in preserving the flag’s traditions of respect. These traditions are what give the flag itself it’s substance and what make it a strengthening symbol of hope for many. The flag is so important in this regard, to the point that it is not only regarded during life, but even used as a comforting symbol after death – which is most noted when adorning the many monuments and gravestones for veterans. Observing the myriad of rules surrounding the flag can sometimes be a chore — or even, occasionally, unpopular — but the rules are as much a part of the flag as the design itself. If the rules are so important, then, it is important to understand the traditions and history behind them, and the flag itself. In that spirit, we have below compiled a few of the more interesting and important facts about the history of the American flag.
The American Flag has changed dramatically over the years, but the current design has its roots in one of the first battles of the American Revolution. While fighting British troops who had invaded Boston on January 1, 1776, the United States’ newly commissioned general George Washington ordered a revised version of the British Flag to be flown over his camp. This flag showed the traditional British “Union Jack” design in the top right hand corner (where the stars are in today’s flag), and the famous 13 stripes (representing the 13 American colonies) appeared right for the first time. The designer and maker of this flag is unknown (it was not Betsy Ross, who only modified this overall design by adding the blue background and white stars to her famous version of the flag sewn a few months later). This flag, coming of age as it did at the very start of the Revolutionary War, and being flown by the first commissioned American general, can be said to be, arguably, the first “official” American Flag.
But that flag, known as the Grand Union, was not the first flag to be flown by American soldiers. In skirmishes with British troops before the 1776 siege of Boston, Americans flew a number of flags aimed at rallying morale. The most famous of these pictures a deadly snake on a red background with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” That flag was intended as a message for the British to, simply, leave Americans alone or face deadly consequences.
Because Americans were determined to separate entirely from England, the Grand Union’s use of the British Union Jack did not seem entirely appropriate as the Revolutionary War took full hold throughout 1776. So Betsy Ross’s design does away entirely with that feature and replaces it with the famous stars. Congress formally adopted Ross’s design in early 1777 and it became an American icon until 1794 when new states began entering the Union. Congress modified the design of the flag in that year to add two new stars and two new stripes. Then, in 1818, when even more states began coming aboard, Congress made the last major revision of the design: The flag would have 13 stripes again to represent the original colonies, but, with each new state’s arrival, the design would add an additional star.
That tradition has held since, with only very minor modifications (such as the arrangement and position of the stars) being made since then.
In 1960, Congress and President Eisenhower agreed to add what has become the last star to the flag. While the colors of the American Flag are well known, they didn’t actually have an exact meaning until this time. They also formally adopted words for which all three colors are said to represent: red symbolizes Hardiness and Valor, white symbolizes Purity and Innocence and blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.
There have been no congressional or presidential proposals since 1960 to further change the design of the flag, and tradition holds that none are likely to be presented unless a new state is added to the Union. Private groups on occasion, have made attempts to convince elected officials to change the flag, but none have attracted serious consideration. One of the most recent of these campaigns is being led by a group of Christians who are eager to add the word “God” on a white background to the top of the flag’s current design.