The American Flag, an important part of our nation’s history. Two hundred and forty years ago during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and the “the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
The American Flag symbolizes times of triumph and crisis and it symbolizes our freedom as an American. The components that make up our current U.S. flag are:
The alternating red and white stripes symbolize colonial unity of the flag. It’s first use of these stripes may have been originated from the Sons of Liberty (The masterminds of the Boston Tea Party). In 1765, the Sons of Liberty began to protest the British governance of the colonies following the Stamp Act. They came up with a flag that looked similar to the stripes image show above, but with less stripes and could be displayed horizontally or vertically. These stripes may have been the reason for the stripes we now have on our U.S. flag today.
Fast forward to 1775, the beginning of the American Revolution an independence from the British Empire had not yet been declared. In the meantime the Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia when George Washington (from Virginia) came forth and volunteered to take command of the troops outside of Boston overlooking Boston Heights. When Washington left Philadelphia, he brought two important flags. The first flag was the Grand Union/Continental, similar to the Sons of Liberty flag, has alternating red and white strips but with 13 stripes to represent the thirteen colonies. Instead of a blue field of stars there is was a “Union Jack” because of the kings colors. The significance to this flag was that it represented we were fighting united with 13 colonies but still under British rule because at this point in time the colonials had not declared independence. The Second flag that Washington brought was the Washington Headquarters Flag much similar to the field of blue on our current U.S. Flag, its stars are in the pattern of the 3,2,3,2,3 pattern. Five rows of alternating stars of three stars, two stars, threes stars, two stars, two stars and three stars. These stars have six points unlike our five pointed stars on our flag today.
One year later, 1776, Congress declared Independence from Great Britain. From then on we fought for our Independence. It wasn’t until June 14, 1777 that congress passed the the first Flag Act. The 1st Act: was that the flag consist of 13 alternating stripes with red on white with 13 stars on a blue field to form a new constellation. However, there was no specification on how to display the stripes either vertically or horizontally, where the blue field should go, or the number of points on the stars.
Who designed the flag?
In 1776, the convenience of simply driving to a store to buy a flag was non-existent. The flags of 1776 were mostly for naval use and the only way to gain access to a flag was by a naval ships chandlery. The Chandler would have an upholsterer to sew the flag.
Betsy Ross vs. Francis Hopkinson and an Unpaid Bill
Betsy Ross was an upholsterer, who made flags for the Pennsylvania Navy and the New American Republic. Many believe she was the first to manufacture and design the first US flag. In 1870 Betsy Ross’s grandson, William Canby, addressed the Historical Society of Philadelphia where he proclaimed his grandmother met with Washington and others and was the one to design the flag. If Betsy Ross didn’t design the flag, it likely could have been Francis Hopkinson who some also believe could have been the first designer. Hopkinson represented New Jersey in the Continental Congress and he was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson helped contribute in designing many important symbols and seals for the United States in the nation’s infancy. Among them are the seal of New Jersey, the Continental Board of Admiralty seal, the seal of the American Philosophical Society, the Treasury seal and even the Great Seal of the United States.
In 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Board of Admiralty claiming he had designed the American flag. As compensation, he submitted a bill to Congress, and in it he requested a quarter cask of the public wine. The board forwarded this letter to Congress. A few weeks later, Hopkinson sent a new request to the Board of the Treasury, asking for 2,700 pounds ($3,985). The Treasury Board refused to pay the bill upon Hopkinson’s request, saying the flag was a collaborative effort and that Hopkinson was “not the only person” and it would be unfair to just pay him. Even though his request was denied, he was at least recognized for helping to design the first United States flag. Unfortunately, we may never be sure how much was done by Betsy Ross or Francis Hopkinson. The mystery still remains to this day along with the unpaid bill.
Regardless of these historical facts, the legend still lives on and the first flag of the Revolutionary period is known as the Betsy Ross flag. The pattern of the stars on the blue field currently has three names: the Betsy Ross pattern, the Philadelphia pattern, and the Single Wreath pattern. The blue field also has three names, the field, the canton and the union. All the way up until 1912, no one specified where the blue field should be placed on the flag or what the pattern of the stars should be finalized to look like or the number of points the stars should have. During this time many patterns were made of the US flag since no design was set into stone. The upholsters could sew the flag as they pleased. Below are some images of the flags made during this time.
Welcome Vermont, Kentucky and the 2nd Flag Act
After the Revolutionary war ended, the country developed and wrote a new Constitution. During this time we elected our first president, George Washington. In 1791 & 1792, we welcomed Vermont and Kentucky to our country. The birthing of these two states brought on the question of how to signify adding two new states to the union. So, this then brought on the second flag act. 2nd Act: Add One Star and One Stripe for Each New State.
After the war of 1812, we started to add more states again to our country. The more states added meant the more changed needed to be made. This started to make the design of the US flag unorganized and messy. So, as a result, in 1812, Congress passed the third Flag Act which stated 3rd Flag Act: The design is to go back to the original configuration of the 13 alternating stripes of red on white representing the 13 original colonies and add one star for each new state. However, just like before, there was no specification on the arrangement of the pattern or the amount of points of each star. Many variations of our US Flag was designed during this time.
Finally, in 1912, President Taft established the pattern of the stars that we know today. Taft required three things for this flag. First, all stars had to be five-pointed. Second, all stars had to be in horizontal rows and third, each star is to be pointed straight up and down.
For a more in depth read visit this wonderfully written Article from Providence Forum. Thank you for taking the time to read about the history of our flag and why we celebrate today, June 14th National Flag Day.
God Bless America!