The History of the American Flag

All of the exciting pomp and circumstance of the 4th of July tends to overshadow the other significant dates in American history that it surrounds. For example, the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 2, it’s ratification on July 4 was a mere technicality. Then there’s June 14, the date in 1777 when the flag of the United States was adopted, per a resolution by the Second Continental Congress. Over the years, as times have changed in the United States and population has grown, the significance of the American flag has also adapted and evolved.

Known as the “Grand Union Flag,” the first flag flown by our fledgling nation when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 contained the 13 red and white stripes which continue to remain part of the flag today. Yet, instead of the field of blue which now contains a star for each of the 50 states, this flag used the British ensign.

When the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, the flag described in the resolution contained “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white… thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” The colors each maintain their own symbolism: red for hardiness and valor; white for purity and innocence; blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

Through the years, the American flag has gone through a series of changes and redesigns. Around the same time that the Flag Resolution was passed, another iteration of the flag was born. This one retained all the elements of the previous design, but instead the stars were configured in a circle. This flag is known by many as the “Betsy Ross flag”, despite their being no actual evidence to either support or refute that Ross designed the flag.

When Vermont and Kentucky entered the union in 1795, the flag was revised to include 15 stars and stripes. This version of the flag was the one which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” known later of course as “The Star Spangled Banner.”  As more states were admitted into the Union, it was thought that constant revisions of the flag would cause too much clutter.

It was in 1818 that the current iteration of the flag began to truly take shape. The flag was shortened back to its’ original 13 stripes and included 20 stars. Furthermore, it directed that new flag designs take effect on July 4, following the admission of new states to the Union. The current iteration of the flag with 50 stars took effect in 1960 after Hawaii became the 50th  state in August of 1959.

Since 1959, the current design of the American flag has remained the same. This makes it the longest flag design to be used in the history of the United States. While there are no plans on the horizon to make any changes to the flag, Puerto Rico may, after all these years finally become a U.S. state, which would warrant a redesign!

Posted on June 10 2019 in Blog

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