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The U.S. Flag — The Star-Spangled Banner

US Flag at the New York Stock Exchange Building
US Flag at the New York Stock Exchange Building

Related content: U.S. Constitution: 1787-1789 | United States Bill of Rights: 1789-91 | Declaration of Independence: 1776

Related Content: U.S. National Anthem – The Star Spangled Banner

History of the United States Flag

There were some flag designs before the American colonies became independent on July 4th, 1776. An independence activists group called the Sons of Liberty used a flag with 13 alternating red and white stripes in 1775 which should represent the unity of the colonies. A Massachusetts Navy War Flag showed the New England Pine where nowadays the stars are. The so-called Grand Union Flag, a.k.a. Continental flag of 1776 had the British Union Jack in the upper left corner and the 13 stripes.

It was not before June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, which introduced the Flag of the new nation as a flag with thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white stars on a blue field in the upper left corner. The first design was named after Congressman Francis Hopkinson. However, there are different opnions about if the stars were shown as a ring of stars or ordered in rows. The 13 represented states were: DE, PA, NJ, GA, CT, MA, MD, SC, NH, VA, NY, NC, RI.

The 13 stripes for the original states remain part of the U.S. flag until today. However there was one flag that had more: The flag used during the conflict with England from 1812-1815. This flag was the only 15 star/15 Stripes flag and the one that has flown over Fort McHenry (Baltimore) when British ships attacked. This specific flag triggered an even more interesting event. Francis Scott Key, who signs responsible for the text of the National Anthem, was inspired by this flag when he saw it the morning after the bombardment still flying over Fort McHenry.

1775 Sons of Liberty Flag — The Sons of Liberty – activists in the defense of American rights – used the flag with 13 horizontal stripes to represent the unity of the colonies. This flag probably inspired that of the Old Glory. The colors come from the English flag.

1775 New England Flag — George Washington’s secretary, Col. Joseph Reed, suggested that all American ships fly the Massachusetts Navy flag. The Americanized version of the flag shows the New England Pine as a regional symbol.

1776 Continental Flag or Grand Union During the first years of the revolution, the British Union Jack on this first national flag was a clear statement. As subjects of the king, the colonists fought until they proclaimed their independence in July 1776.

1777 Francis Hopkinson Flag Congress member Francis Hopkinson designed the first Stars and Stripes. In his design, the stars may have been shaped as a line or ring, the clear design is not known. A decision of 14 June 1777 stipulated that they should represent a new constellation. The 13 states were DE, PA, NJ, GA, CT, MA, MD, SC, NH, VA, NY, NC, RI.

1803 Indian Peace Flag This flag was presented to peacefully minded Indian tribes. In addition, there were usually guest gifts.

1814 Star-Spangled Banner This was the 15-Star/15 Stripes version of the flag that flew in the war in 1814 when Fort McHenry (Baltimore) came under British fire. Francis Scott Key was encouraged by these Stars and Stripes to write down the words that later flowed into the national anthem.

1820 Bennington Flag Contrary to other assumptions that this was the war flag of the Vermont military in the Schlach near Bennington (1777), it is now assumed that it was designed much later, perhaps in 1826 on the occasion of 50 years of independence. The original is on display at the museum in Bennington, Vermont.

1837 Great Star Flag In the 19th century, this design, which was arranged in the form of a star according to a proposal by Capt. Samuel Reid (war veteran of the 1812 war), was widely used. According to a 1818 determination, no more than 13 stripes should be used and one star for each state.

1847 29-Star Flag From 1845, a new pattern of stars became the quasi-standard. The arrangement of the star’s in diamond shape should make it easier to add new stars. The 29th state was Iowa.

1861 Fort Sumter Flag This flag flew over Charleston’s Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, when the Civil War began. More than 500,000 men on both sides died before the same flag was hoisted there again in 1865.

1876 Centennial Flag Americans celebrated the centenary with renewed confidence in a nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The unofficial flag, which reflects the patriotic spirit, testifies that Old Glory has always belonged to the people.

1877 38 Star Flag The striking pattern of this 1877 design implies a star for the state of Colorado, which was added as the 38th state on August 1, 1867. Until 1912, when the stars in rows became the norm, the flag makers could give free rein to their inventiveness to accommodate new stars.

1912 48 Star Flag This version of the Old Glory was the official flag from 1912-1959, the longest period with the star pattern with this arrangement. The Americans saluted this flag during the 2 World Wars, the growth decades and the Great Depression.

1960 50 Star Flag When the 50 star for Hawaii was added on July 4, 1960, today’s flag was born The US flag stands for the Constitution and the American Way of Life, as well as for the successes of the past and the dreams of the future.

U.S. Code: The Flag of the U.S.A.

The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.

If you are interested in more information about the flag, e.g. when to display, etc., or everything else the United States Code constitutes, visit the Link below to the official U.S. Code Edition.

TITLE 4–FLAG AND SEAL, SEAT OF GOVERNMENT, AND THE STATES
CHAPTER 1–THE FLAG
Sec. 7. Position and manner of display

The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag’s own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.

(a) The flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff, or as provided in subsection (i) of this section.

(b) The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.

(c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.

(d) The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag’s own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.

(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.

(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

(h) When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.

(i) When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.

(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.

(k) When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.

(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff. The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection–

(1) the term ”half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff;
(2) the term ”executive or military department” means any agency listed under sections 101 and 102 of title 5, United States Code; and
(3) the term ”Member of Congress” means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer’s left upon entering. If the building has more than one main entrance, the flag should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north, when entrances are to the east and west or to the east when entrances are to the north and south. If there are entrances in more than two directions, the union should be to the east.

Web: OLRC Home (house.gov) — Look for Title 4, Chapter 1 (The Flag)

Folding the U.S. Flag

U.S. Flag Folding Sketch
U.S. Flag Folding Sketch
Correct U.S. Flag Folding [source: Department of Veterans Affairs;  va.gov]
Correct U.S. Flag Folding [source: Department of Veterans Affairs; va.gov]

The flag folding ceremony described by the Uniformed Services is a dramatic and uplifting way to honor the flag on special days, like Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Here is the sequence of events:

PRELUDE:

The flag folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our country was originally founded (begin reading as the Honor Guard is coming forward (if performing)). The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing the states our veterans served in uniform. The canton field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted when draped as a pall on a casket of a veteran who has served our country honorably in uniform.

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.

PAUSE….

Wait for the Honor Guard (if performing) to unravel and fold the flag into a quarter fold — resume reading when Honor Guard is standing ready.

BODY:

The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.
The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on mother’s day.
The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.” PAUSE:

Wait for the Honor Guard (if performing) to inspect the flag — after the inspection resume reading.

POSTLUDE:

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.
(Information by 622nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron)

National Anthem

Star Spangled Banner, music sheet [Library of Congress]
Star Spangled Banner, music sheet [Library of Congress]

Related Content: U.S. National Anthem – The Star Spangled Banner

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