The Fourth of July is coming around again and it’s time to visit the attic to find your flag. In 2012, it’s especially important for the patriotic fervor to rise and boil again with a fevered pitch. The country has been buffeted by economic woes and mired in unending wars that have produced dubious results. By displaying “Old Glory”, it is hoped that Americans, of all races, colors, and creeds will look back to the roots of the country to find the bedrock principles that will lead us into the future.
The Grand Union Flag
The flag that we know today is the culmination of years of evolution, frequently changing as the country grew from the rebellious thirteen colonies to the incredible nation of states and territories, whose influence is felt around the globe.The Declaration of Independence announced to the world that the colonies were united in their struggle for freedom from the empire of Great Britain. Just as the Articles of Confederation were a temporary document that would be replaced by the Constitution, a temporary flag was adopted by the country. The readily available Union Jack of the British Empire was confiscated and altered with the addition of thirteen red and white stripes to represent the colonies. George Washington used this banner to rally his Continental Army so it is sometimes known as the Continental Flag.
The Thirteen Star Flag
This was the first official flag adopted on June 14, 1777 which featured 13 five pointed stars on the blue field which was known as the “union”. The design is credited to Congressman Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey. He was a respected civil servant who signed the Declaration of Independence as well as a poet and artist who took it upon himself to create motifs and symbols for uses on official documents, money and even the Great Seal. His efforts to get paid for his creations are listed in the documents of the Continental Congress. Although he never got any cash, the entries assured he did get the credit.
The Betsy Ross Flag
During the first year of the American Revolution, there was no “official” American flag. There were many homemade versions that united the ragtag militias that were organized to fight for independence. The most popular banner from that home spun effort was by far the red ,white, and blue union with a circle of 13- five pointed stars that later became known as the Betsy Ross flag.
Betsy and George Washington are part of the mythology of the country, although there are now doubts about the authenticity of that story. The legend of Betsy Ross did not emerge until almost 100 years after the Revolution and was presented by one of her procrastinating offspring. There is no evidence from George Washington’s papers that he commissioned the flag design from Mrs. Ross. As the saying goes, when the facts don’t match the mythology, print the legend.
The Fifteen Star and Fifteen Stripes Flag
In 1795, Kentucky and Vermont were admitted to the Union and this flag was adapted to reflect the growing country. This was the banner flown at Fort McHenry in 1814 as part of the critical struggle known as the War of 1812. This battle was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner.” The young country found itself at odds with the British Empire in a war that saw Washington DC burned and almost destroyed, except for the miracle ascribed as an act of God..Tornadoes and a hurricane storm drove the British back to their ships and splashed buckets of rain onto the smoldering Capitol. Much of the neoclassical architecture commissioned by Thomas Jefferson lay in ruins.
(Here’s a link to my previous article about that historic event.)
As more states entered the Union , the number of stripes were reduced back to the original 13 to represent the founding colonies. The stars were added in various geometric patterns to reflect the evolution and growth of the country. From each phase of growth, there were many variations. All are counted as official versions that may still be properly flown today. With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the fold, the flag reached the full glory that we know today.
So let’s make this Fourth of July a holiday that will be remembered. Think about the true patriots who believed in the Constitution and fought to preserve and maintain the ideas that created the great country that we inherited. Old Glory is a symbol for a unique family of people and about a lofty aspiration that must be renewed and cherished.