The American Flag

Today’s post, in honor of Flag Day, comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlights the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)
Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlighted the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles, June 14, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the National Flag of the United States of America. Through its many changes and iterations, the American flag has come to represent the physical geography of the nation by including as many stars as states, as well as a remembrance of the nation’s origins as seen in the 13 red and white stripes.

The American flag also serves as a reminder of what America and her citizens represent: liberty, equality, and justice.

Designed by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the flag was originally intended to be used as a naval sign. However, growing nationalism around the world during the 18th century led many countries to establish a national flag, the United States included. It is unclear how or why Congress selected Hopkinson’s design for this honor.

The involvement of Betsy Ross in the design and creation of the first American flag is largely fictitious. It is likely that her grandson, William J. Canby, developed the story in the 1870s and that her only connection to the American flag was as a Philadelphia flag maker who sewed flags and banners for the United States military.

President Woodrow Wilson officially established June 14 as Flag Day in 1916. He issued a proclamation encouraging all Americans to “rededicate ourselves to the nation, ‘one and inseparable’ . . .  and in which we shall stand with united hearts.”

Following 1916, Flag Day was unofficially observed every year. It wasn’t until 1949 that Congress passed a law requiring the President to give an annual Flag Day Proclamation, encouraging Americans to honor the American flag during the week of June 14 by displaying it publicly.

Despite a requirement that all Federal Government buildings display the American flag on Flag Day, it is not an official Federal holiday. Several states have declared June 14 to be a state holiday, however, prompting communities across the nation to celebrate with parades and other events that commemorate the flag and what it stands for.

This year’s Flag Day Proclamation will designate June 14, 2015, to be Flag Day and National Flag Week to be June 14 until June 20, 2015.

2 thoughts on “The American Flag

  1. The fifty stars on the Wartime US Flag is incorrect as they don’t include Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. See as follows: Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory has its unique set of advantages and limitations. While Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and lack voting representation in Congress. This distinction sets Puerto Rico apart from the rest of the states and territories in the United States.

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