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The U.S. Flag

Origin and Design

In the British colonies of North America before the Revolution, each of the 13 colonies had its flag. On Jan. 2, 1776, the first flag of the United States was raised at Cambridge, Mass., by George Washington. Known as the Grand Union flag, it consisted of 13 stripes, alternate red and white, with a blue canton bearing the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew. Congress, on June 14, 1777, enacted a resolution "that the Flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation." The story of Betsy Ross and the first flag is now somewhat discredited; official records have not confirmed that she was responsible for the design and making of the first flag.

On Jan. 13, 1794, Vermont and Kentucky having been admitted to the Union, Congress added a stripe and a star for each state. Congress in 1818 enacted that the 13 stripes, denoting the 13 original colonies, be restored and a star added to the blue canton for each state after its admission to the Union. All of the states and territories of the United States also have their own flags.

Rules for Display

In 1942 a law was passed by the U.S. Congress establishing specific rules for the display of the U.S. flag by civilians or groups previously not subject to U.S. governmental regulations. The intent of the law was to ensure that the U.S. flag be given a position of honor. In a procession the U.S. flag is carried on the military right of the column; in procession with other flags it is carried in front; with another flag on a wall, both flags with staffs, the U.S. flag is to the right with the U.S. flagstaff in front of the other; with other flags on the same halyard, the U.S. flag is on top, although an exception is made when the church pennant of the services is flown from the same staff; with two or more flags in line, the U.S. flag is at right; with a group of other flags on display where the bottoms of the staffs touch in fanlike fashion, the U.S. flag is displayed in the center. Although the U.S. flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset, through law or presidential proclamation it is flown both day and night at the following patriotic sites: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine, Md.; Flag House Square, Baltimore; United States Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial, Va.; and Battle Green, Lexington, Mass.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Political Science: Terms and Concepts


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