IntroSurprisingly, the origin of the United States national flag, the Stars and Stripes (also known as the Star-Spangled Banner, the Red, White, and Blue, and Old Glory), is somewhat obscure.
HistoryThe flag was officially adopted on June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress resolved "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." Its immediate predecessor, the Continental Colors, consisted of 13 horizontal red and white stripes that symbolized the 13 colonies represented in the Continental Congress, with the British Union Jack as a canton to indicate that the rebels were demanding the historic rights granted to British citizens. How and why stars were chosen to replace the Union Jack in the new flag is not known. Stars were uncommon in flags in that era, although the Stars and Stripes has since made them popular.
At the time of the national centennial in 1876, Americans liked the popular story about the young seamstress Betsy Ross, who supposedly sewed the first flag for George Washington. However, according to historical records, although she did make flags, there is no evidence that indicates she was involved in making or designing the first Stars and Stripes. Francis Hopkinson a popular patriot, a lawyer, a Congressman from New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, poet, artist, and distinguished civil servant was almost certainly the person who designed the first Stars and Stripes. Some facts about the flag:
- Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. The resolution stated: "Resolved: that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
- Act of January 13, 1794. The act provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars after May 1795.
- Act of April 4, 1818. The act provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state. A new star was to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state.
- Executive Order of President Taft dated June 24, 1912. The order established proportions for the flag and provided for arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each with a single point of each star to be upward.
- Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated January 3, 1959. The order provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically.
- Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated August 21, 1959. The order provided for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.
Many legal battles have been waged over the so-called desecration of the flag. For example, members of the Jehovah's Witness religious sect refuse on principle to salute the flag, and they have been prosecuted for it. Political protesters, such as those opposed to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, have tried to dramatize their cause by burning the flag or otherwise defacing it. In the late 1980s, the issue found its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that a protester who had burned the flag at the 1988 Republican National Convention was merely expressing free speech. The Court later ruled that a congressional law protecting the flag from desecration was unconstitutional. There is still a lot of debate about making it illegal to desecrate the flag.