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American Flag History

The National Flag
The Origin of The Stars and Stripes
Flags of the Confederate States
The President's Standard

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The National Flag

The National Flag of the United States of America, which is also the Ensign and the Merchant Flag, is known as "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Old Glory", or the "Stars and Stripes". The stars, white on blue, in the canton, represent the number of States forming the Union; this is now fifty, in nine alternate rows of six and five. The thirteen red and white stripes in the fly represent the original states from which the Union grew.

The U. S. Jack, sometimes called the "Union" and sometimes even the "Union Jack", is identical with the canton. The Warship Pennant bears seven stars, white on blue, at the head; for the rest of its length it is divided horizontally, red over white, and it ends in a long "swallow-tail".

The display of the Stars and Stripes is strictly regulated by the Flag Code. Except where for special reasons, as at the Capital, it is kept flying day and night, it is flown only during the hours of daylight. Solely as a signal of dire distress is it to be inverted, and no other flag, except during Divine Service, the Naval Church Pennant (a blue Latin Cross placed horizontally on a white field), may be flown above it. When the National flag is ceremonially paraded or hoisted or lowered, all present must face it and stand to attention: those in uniform salute, others place the right hand over the heart, men holding the hat in the right hand. Foreigners, however, should stand to attention. On suitable occasions the Pledge to the Flag is to be repeated:

I 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.

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The Origin of The Stars and Stripes

When the American colonists rose in armed protest against the British Government, the emblem they first adopted signified both their unity and the loyalty, which they still retained towards the Mother Country. Their Great Union Flag, also known as the Congress Flag and the Cambridge Flag, bore thirteen red and white stripes, but the contemporary British Union Flag formed its canton. This was similar to the flag of the East India Company, but whether it was deliberately adopted from this is unknown. When, however, the Americans decided on a complete severance from Britain, they needed a new flag to symbolize their independence. While retaining the thirteen stripes in the fly, they replaced the Union in the canton by "thirteen stars white on a blue field representing a new constellation". The exact arrangement of the stars in the first American Flag is uncertain, but it is reputed to have been a circle so that one should have no precedence over the other. Many may refer to this style as the Betsy Ross flag.  

As new States were admitted to the Union, the number of Stars and Stripes was increased accordingly, and during the second Anglo-American war the flag displayed fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It was the sight of this "Star-Spangled Banner" still flying, after a night's bombardment, over fort McHenry "in the dawn's early light" which led Francis Scott Key to compose what became the National Anthem of the United States. The increase in the number of stripes threatened however to destroy the flag's effectiveness. So, in 1818, congress decided to revert to the original thirteen stripes but to indicate the admission of a new State by displaying an additional white star in the canton.

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Flags of the Confederate States

During the Civil War the Southern Confederacy adopted a new flag which, while differing markedly from the Stars and Stripes, still generally resembled it in design. The Stars and Bars bore in its blue canton a circle of seven white stars symbolizing the first States to secede from the Union, but merged the red and white of the fly into a bold tricolor. This flag was found to resemble the Stars and Stripes too closely, and was therefore replaced by an emblem, which retained the traditional American colors but arranged them very differently. The Southern Cross, the Confederate Battle Flag, displayed thirteen white stars on a blue saltire, fimbriated in white, on a red field. As this could not be inverted in case of need as a flag of distress, it later formed the canton of a flag with a white field; then, lest this be mistaken for a flag of truce, a broad red stripe was added down its fly. The original Southern Cross is still used, unofficially, as the "Flag of the South".

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The President's Standard

The standard of the President of the United States is dark blue and bears, with in a circle of stars, one for each state, a replica of the design on the Presidential Seal. The American Eagle is shown with its head turned towards its right talon, which holds an olive branch, while the left talon holds a bundle of arrows - the emblems of peace and war. Above and beside the head are thirteen white stars, representing the Founder States of the Union, and a scroll bears the motto E Pluibus Unum, " One out of Many".

 

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