Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Flag Day
by Gabriella True

The American Flag is more than simply Stars and Stripes sewn together in Red, White and Blue. It is a sacred emblem of our country, the United States of America. It carries the history of America in those Stars and Stripes. In that history is our freedom, liberty, courage, bloodshed, popular sovereignty, and patriotism. It was created during our fight for freedom in which we gained national independence and a democratic government. It embodies the spirit of America.

On June 14, 1777 the Stars and Stripes flag was adopted as the new American Flag. The Union Jack was completely removed from the flag from that day forward. America was an independent nation from England and no longer wanted the symbol of England on their flag.

Since 1777, there have been many changes to the American Flag but it is still the Stars and Stripes. Originally, the flag was to have a star and stripe for each state. But as the number of states that entered the Union increased, it became evident that this would not be possible. So, in 1818 Congress decided that the number of stripes should be 13 to represent the original 13 colonies. An additional star would be added with each succeeding state. Thus, two stripes were removed from the flag because Vermont in 1791 and Kentucky in 1792 had been admitted to the Union and they were not among the 13 colonies. In 1960, the last star was added to mark that Alaska had joined in the Nation. Now there are 13 stripes (one for each original colony) and 50 stars (one for each state).

Flag Day celebrates the birth of the American Flag; June 14, 1777. BJ Cigrand, a teacher in Fredonia Wisconsin, organized a Flag Birthday celebration for her students on June 14th, 1885. After that year, Cigrand wrote several articles to newspapers advocating that Flag Day be observed nationally. On June 14, 1889, George Balch also organized a Flag Day for his students. Later that year the State Board of Education of New York decided that Flag Day would be celebrated every year in New York State in all schools. Two years later, on June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia celebrated Flag Day. In 1893, Colonel J. Granville Leach, historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution and the Colonial Dames of America put forth a proposition that the school children of Pennsylvania celebrate Flag Day too. Their proposition was successful and every child was given a small flag to carry during the school day. Chicago soon followed suit and celebrated Flag Day in its schools in 1894. Also in 1894, the governor of New York decreed that the Flag should be displayed on all public buildings on June 14th. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill to request that Flag Day become a national holiday to be celebrated every year on June 14th. On August 3rd, 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress that decreed June 14th as the national Flag Day.

Elizabeth Griscom Ross (1752-1836), otherwise known as Betsy Ross, is the mythological designer of the American Flag. But, like many stories associated with our first President, George Washington, they are simply that, stories and not factual histories. Betsy Ross and George Washington did definitely know each other. She was a seamstress in Philadelphia and lived near the State House on Chestnut Street. She often sewed the ruffles onto his shirts and more than likely did sew an American Flag or two. But she neither designed the flag nor sewed the first one. The Betsy Ross is as follows. In 1776, George Washington was the General of the Continental Army. He brought two members of the Continental Congress, Robert Morris and Colonel Ross, with him to her house in Philadelphia. The three men had brought with them a rough sketch of a flag. The flag included 6 pointed stars. But Mary suggested that the stars have five points instead because she would be able to cut them more easily.

Her grandson William J. Canby popularized this myth during a meeting of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870. Then in 1909, William Canby's brother George Canby and his nephew Lloyd Balderson wrote the book, The Evolution of the American Flag and continued the myth. Adding to the interest in Betsy Ross, Charles H. Weisgerber painted the famous image of the 'Birth Of Our Nation's Flag' depicting the mythological meeting of Betsy Ross and George Washington. It was exhibited in 1893 at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago. It created even more interest in Betsy Ross. And soon there was a campaign to save the Betsy Ross house. To raise money, a subscription was sold to people for 10 cents apiece and in return the subscriber would receive a reproduction of the now famous painting by Weisgerber, her house and her grave along with a lifetime membership into the Betsy Ross society.

Francis Hopkinson was the actual designer of the first Stars and Stripes American Flag. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a New Jersey Congressman. In 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Board of Admiralty requesting payment for his design since it was being used on the flag and on many other official seals and papers. The Board forwarded the letter to Congress. Congress said that the bill was acceptable and they passed it on to the Board of Treasury for payment. After many years and many investigations led by Congress, the Treasury actually never paid Hopkinson much to his chagrin and the Continental Congress. The Treasury said that Hopkinson as a high paid member of the Congress should be willing to give extra services to the nation for no added cost. But they never did deny that he was the original designer of the Stars and Stripes.

It is thought that George Washington said that "we take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty." But, there are many anecdotes about George Washington, like the cherry tree, and this just maybe one of them. The House of Representatives published the book Our Flag in 1989. They said that when the flag was adopted in 1777, the colors of the flag did not hold any specific meanings. But a year prior, on July 4, 1776, Congress began to create an American Great Seal. Like most resolutions, they take a very long time to pass and the Great Seal was not officially passed until 1782. The Great Seal's colors did have designated meanings however. So, Congress most likely did start thinking about the colors that would be used in the Great Seal and what they would symbolize. The same colors that are used in the Great Seal are used in the American Flag. And, the colors do hold the same meaning today, whether or not this was the original intention. The red in the American Flag symbolizes the courage and honor that Americans have that enable them to face danger in times of defending the United States of America. The white in the American Flag is a symbol for purity. This purity is an emblem of America's liberty and equality. The blue in the American Flag is emblematic of heaven and thus signifies justice, faith, and loyalty. The star is a symbol of the heavens. The star also is emblematic of the sovereignty of each state in the Union. Each state has its own star and sovereignty within the Federal Government. The Stripes symbolize the rays of light coming from the sun.

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