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San Clemente Journal

~ The Symbol of Freedom ~ Long May It Wave

May 05, 2005 02:13PM ● By Don Kindred

By Anne Batty

1700s – The Liberty Flag is designed, consisting of 13 stripes, seven reds, and six whites.

Late 1700s – The Liberty Flag changes with the addition of a rattlesnake and the inscription, “Don’t Tread On Me.” 

1775 – The Grand Union Flag is designed with a miniaturized Union Jack symbol and 13 red and white stripes.

1776 - The first Official American Flag is designed with 13 stars and stripes representing the 13 ºcolonies. 

1795 – The addition of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union expands the flag to 15 stars and stripes. This pennant inspires Francis Scott Key 
to write his famous poem the “Star-
Spangled Banner,” which eventually becomes the national anthem. 

1959 – The last two states admitted to the Union, Hawaii and Alaska make a 50 star flag, which is the 28th version of the American Flag.

    The American Flag. Just a mere piece of cloth tied to a pole furling gracefully in the breeze, yet it brings bumps to the flesh, tears to the eyes and swells chests with pride. 
    Known by many names, Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the Star-Spangled Banner, it is the emblem of our country, representing everything we stand for, the land, the people and the government of these United States. Its presence reminds us of our freedom and its cost to the brave men and women who have willingly given their all to seek and preserve our rights. 
    This beloved banner has a history dating back to the 1700s, a time when adventurous men and women braved the treacherous ocean waves in search of a land where they could be free. And it was this bid to be free, created by colonists known as the Sons of Liberty, which was symbolized in the first flag to represent the 13 United American Colonies. This original symbol of freedom was called the Liberty Flag, and consisted simply of a rectangular cloth emblazoned with seven red and six white stripes. Later, to further emphasize a freedom from taxation by England, a rattlesnake was added with the inscription, “Don’t Tread On me.” (A warning to the British monarchy not to abuse the colonists’ rights.)
    In 1775, Benjamin Franklin suggested a new pennon be designed. The new design placed a miniaturized Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner (copied from the symbol on the first official flag of Great Britain), while the rest of the banner retained the 13 horizontal red and white stripes from the original Liberty Flag. This new banner was named the Grand Union Flag and was flown in battle by American ships until July of 1776.
    On June 14, 1777, Congress passed the first law regarding an official American Flag. The law stated that this pennant would have 13 red and white stripes and 13 white stars on a blue background. These 13 stars and stripes would stand for the 13 colonies. No rules were made about how many points the stars should have, some had five, others had six. Neither was the arrangement of the stars specified in the act by Congress, a few were set in circles, some in rows. The same held true for the stripes. Though the 13 stripes were originally seven reds and six whites, a certain number of the new banners reversed those numbers. Since there were no set rules, there were many versions of the official American Flag flying in those early colonial times.
    In 1795 Vermont and Kentucky joined the Union and the colonies were then 15. A new emblem was made with 15 stars and stripes to represent these added states. But by 1818 congress realized that adding a star and stripe for each new state would make the flag much too large. At the suggestion of a representative from New York, Peter Wendover, it was decreed the number of stripes be set at 13 to represent the original colonies, while only the stars would multiply to represent each new state admitted to the Union. So on April 4, 1818, congress passed the third flag act of the United States agreeing that whenever a state was added to the Union another star would be added, and a new pennon would fly on the Fourth of July following that state’s admission. 
    By 1912 with 48 states in the Union, President William Howard Taft decided more exact standards for the flag were needed, and he urged Congress to designate that the stars be uniformly placed in six rows of eight stars. Then, with the addition of Hawaii and Alaska in 1959 and 1960, more exact specifications were instated, as the rows were slightly staggered to accommodate the 50 states. 


Flag-Maker Myths
Many legends surround the making of the first official American Flag, but no one is absolutely sure about its true designer.

The Betsy Ross Story
The tale has been told that George Washington and two other men went to the home of Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross in Philadelphia in June 1776 to ask her to make a new flag for the United States. It is said she looked at the sketches and changed only one thing, the number of points on the stars from six to five. This well-known tale about Betsy Ross’ meeting with George Washington and the making of the first official banner is very popular in American literature. Although Ross was a flag-maker, most historians doubt the truth of this story. Records do show, however, that Ross was paid for making a pennant for the Pennsylvania navy in May of 1777.

The Francis Hopkinson Myth
A New Jersey man and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson, claimed he made the first Stars and Stripes. Many flag historians say that Hopkinson had very little or no part in its designing, but it is thought that one idea did come from a book found in Hopkinson’s library. In that book was a bookplate on which the owner could imprint his name. On the bookplate was Hopkinson’s family seal or coat of arms. In the center of the seal were three six-pointed stars. It is said that from this bookplate the idea for the stars on Old Glory was born. b

Meaningful Colors and Stars
There are many differing definitions for the colors chosen for the American Flag, all of them worthy:

For the United States Marine Corps the colors mean:
Red for valor, zeal and fervency. 
White for hope purity, cleanliness of life and rectitude of conduct. 
Blue for reverence to God, the color of heaven, loyalty, sincerity, justice and truth.

Also for the USMC, the stars on the flag (ancient symbols of India, Persia and Egypt) symbolize: Dominion and sovereignty, as well as lofty aspirations. 
The constellation of the stars, one star for each state, is emblematic of the Federal Constitution, which reserves the states’ individual sovereignty except as to rights delegated by the Federal Government. The only known mention of colors by the government and lawmakers is from a report to the Continental Congress by its secretary, Charles Thomson. His explanation of the colors said:
Red represented hardiness and valor.
White signified purity and innocence.
And Blue indicated vigilance, perseverance and justice.

For the early American colonists the colors symbolized:
Red for courage.
White for purity or goodness
And Blue for justice

And some writers have said:
Red stands for the blood that so many Americans have shed fighting for this country.
White is a symbol of loyalty.
And Blue is for unity - 50 states and millions of people bound together as one nation.