A Brief History of the American Flag

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A Brief History of the American Flag. Learn about our flag, its fascinating beginnings, and its symbolism in this brief history of our most enduring symbols.

history of the flag, 4th of julyI pledge Allegiance to the flag,
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic,
for which it stands,
one nation under God,
with Liberty, and Justice for all

Congress first authorized the United States Flag on June 14, 1777, the day we currently celebrate Flag Day in America. This date is also significant in that it qualifies our flag as the third oldest of the National Standards of the world, even older than Britain's Union Jack.

First flown from Fort Stanwix, on the site of the present city of Rome, New York, on August 3, 1777, the flag had a tumultuous beginning, going through the Battle of Oriskany when it was only three days old on August 6, 1777.

The flag's original design called for a star and a stripe for each state, making thirteen of each, to correspond to the original thirteen colonies. In 1791, Vermont was admitted to the union, followed by Kentucky in 1792. The number of stars and stripes was accordingly raised to fifteen. As other states joined, it was clear something would have to be done about the ever-expanding flag. An act of Congress in 1818 reduced and restricted the number of stripes on the flag to thirteen. A star would be added for each new state.

The individual stars depicting the states represent the power of our Federal Constitution, which reserves to the States their individual sovereignty, except as to rights delegated by them to the Federal Government.

George Washington said of the flag's symbolism, "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."