A Brief History of the U.S. Flag and Flag Day
Why does the US have a holiday specifically celebrating our flag? Couldn’t we just celebrate the flag on the same day we celebrate our independence?
The reason the US has a Flag Day is that the American flag is symbolic of our nation’s history and people. The flag stands for American virtues such as bravery, pride, and freedom. And although Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, there are still plenty of ceremonies that take place around the country. The flag is our nation’s most notable emblem, so it is important to know where it came from and how to correctly display it.
There is some slight controversy surrounding the origins of the US flag because it is not known exactly who came up with the original design. Congressman Francis Hopkinson or Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross are generally credited with creating the original concept. No official US flag was in place until June 14, 1777 when the Second Continental Congress passed the First Flag Act. This act established an official American flag and went as follows “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Aside from these specifications, there were no guidelines for the dimensions of the flag, the size of stars and stripes, or how the stars were to be arranged. This meant there were a lot of flags that slightly differed from each other for a long time. In 1912, President Taft signed an Executive Order establishing official flag proportions and specifying the arrangement of the stars. Similarly, there are now several laws indicating how the US flag should be displayed, but these regulations didn’t exist until 1923.
The idea to have a day strictly celebrating our flag did not come about until over 100 years later. It was thought up by schooolteacher BJ Cigrand in Fredonia, Wisconsin in 1885. Cigrand arranged for his students to observe June 14 as ‘Flag Birthday’. Much of the country then followed in Cigrand’s footsteps and began to celebrate June 14 as Flag Day. In 1889, the State Board of Education in New York recognized June 14 as Flag Day after a kindergarten teacher in New York City planned various ceremonies for his students in observance of the day. Ceremonies held on June 14 to honor the flag began to spread across the country and on August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.
Flying the American flag is a symbol of American patriotism and honor for those who have served our country. Therefore, flying it in the proper ways is critical. The number of rules and regulations regarding when and how the flag is to be flown can be tough to remember. These regulations are laid out in the US Flag Code. This code specifies how the flag should be displayed in various circumstances, how and when to raise/lower it, and what never to do with it. The Flag Code also specifies which organizations are to always display the flag. These include public institutions, polling places on election days, and schools/universities. Below are some of the major rules laid out in the Flag Code.
- The flag should be displayed daily, except in cases of inclement weather.
- The flag should be flown from sunrise to sunset.
- If flown at night, the flag must be properly illuminated for all hours of the night.
- When raising or lowering the flag, it should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
- The flag should always be flown with the union (stars in blue field) at the peak, unless at half-staff.
- When flown with other flags that are not national flags, the US flag should be higher than the rest, larger than all other flags, and must be the the first flag raised and the last flag lowered.
- When flown with other national flags, all flags must be flown from separate poles of the same height.
- In mourning, the flag is to be raised to the peak for a moment, then placed halfway between top and bottom of the staff.
- When a flag becomes too worn to continue flying, it should be destroyed in a respectable manner, preferably by burning.
- Never should the flag be dipped to any person or thing.
- The flag should never be used as a drapery or for covering a speaker’s desk.
- The flag should never be used for any advertising purposes.
- No mark should ever be placed upon the flag.
- The flag may not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform.
- Never should the flag be fastened or tied down.
- The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, carrying, holding, or delivering anything.
- No part of the flag should ever touch the ground.
- The flag should is not to be flown upside down unless in cases of distress or emergency.
Flag Day is an important day to remember and honor those who have helped to make our country what it is today. It provides a fantastic opportunity to display your patriotism for our country and troops. Make sure you are following the Flag Code procedures in order to correctly display and respect our nation’s flag.
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