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The Meaning of the American Flag

By Edward White1434117600000

June 14, 2015, is Flag Day, a day set aside for Americans to commemorate the adoption of the “Stars and Stripes” by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, as our official national flag. (June 14, 2015, also happens to be the 240th birthday of the United States Army.)

Flag Day began to be celebrated in the late 1800s. The day was officially proclaimed an annual observance by an Act of Congress in 1949.

When the Continental Congress authorized the creation of our flag, the former thirteen colonies were represented by thirteen alternating red and white stripes and the new Union was represented by thirteen white stars on a blue field. As was explained by the House of Representatives in 1977, “the star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”

With the addition of new states to the Union, the number of stars on the flag gradually increased to its present number of fifty; a new star would be added to the blue field on the fourth of July after the date of each new state’s admission.

The number of alternating horizontal red and white stripes has remained at thirteen except from 1795 to 1818 when fifteen stripes appeared on the flag to note the admission of Kentucky and Vermont to the Union. In 1818, it was decided that adding a stripe to the flag for each new state would no longer occur, because it would make the flag unwieldy, and that the flag would go back to containing only thirteen stripes to represent the original colonies.

The reason the Continental Congress originally picked the red, white, and blue colors was not made clear in the resolution adopting the flag. Historians believe it was probably a color selection based on the British Union Jack, which had previously flown over the colonies.

The meaning of our three national colors became clear several years later when the Great Seal of the United States was revealed in 1782. White signifies purity and innocence. Red signifies hardiness and valor, and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

Over time, some have attributed slightly different meanings to the three colors, for example, the color red symbolizing the blood spilled to preserve our freedoms, but the essence of the original meaning has been fairly consistent since 1782.

Even though many Americans proudly fly the flag outside their homes and businesses every day, it is fitting that we, as a country, have set aside one specific day each year to honor our flag and to remember that it represents the ideals and values that we should strive to uphold.

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