Three Times Is the Flag’s Charm

It was evident to all those on the battlefield and in the Continental Congress during the American Revolution that a distinctive flag was needed. The design had to be unique and distinctive to be easily distinguishable on the battlefield and represented all Thirteen Colonies.

When the act was passed, the most common flag was an odd design due to our British forefathers, i.e., it had 13 horizontal stripes – seven red and six white – and a Union Jack in the upper left corner. Again, another hangover from being British colonies. To rid the country of this vestige of the British, the Continental Congress passed the Flag Act of 1777: Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

The act was passed on June 14th, 1777, which is now celebrated as Flag Day. However, the Continental Congress did not set a standard on how the stars were to be arranged. This led to all sorts of arrangements, but the most common one was a circle of 13 stars.

The design concept worked well until 1794, when both Kentucky and Vermont were added to the union, and the country now had 15 states, not 13. Now Congress had to decide how to accommodate new states on the national flag, if at all?

Hence, the Flag Act of 1794 signed by George Washington reads: An Act making an alteration in the Flag of the United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, that from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five, the flag of the United States, be fifteen stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen stars, white in a blue field.

This was a solution until more parts of the land given to us by the 1793 Treaty of Paris petitioned to become states. What happens now?

The original concept of adding a bar and a star after Kentucky and Vermont were added, became too cumbersome. On April 4th, 1818, the 15th U.S. Congress passed a new Flag Act on April 4th. It read: An Act to establish the flag of the United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, that from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.

And be it further enacted, that on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

Problem solved. Well, not exactly. None of the tersely written Flag Acts set the flag’s dimensions or how the stars should be laid out. By 1912, there were 66 variations of the U.S. flag, and President William Taft issued Executive Order 1556 to set the flag’s size and shape. He later issued Executive Order 1637, which provided a specific example of how the U.S. flag should look.

None of the Flag Acts, nor Taft’s executive orders specified the actual colors. By the time Eisenhower became president, there were a plethora of shades of blue and red and he issued Executive Order 10860. In it, President Eisenhower established designs of the Seal and the Coat of Arms of the President of the United States and in Section 4 of the executive order, directs the reader to an attachment that specifies the colors.

Image is the 15 star, 15 bar national flag a.k.a. the Star-Spangled Flag that flew over Ft. McKinley during the War of 1812.

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