In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14 and commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States. The adoption of an official American flag happened on that day in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. The United States Army also celebrates the Army Birthday on this date; Congress adopted “the American continental army” after reaching a consensus position in the Committee of the Whole on June 14, 1775.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day and in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.
The American flag has gone through quite an evolution over the last 238 years. Here is just a brief look at that history and evolution:
American ships in New England waters flew a “Liberty Tree” flag in 1775. It shows a green pine tree on a white background, with the words, “An Appeal to Heaven.” “Liberty Tree” is often associated with the Thomas Jefferson quote “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” The first documented source of the quote was 12 years later in 1787. However, the idea behind the quote is thought by some to have been the inspiration for the flag as well.
In 1775, the Continental Navy flew a very different flag. It was the now familiar 13 red/white stripes, a rattlesnake and the warning, “Don’t Tread on Me,” upon its inception.
The coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” phrase was also used with a yellow background on what is known as the Gadsden Flag. Used by the Continental Marines at the time, the Gadsden flag is also a popular choice of the modern day Liberty movements in America. From the Tea Party to Gun Rights advocates, the “Don’t Tread on Me” phrase has become popular as a warning to big government and governmental abuses of power.
However, the well known story of the Betsy Ross flag, “Old Glory” was the design officially adopted on June 14, 1777 and has become the standard design with the 13 alternating red and white stripe, and blue field with white stars in the upper left corner. The scene depicted in the painting by Walter Haskel Hinton is set at some point in May or June 1776, just prior to the nation’s Declaration of Independence on July 4. The three gentlemen pictured, from left to right, are General George Washington, commander of the American Continental Army, with Colonel George Ross (center), the uncle of Betsy’s first (deceased) husband, John Ross, and Robert Morris, known as the “Financier” of the American Revolution, both of whom would sign the Declaration.
The newly adopted official American flag did not gain widespread acceptance until after the Civil War and even to this day, some Southerners still refer to it as the “flag of northern aggression.” That being said, during the Civil War a large part of the United States flew a very different flag, multiple flags in fact. The most recognizable of them today is the Confederate Battle Flag, also known as the Southern Cross. Although the Civil War happened 150 years ago, the Confederate flag is still a divisive symbol in America, inspiring a sense of heritage in some and a reminder of slavery to others. Love it or hate it, it was a symbol of part of our nation for a time, a turbulent time and a time we should never forget or repeat.
Since then, the American flag has only changed with the addition of each new state resulting in the addition of a star to the blue field. When a state is added to the Union, a new flag with the undated star count and design is adopted the following July 4th as the new official American flag. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959 and Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959, so the flag we know today as the American flag became official July 4, 1960.
While the United States does still have territories, like Puerto Rico, there are no current plans to add a 51st state. Although, if the United States did add a 51st state, this is a proposed 51 star flag that could become the American standard on on the July 4th following the admission of that 51st state to the union.