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More About Flags


From cover of "Our Flag," Armed Forces Information and Education, Dept. Of Defense


The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of our God we will set up our banners: Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.... Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call,

Psalm 20: 1-9


We wonder what David’s banner looked like.  Probably nothing like our "star spangled" one-but we can see that flags (or banners) go a long way back.  The Psalm from which the above came evidently was written in remembrance of his victory over Goliath just as Francis Scott Key wrote as a result of our countrymen’s victory over the giant, Gr. Britain, at For McHenry in 1814.


What does a flag denote?  "The American flag has been a symbol of liberty and men rejoice in it," wrote Henry Ward Beecher.1


"General Washington, when the Star-Spangled Banner was first flown by the Continental Army, is reputed to have described its symbolism as follows:  ‘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.’"2


Flags, it would appear, most often have to do with the protection of ones country.  This would appear to be true from the beginning of history, as both David and Key’s references to a banner illustrate.  Indeed, the flags from before and during the Revolutionary War give proof that "life, liberty and property" were worth fighting for and, therefore, important reasons for the symbols on our flags.  But these symbols showed also that their dependence was on God by such references as "An Appeal to Heaven," Liberty," and "Hope."


In his beautifully illustrated book of flags, "The Star Spangled Banner," Peter Spier3 has given us a pictorial history of the flags of that period.  One, the "Taunton Flag," of 1774 has the words "Liberty and Union" across it.


Stars were, as we have seen, important symbols; thirty-four of the flags Peter Spier illustrates bore stars.   These wonderful creations of God appear in Scripture beginning with Genesis, chapter one: "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:...he made the stars also."  Stars have been signs of great things so it would almost go without saying that our Founders thought of that when creating flags.


Back in the days the Revolution, as we read in "Flags," there were colonial or regimental flags by the score.  While the pine tree was a popular design, there were numerous other symbols, such as beavers, anchors, and rattlesnakes, or combinations of these symbols, with appropriate slogans.  In early accounts of colonial activities, liberty poles and trees bear an important part.  A fine old elm in Hanover Square, Boston, where the Sons Liberty met, was known as the Liberty Tree.  A wide-spreading live oak in Charleston, South Carolina, made a shelter under which the leading patriots of the day gathered to discuss political questions, and there the Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of the city.  When in 1652 the Colony of Massachusetts first established a mint, the general court ordained that all pieces money should bear on one side a tree, thus bringing into being the famous pine tree shillings.  Later a white flag with a green pine tree and the inscription "An Appeal to Heaven" became familiar on the seas as the ensign of cruisers commissioned by General Washington, a fact noted by many English newspapers at that time.4


There is so much more to be said about flags.  What an interesting study.  But we will close by noting that our states, as well as the original thirteen colonies, all have their special flags. You will find the flag of your state plus some very interesting information at  "Could 50 States be Wrong?"





1. "Our Flag," Armed Forces Information and Education, Dept. Of Defense, 1964, p. 5.

2. Ibid

3. Peter Spier, "the Star Spangled Banner," Doubleday & Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973

4. "Our Flag," p. 7.

Question: Who may change the design of our national flag and who makes the rules governing its use?


Answer: The design of the United States flag may be altered only by an Act of Congress or a Presidential order.  Federal laws control certain uses of the flag; for example, no trademark can be registered if it contains the flag.  The States also have their own flag laws and impose penalties on those who violate them. ( "Our Flag," p.12.)

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