Today in History
cover of "Our Flag," Armed Forces Information
and Education, Dept. Of Defense
The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble;...in
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
What does a flag denote?
"The American flag
has been a symbol of liberty and men rejoice in it," wrote Henry
"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,"
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
Stars were, as we have seen, important symbols;
thirty-four of the flags Peter Spier illustrates bore stars.
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
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.
an interesting study. But we will close by noting that our states, as
well as the original thirteen colonies, all have their special flags.
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.
3. Peter Spier, "the Star Spangled
Banner," Doubleday & Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973
4. "Our Flag," p. 7.
Who may change the design of our national flag and who makes the rules governing its use?
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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