What it Means to Fly the American Flag
Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross lived in a simple lovely Federal home at 239 Arch St. in Philadelphia. Legend has it that George Washington commissioned Ms. Ross to sew the first American Flag from a design he provided. Betsy certainly lived near all the action in those days, but historians now believe that her flag involvement was made-up by a grandson.
The Continental Congress meeting up the street recorded that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey designed the flag. And, we cannot ignore its similarity to the East India Company flag with horizontal red stripes and a Union Jack in the upper left. It did not take much effort to replace the Union Jack with a circle of stars on a field of blue. Whatever the origin, the American Flag began to take on its symbolic character in the War for Independence. We fly the flag for many reasons.
The American Flag is a reminder of origins. Following traditions of heraldry, the red stripes represent valor and bravery while the white stripes suggest innocence. The stars represent each of the States in the Union against a blue that represents vigilance and perseverance. These interpretations are confirmed in the records of the Secretary of the Continental Congress.
The American Flag is captured in many paintings and drawings from the period of the Revolutionary War. It is portrayed standing in the corner of what would be called Independence Hall, and it flies over Washington’s troops as they cross the Delaware. Perhaps more important, Francis Scott Key reported that “the flag was still there” throughout the British attack on Fort McHenry. We fly the American Flag to salute such memories and similar moments throughout our military history. We fly it to honor victories, to defy aggression, and to honor our dead. We fly the flag with emotion, sentiment, and goodwill.
Flying the flag unifies Americans. Wherever and whenever the flag flies, we share a common reaction. It means at least the same to us all and sometimes more to some. We expect the flag to fly at public events. We fly the flag ourselves to honor great significant events: holidays, parades, anniversaries. In moments of national distress or natural catastrophe, we fly the flag as a refuge and unifying force.
There is an etiquette to flying the flag, a code we all seem to understand. For example, we fly the flag at half-mast on the President’s orders to honor the passing of major figures. Flags draping coffins are folded precisely in a ritual that moves everyone present. We fly or post flags according to code in the presence of other flags, on stages or raised platforms, and on parade.
We fly the American Flag and continue its symbolic powers by caring for it in minute detail. We follow rules on its display at night, in bad weather, indoors and out. We fly the flag with sensitivity and care. In doing so, we continue its specialness.
We fly the American Flag with pride. We fly it to honor it and to invoke all that it means and symbolizes. We invoke the best of history and identify ourselves as partners in the American tradition and community.