Q. When did the 'Stars and Stripes' become the official U.S. flag, and what does its design represent?
A. On June 14, 1777, the U.S. Congress approved the design of The Flag of the United States of America, which is the official name of the flag commonly called the 'Stars and Stripes.' It had 13 stripes, one for each state, which alternated between red and white. Red represented hardiness and valor, and white stood for purity and innocence. The flag also had 13 white stars in a blue field. The stars represented a new constellation, with the color blue representing vigilance, perseverance and justice. As more states joined the union, the number of stars and stripes were increased to match the number of states. In 1818, Congress decided the number of stripes should return to the original 13, but that the number of stars should increase as states joined the union. The flag has had 50 stars since Hawaii became a state in 1960.
Q. Who designed the flag?
A. There are two popular theories surrounding the mystery of the flag's original designer. Some believe Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress acquainted with George Washington, was the original designer. Others believe Francis Hopkinson, the former Chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department and the designer of the Great Seal of the United States, was the original designer. Most historians believe that Hopkinson created the original design and that Ross was given his design to sew the first flag in 1776.
Q. Why do Americans show such devotion to the flag?
A. In kingdoms, patriotism is expressed through devotion to the crown. The United States is based on the principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, making national devotion to any individual highly inappropriate. Instead, we look to the flag to symbolize everything our country stands for. Our flag represents the founding principles of our country as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution of the United States. It represents individual liberty and unalienable natural rights, endowed by our Creator, which the government shall not infringe upon. Countless Americans have died for the principles our flag represents.
Q. What are the rules of flag etiquette?
A. Because of what the flag stands for, there are many rules regarding proper flag etiquette. Some of the more notable rules are: the flag should never be displayed with the union (blue field) down, except as a signal of dire distress; the flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground; the flag should always be carried aloft and free, not horizontally; the flag should never be used as clothing, bedding or drapery; the flag should never be drawn or written on; and a worn flag that is no longer a fitting emblem for display should be destroyed in a dignified way. It is important to remember that the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. For more information regarding flag etiquette or the U.S. flag code please visit http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/04C1.txt.