The origins of the American Flag and Flag Day


Story and photo by Dan Landau


The story of how Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag at George Washington’s request back in 1776 is well-known. While that account is likely a myth, what is true is that the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the country on June 14, 1777. Today, we honor the flag every year on its “birthday,” June 14 or Flag Day.

As a holiday, Flag Day is overshadowed by another patriotic summer holiday — Fourth of July — but it is an important holiday says Sam Raphalides, professor of history and political science and the director of the Global Scholars program at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus.

“The importance of Flag Day,” says Raphalides, “is displaying the flag and making sure it is flown in a respectful way.”

Remembering the unification the flag provided is important, he contends. “When the Continental Congress adopted the flag in 1777, we needed a symbol that would carry the allegiance of the different states and overcome the sectionalism that divided the states.

“When this nation was born, we did not have a monarchy like many of the European countries had,” continues Raphalides. “So the flag became a very important symbol for the US. That is why we have attributed so much fanfare and ritual to the flag and why it is so important in American culture.”

Even the flag’s colors are symbolic and were selected very deliberately. “Red is the color of bravery and valor,” says Raphalides. “White represents purity and innocence because we were a republic in a sea of monarchies. Blue signifies justice and vigilance.”

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