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About the Flag of the United States of America

The Flag of the United States, popularly called the American flag, the official national flag of the United States. It consists of 13 horizontal stripes, 7 red alternating with 6 white, and in the upper corner near the staff, a rectangular blue field, or canton, containing 50 five-pointed white stars. The stripes symbolize the 13 colonies that originally constituted the United States of America. The stars represent the 50 states of the Union. In the language of the Continental Congress, which defined the symbolic meanings of the colors red, white, and blue, as used in the flag, "White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; and Blue, Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice." Because of its stars, stripes, and colors, the American flag is frequently called the Star-Spangled Banner, the Stars and Stripes, or the Red, White, and Blue. Another popular, patriotic designation, Old Glory, is of uncertain origin.

Early flags designed for use in the American colonies reflected the Old World origin of the colonists. In the British colonies many flags were adaptations of the British Union Jack (see Flags, National). The colors red, white, and blue, which symbolized colonial unity, were first used in a flag in New England in 1737.

Listen to The US National Anthem...

The melody to which Francis Scott Key intended his poem, "The Star Spangled Banner" (which became our national anthem) to be sung was the popular English tune known as "To Anacreon in Heaven." Written about 1775 by John Stafford Smith, the tune was originally the "constitutional song" of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemen's music club in London named after Anacreon, a Greek poet who lived 563-478 B.C.E., who was noted for his songs in praise of love and wine. It became extremely popular in America, where it was used to accompany a number of verses, including the patriotic song called "Adams and Liberty," before 1814. Key himself used the tune for his 1805 poem "When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar."

On June 14, 1777, Congress made the following resolution: "The flag of the United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white on a blue field ..." Official announcement of the new flag was not made until September 3, 1777. When it was first flown has not been determined. Historical research has failed to establish a factual foundation for the traditional story that the flag maker Betsy Ross made the first American flag.

The flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset in the open. It should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It is displayed daily, weather permitting, and especially on certain holidays, on or near the main administration buildings of all public institutions. It is also displayed in or near every polling place on election days and in or near every schoolhouse during school days.

When carried in processions with another flag, the U.S. flag is borne to the right of the other emblems carried by the marchers. When carried with several other flags, it may be borne in front of the center of the line formed by the other standards. No other flag or pennant should be placed above the U.S. flag. When displayed against a wall or in a window, the blue field should be uppermost and to the left of the observer. When displayed flat on a speaker's platform, the flag should be behind and above the head of the speaker.

A number of rules regulate the display of the flag at various public ceremonies and its display in connection with state and city flags and in churches. Other rules deal with the observance of proper respect for the American flag. The latter are supplemented in most of the states by laws prohibiting the use of the U.S. flag for advertising purposes. The armed services have detailed regulations for military and naval uses of the flag.

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