Last year, for Flag Day, I posted a longish look at Flag Day and the history of the United States Flag. You can check it out here: "Flag Day". Also Flag Day 2006. But this year I thought, along with some information you might have forgotten, I would take a look at one of the odder aspects of American myth-making as it applies to our flag. And that is the Myth of the Civil Flag of the United States of America.
It seems that at one time writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was an employee of the U.S. Customs Service. And while an employee he noted the flying of an odd-looking flag over the Customs Posts. Rather than having horizontal stars and stripes this flag had vertical stars and stripes. Rather than a field of blue with white stars this flag had a field of white with blue stars. He noted this almost in passing in his 'The Custom House', the introduction to Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous book 'The Scarlet Letter'; which was published in 1850. Nothing more was written about it by Hawthorne. In point of fact this was the Customs flag. And it was a variation of certain nautical flags which evolved in the United States in her early years.
Now, the myth arises in this way. As some web sites will claim (and this is the general idea):
It is believed by some historians that the Civil Flag was discontinued after the Civil War when the federal government imposed military governments in the States and disbanded civilian government. As a show of it's power over the States, Civil Flags were discontinued and Old Glory became the sole emblem representing the People of the United States of America, united under military (or admiralty) rule. For over 100 years, the Civilian U.S. Flag was flown by a select citizenry that could afford to buy them. While most were of the design of the Customs Bureau and it's American Eagle, many continued to adorn the original look from 1777 with a constellation of stars on a blue field and with red and white vertical stripes. By 1900, the Civil Flag had all but disappeared except for the occasional use by the government's revenue cutters and more recently, the Coast Guard with a modified design. By 1980, nearly all documentation of the Civil Flag had been omitted in school text books and it's existence left as a mystery in a few old photographs and a rare mention in classic books".And of course this turns out to be utter nonsense, though intriguing at first. The original Revenue Ensign, adopted in 1799 was to be flown from Customs Cutters.
From "The Civil Flag - Forgotten Flag or Flag of Fiction":
... engaged in the prevention and detection of smuggling, in lieu of the National Ensign (the Stars and Stripes). The "Revenue Ensign" was the equivalent of a policeman's badge, letting ships know that the Cutter flying this ensign was a US Customs Revenue Cutter, and had the Authority to stop any vessel within the boundary of U.S. waters. The Flags were also flown over U.S. Customs Houses. And what was the job of the Revenue Cutters and the Customs Houses? To make sure that the Excise Tax on all imports were collected. Notice the word "Revenue" (like in "Internal Revenue")? In other words, the Revenue Ensign (or Customs Flag) was the flag of Uncle Sam's TAX Collector! Now, can you imagine the same People who started a Revolution over "No Taxation without Representation" turning around and adopting the "Tax Collectors" Flag to represent peace or civil authority? The idea is ridiculous! Also, as stated above, the "Revenue Ensign" was the equivalent of a Policeman's Badge (or Blue/Red Lights), letting ships know that the Cutter flying this ensign was a US Customs Revenue Cutter, and had the Authority to stop any vessel within U.S. waters. Now can you imagine your Local Police handing out Badges or Blue Lights to everyone in town? Again, the idea is ridiculous!
But that doesn't stop the myth-makers, or those who want to see something ominous in the "military" flag of the United States. So they had to "find" something else to use. And they did. Or, in fact, they simply made it up. Again from "The Civil Flag - Forgotten Flag or Flag of Fiction":
The Other Flag being proposed as the Civil Flag is described as a "White Union with Blue Stars and a field of 16 Vertical Red and White alternating Stripes" - The "Civil Flag of Peace".
Mythical Civil Flag or 'Peace' Flag
I can find no documentation, or historical evidence, to support that this Flag has ever existed. And believe me I looked! I did, however, find evidence of FRAUD on these sites (whether intentional or not, that is for the reader to decide). So, lets now examine what I actually found when I went looking!
You can click on the link to read all of his research. It's very enlightening! He reports on claims by the Civil Flag theorists who assert, for instance, that "Before 1940, no U.S. flag, civil or military, flew within the forty-eight states except in federal settings and installations. Only state flags did." And this is silly on the face of it. A simple look at old photographs show the Star and Stripes flying in many places, none of which are Federal sites. Do look at this site and read the story. It's funny. It's kind of sad, too. Sad, because these people seem to think they can manufacture something to bolster their belief in something that never existed, and strengthen their distrust of the military "occupiers" of these United States. As Patrick, I think, has noted, at Born Again Redneck, the United States seems to be a perfect place for conspiracists to hatch. And if you don't think we have more than our share of Conspiracy Nutters here, then you haven't been paying attention. Just look up JFK Assassination on Google. You'll find a plethora of silly theories showing that his murder was the work of everyone in the world.
On this Flag Day, let's give thanks for our nation's symbol: The Red, White, and Blue; the Stars and Stripes; Old Glory. The most recognizable symbol of a Nation on the face of this planet. Earned with the blood of its citizens, the treasury of its citizens, the love of Liberty of its citizens throughout its existence.
GOD Bless America and the Red, White, and Blue! Happy Flag Day!
If you'd like to read my short story about one person's account of the American Flag, why not look at A Flag Tale, which I posted last July for the Independence Day post.
Here are some important Federal Acts regarding our Flag, from the Encyclopedia Smithsonian:
Until the Executive Order of June 24, 1912, neither the order of the stars nor the proportions of the flag was prescribed. Consequently, flags dating before this period sometimes show unusual arrangements of the stars and odd proportions, these features being left to the discretion of the flag maker. In general, however, straight rows of stars and proportions similar to those later adopted officially were used. The principal acts affecting the flag of the United States are the following:
- Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777 - stated: "Resolved: that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
- Act of January 13, 1794 - provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars after May 1795.
- Act of April 4, 1818 - provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state.
- Executive Order of President Taft dated June 24, 1912 - established proportions of the flag and provided for arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each, a single point of each star to be upward.
- Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated January 3, 1959 - provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically.
- Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated August 21, 1959 - provided for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.
My favorite configuration remains what we call the Betsy Ross Flag with it's circle of thirteen stars. To me it doesn't matter how many states have been added to the Union. I prefer to think of our flag with that circle of stars as our real United States flag.