This Day in History: U.S. adopts 'stars and stripes' as national flag

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the national flag on June 14, 1777.

The first design of the national flag, called the Grand Union flag, combined the British Union Jack with the 13 alternating red and white stripes from the Sons of Liberty flag. The Grand Union was flown in 1776 by then-militia Colonel George Washington when he took command of the continental troops outside of Boston.

After the colonies had declared independence, the navy needed their own flag to fly to distinguish themselves. It is believed that Chairman of the Navy Board Francis Hopkinson created a naval ensign by replacing the Union Jack with 13 six-pointed stars on a blue field. When the flag was presented to Congress, they adopted the stars as part of the national flag to represent "a new Constellation."

Hopkinson later asked for a quarter cask of wine as payment, which Congress denied.

Because the flag resolution lacked any specific details other than 13 stripes and 13 stars, many variations of the flag were flown during the revolution, some of which dropped the six-pointed stars for five-pointed stars. The most famous of which features the 13 five-pointed stars in a circle, which was credited to seamstress Betsy Ross 100 years later.

As Vermont and Kentucky joined the Union, two new stars and two new stripes were added.

During the War of 1812, the battered 15-star, 15-stripe flag still flying over Fort McHenry inspired poet Francis Scott Key to write "Defence of Fort M'Henry." The first verse of this poem became the lyrics for the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In 1818, Congress passed a law stipulating that the flag's stripes would return to 13 to represent the original colonies, and that only new stars would be added as new states joined the Union.

On June 14, 1877, the first Flag Day was observed in celebration of 100 years since adopting the national flag. In 1949, Congress officially declared June 14 as a national day of observance.
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