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Date: 03 Aug 2006
Time: 12:48:13 -0400
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or the evolution of
the Stars and Stripes
including the reason to be of the design
the colors and their position
together with selections
Eloquent, Patriotic and Poetical
by Robert Allen Campbell
by Naconna Barlow Shaffer
Patriotic Research Publications
P.O. Box 16236
Salt Lake City, Utah 84116
THE COLONIAL FLAG AND THE STARS AND STRIPES
In the fall of 1775, the Colonial Congress, then in session at Philadelphia, appointed Messrs. Franklin, Lynch and Harrison as a committee to consider and recommend a design for the Colonial Flag. General Washington was then in camp at Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the committee went there to consult with him concerning the work in hand.
It was arranged that during their stay in Cambridge the committeemen were to be entertained by one of the patriotic and well-to-do citizens of the place. This gentleman’s residence was one of only modest dimensions; and the front chamber — the “guest chamber,” as it was generally called in those days — was already occupied by a very peculiar old gentleman who was a temporary sojourner with the family. This left only one vacant room in the house — a moderate-sized bedroom connecting with the “guest chamber” and also opening into the hall. In order to make room for the Congressional guests, it was arranged that the less transitory occupant would share his apartment with one of them — and it came about, as we will see, that this one was Benjamin Franklin.
Little seems to have been known concerning this old gentleman; and in the materials from which this account is compiled his name is not even once mentioned, for he is uniformly spoken of or referred to as “the Professor.” He was evidently far beyond his three score and ten years; and he often referred to historical events of more than a century previous just as if he had been a living witness of their occurrence; still he was erect, vigorous and active — hale, hearty, and clear-minded — as strong and energetic every way as in the mature prime of his life. He was tall, of fine figure, perfectly easy, and very dignified in his manners; being at once courteous, gracious and commanding. He was, for those times and considering the customs of the Colonists, very peculiar in his method of living; for he ate no flesh, fowl or fish; he never used as food any “green thing,” any roots or anything unripe; and he drank no liquor, wine or ale; but confined his diet to cereals and their products, fruits that were ripened on the stem in the sun, nuts, mild tea and the sweets of honey, sugar or molasses. He was well educated, highly cultivated, of extensive as well as varied information, and very studious. He spent considerable of his time in the patient and persistent conning of a number of very rare old books and ancient manuscripts which he seemed to be deciphering, translating or rewriting. These books and manuscripts, together with his own writings, he never showed to any one; and he did not even mention them in his conversations with the family, except in the most casual way; and he always locked them up carefully in a large, old fashioned, cubically shaped, iron bound, heavy, oaken chest, whenever he left his room, even for his meals. He took long and frequent walks alone, sat on the brows of the neighboring hills, or mused in the midst of the green and flower-gemmed meadows. He was fairly liberal — but in no way lavish — in spending his money, with which he was well supplied. He was a quiet, though a very genial and very interesting, member of the family; and he was seemingly at home upon any and every topic coming up in conversation. He was, in short, one whom everyone would notice and respect, whom few would feel well acquainted with, and whom no one would presume to question concerning himself — as to whence he came, why he tarried, or whither he journeyed.
He was firmly, and in a dignified and assured way, one who was in favor of demanding and of securing justice on the part of the Mother Country toward the Colonies. One of his favorite forms of stating the matter was: “We demand no more than our just due; we will accept and be satisfied with nothing less than we demand.” Then he would sometimes add: “We demand our rightful dues — justice; and we will soon get all we demand — peaceably, if Parliament is wise — forcibly, if needs be.”
The committeemen arrived at Cambridge on the morning of December 13th, and their host invited the General of the Army to dine with them the same day at his home. When they met for dinner the party consisted of Washington, the three committeemen, the Professor, the host and hostess. The Professor met the guests of his host with an ease, grace and dignity which was to them all ample evidence of his superior ability, experience and attainments, and of the propriety of his being among them — which, however, none of them thought of questioning. He met the introductions with a courtly bow, that left no room to doubt that he had habitually associated with those in acknowledged authority. When Benjamin Franklin was presented, however, the latter came forward, extending his hand, which the Professor heartily accepted; and then as palm met palm, and as fingers closed upon fingers, their eyes also met, and there was an instantaneous, a very apparent and a mutually gratified recognition.
The dinner, of course, followed the usual form of those days, under similar circumstances; for even great men, under the pressure of grave responsibilities, will always at their meals, and especially at dining, indulge in commonplace remarks about ordinary affairs. They must, of necessity, repeat or invent the looked for pleasantries; and they will in nowise fail to compliment the dishes, the service and the hostess. In this case, however, conversation soon drifted upon the all-important topic of the day— the relation of the Colonies to each other and to the Mother Country, together with the related question of one’s duty to the Colony, as related to his allegiance to Great Britain; and thence, naturally, to the work of the Committee — the design for a new Colonial Flag.
In the discussion of all these topics the Professor took a noticeable, though not at all an obtrusive, part, proving himself possessed of a wonderful fund of varied and accurate information concerning the Colonies, an understanding of their progress, condition and needs, and a familiarity with the principles and operations of British and European statesmanship that was as interesting and instructive to the others as his earnest patriotism and his assuring confidence in Colonial success was arousing and encouraging.
The hostess was a very intelligent woman, and an earnest supporter of all those who demanded justice for the Colonies, and who were striving to secure what they demanded; and she took a minor, though an interested, part in the conversation during dinner, especially in relation to the design of the new flag. She was evidently one of the professor’s earnest and intelligent disciples.
As the party were about rising from the table, there was a brief and undertone consultation between General Washington and the committeemen, upon some suggestion to which seemed to be a ready, a hearty and an unanimous assent.
Doctor Franklin then arose, saying substantially: “As the chairman of this committee, speaking for my associates, with their consent, and with the approval of General Washington, I respectfully invite the Professor to meet with the Committee as one of its members; and we, each one, personally and urgently, request him to accept the responsibility, and to give us, and the American Colonies, the benefit of his presence and his counsel. It has already been arranged that General Washington and our worthy host will also meet with us as honorary members.”
The Professor arose, seemingly taller, more erect and more graciously dignified than even his usual wont, saying, in substance:
“I appreciate the compliment bestowed and the honor offered. I humbly accept the invitation, and I cheerfully assume the responsibility of all I may say and do as a co-worker with you. Since by your unanimous invitation and my unqualified acceptance, I have become a member of your committee, so that I can in all propriety say ‘our committee,’ I will proceed at once to offer my first suggestion.
“Gentlemen and Comrades, this is a most important occasion. Upon what we do at this time, and at the regular sessions of this committee that will follow this informal and unofficial meeting, there may depend much of the immediate welfare of the people of the Colonies which we represent.
“We are now six — an even number, and not a propitious one for such an enterprise as we have now in hand. We can not spare any one already a member of the committee — even though in so doing we should improve the condi-tions in one respect, by making our number five; but we must needs increase our number, so we will be seven. This increase of our numbers should be by the introduction of an element that is usually objected to, ignored — in all national and political affairs. I refer to woman — the purifying and intuitional element of humanity.
“Let us, therefore, invite our hostess -- because she is our hostess, because she is a woman, and above all, because she is a superior woman — to become one of us; and mayhap she will provide a most important factor in solving the important question which we are to consider; for more depends on our work here and now than appears on the surface, to the multitude; and her patriotism, her intelligence, her fidelity and her discretion, you may, one and all, hold me personally and entirely responsible -- that is, if any of you suppose that any man’s endorsement, in any way, adds to an earnest and good woman’s responsibility.”
The Professor’s first suggestion, as a member of the committee, was certainly a wonderful innovation, considering the times and the circumstances; but it was immediately and unanimously adopted. The hostess was formally invited to become a member of the committee, and she promptly accepted. She took a somewhat active part in the work of the committee; for she acted as its secretary; and upon her notes made at the time, and upon her subsequent correspondence, this narrative of the committee’s operations is mainly based.
The informal session of the committee at the dinner-table adjourned with the understanding that the same seven would meet the same evening, in the same house, in the “guest chamber” — usually occupied by the Professor — there to resume their consideration of a design for a new Colonial Flag.
During the afternoon Franklin and the Professor took a long walk together. They came back apparently well acquainted, and very much pleased with each other. Both of them wore the relieved and confident looks of earnest and determined men who had, in a satisfactory way, solved a perplexing problem, and of victors who had successfully mastered a difficult and dangerous situation. This was so markedly shown in Franklin’s face and manner that all the other members of the committee noticed it at the evening session. No one, therefore was surprised when General Washington asked Doctor Franklin to open the proceedings with such suggestions or recommendations as he had to offer.
Franklin made reply by saying that instead of doing as General Washington desired, he would ask him and the others to listen to his new-found friend and abundantly honored friend, the Professor, who had very kindly consented to repeat to them, this evening, substantially, concerning a new flag for the Colonies, and the reasons for adopting the design which he would submit for their consideration.
Doctor Franklin closed his brief introductory remarks by adding that if the suggested and submitted design for a flag should please the General of the Army and the other members of the committee as fully as it satisfied him, there would be no need of any prolonged session to consider and conclude to recommend the new flag.
Franklin’s suggestion was accepted, and the Professor was invited to present his design and the reasons for its adoption. There is no full report of what he said, but the following is an outline of what has been preserved:
“Comrade Americans: We are assembled here to devise and suggest the design for a new flag, which will represent, at once, the principles and determination of the Colonies to unite in demanding and securing justice from the Government to which they still owe recognized allegiance. We are not, therefore, expected to design or recommend a flag which will represent a new government or an independent nation, but one which simply represents the principle that even kings owe something of justice to their loyal subjects. This, I say, is what we are expected to do, because this is the publicly announced, as well as the honestly entertained intent of the great majority of the people of these Colonies, as well as their representatives in Congress, and of their soldiers in the field. This is unquestionably true now; for the sun of our political aim, like the sun in the heavens, is very low in the horizon -- just now approaching the winter solstice, which it will reach very soon. But as the sun rises from his grave in Capricorn, mounts toward his resurrection in Aries and passes onward and upward to his glorious culmination in Cancer, so will our political sun rise and continue to increase in power, in light and in glory; and the exalted sun of summer will not have gained his full strength of heat and power in the starry Lion until our Colonial Sun will be, in its glorious exaltation, demanding a place in the governmental firmament alongside of, coordinate with, and in no other wise subordinate to, any other sun of any other nation upon earth.
“We are now self-acknowledged Colonies — dependencies of Great Britain, which government we, as loyal subjects, humbly sue for justice. We will, ere long, be a self-declared, independent nation, bestowing upon ourselves the justice for which we now vainly sue. We must, therefore, design and recommend a flag which will now recognize our loyalty to Great Britain, and at the same time announce our earnest and united suit and demand for our rights as British Subjects.
“These demands will, of course, in the future as in the past, be neglected or denied. Our justice-demanding and our freedom-loving companions will soon learn that there is no hope for us as British Colonists; and that we can secure the rights we now contend for — as well as many more, and more to be prized rights — only as the loyal and the united citizens of a free and an independent American nation.
“General Washington, here, is a British Subject; aye, he is a British soldier; and he is in command of British troops; and they are only attempting to enforce their rights as loyal subjects of the British Crown. But General Washington will soon forswear all allegiance to everything foreign; and he will ere many months appear before his own people, the people pf these Colonies, and before the world, as the general commanding the armies of a free and united people, organized into a new and independent nation.
“The flag which is now recommended must be one designed and adapted to meet the inevitable — and soon to be accomplished — change of allegiance. The flag now adopted must be one that will testify our present loyalty as English Subjects; and it must be one easily modified — but needing no radical change — to make it announce and represent the new nation which is already gestating in the womb of time; and which will come to birth — and that not prematurely, but fully developed and ready for the change into independent life — before the sun in its next summer’s strength ripens our next harvest.
“The field of our flag must, therefore, be an entirely new one. For this there are two reasons, either one of which is amply sufficient why it should be so. First, the field must be new, because it will soon represent a new nation. Second, the field must be one hitherto unused as a national flag; because it will represent an entirely new principle in government — the equal rights of man as man.
“While the field of our flag must be new in details of its design, it need not be entirely new in its elements. It is fortunate for us that there is already in use a flag with which it has not only recognized, but also protected for more than half a century, the design of which can be readily modified, or rather extended, so as to most admirably suit our purpose. I refer to the flag of the English East India Company, which is one with a field of alternate longitudinal red and white stripes, and having the Cross of St. George for a union. I therefore, suggest for your consideration a flag with a field composed of thirteen equally wide, longitudinal, alternate, red and white stripes, and with the Union Flag of England for a union.
“Such a flag can readily be explained to the masses to mean as follows: The Union Flag of the Mother Country is retained as the union of our new flag to announce that the Colonies are loyal to the just and legitimate sovereignty of the British Government. The thirteen stripes will at once be understood to represent the thirteen Colonies; their equal width will type the equal rank, rights and responsibilities of the Colonies. The union of the stripes in the field of our flag will announce the unity of interests and the cooperative union of efforts, which the Colonies recognize and put forth in their common cause. The white stripes will signify that we consider our demands just and reasonable; and that we will seek to secure our rights through peaceable, intelligent and statesmanlike means -- if they prove at all possible, and the red stripes at the top and bottom of our flag will declare that first and last -- and always -- we have the determination, the enthusiasm, and the power to use force, whenever we deem force necessary. The alternation of the red and white stripes will suggest that our reasons for all demands will be intelligent and forcible, and that our force in securing our rights will be just and reasonable. All this in strict accordance with the present public sentiment in the Colonies; for, as I have already said, the masses of the people, and a large majority of the leaders of public opinion, desire a removal of grievances, and a rectification of wrongs, through a fuller recognition of their rights as British Subjects; and few of them desire, and very few of them expect -- at this time -- any complete severance of their present political and dependent relations with the English Government.
“There are other weightier and eternal reasons for a flag having the field I suggest; but it will be time enough to consider them when, in the near future, we, or our successors, are considering -- not a temporary flag for associated and dependent Colonies but -- a permanent standard for a united and an independent nation. Thanking you, one and all, for your complimentary courtesy and for your patient attention, I submit this miniature drawing of the suggested flag for your intelligent consideration.”
The remarks of the Professor made a most profound impression; and the design which he submitted was, in every particular, satisfactory to every one present. It was enthusiastically endorsed, General Washington and Doctor Franklin giving especial approval and unstinted praises.
It was formally and unanimously adopted; and shortly before midnight the Committee adjourned. The 13th of December, 1775, therefore, witnessed the presentation, consideration and approval of the only official flag of the Cooperating American Colonies; and the extreme probability is that until that time a flag with a field of alternate red and white stripes, much less a field of thirteen stripes, had never been made or seen in the American Colonies.
There is no record of any congressional action upon the report of this committee; nor, indeed, any record of any report made by the committee. This design was, however, adopted by General Washington as the general flag and recognized standard of the Colonial Army and Navy.
A full sized garrison flag was, as speedily as possible, made in strict accordance with the drawing presented by the Professor.
On January 2, 1776, at Cambridge, in the presence of the military, with the assistance of his officers, and with appropriate ceremonies -- in which the Franklin Committee were participants -- General Washington, with his own hands, hoisted the newly accepted and newly made banner upon a towering and especially raised pine tree liberty pole; thus unfurling to the breeze and displaying to his army, the citizens of the vicinity, and the British forces in Boston, for the first time, the new and officially recognized Confederated Colonial Flag.
This was the first authoritative recognition of the any standard having the color of Congressional action as a distinctly accepted flag to represent the confederated and cooperative union of the Colonies in their resistance of tyranny, injustice and oppression. And this was the first time in the history of the world when thirteen alternate red and white stripes was the foundation field of any national standard. When this flag was first displayed at Cambridge, it was clearly seen by the British officers at Charlestown Heights, who, with the aid of their field glasses, easily made out all the details of its design and construction. These officers, in their wonderful wisdom, interpreted the raising of this flag -- which they said “is thoroughly English, you know” -- to mean that General Washington thus announced his surrender to them; and they, at once, saluted “The Thirteen Stripes” with thirteen hearty cheers; and they immediately followed this spontaneous outburst of British Enthusiasm with the grander and more dignified official salute of thirteen guns.
The unintended official recognition, and this “baptism by fire” showed the inspiration of the choice of America's standard.
[Editor’s note: This seeming confusion by some of the British officers as to the intent of the new standard does not take away from the fact that the British soldiers saw an intent on behalf of the Colonists to press an issue that was dear to their own hearts, that being the “rights of an Englishman.” The British Union represented the union of the English flag of St. George and the Irish flag of St. Andrew, a union that closely paralleled that of the union of the Thirteen Colonies in the interest of that which was guaranteed to them by the British Constitution, inalienable and immutable rights given them by the Creator. There is no wonder that the Colonists found some very important friends within the British government in their fight to receive that which was rightfully theirs as British Citizens and the cause for their eventually severing ties with a Mother Country that would deny them of those rights. This we can be sure the Professor knew in his wisdom, that which comes only from the direction of the Author of those inalienable rights.
Later, after the British Government made that obvious to both the Colonists and some of the English people themselves, the Declaration of Independence was signed. Just under a year later, on June 14, 1777, the flag of thirteen stripes alternate red and white, and a union of thirteen stars in a blue field was adopted as the flag of the now independent thirteen United States. This as previously directed by the Professor, to take place at the appropriate time with little change to the original. Tradition suggests that this flag was made by Mrs. John Ross, of Philadelphia, in June, 1776. This flag is said to have been made from a design drawn by General Washington with some important changes suggested by Mrs. Ross. The probability is that there is a mistake of a year in this matter; and that Mrs. Ross made her flag in 1777. It is surely a mistake as well that the final design was as happenstance as both General Washington and Betsy Ross were privy to the instructions of the Professor less than two years before. Although Betsy Ross having been secretary of those proceedings, may have been able to offer corrections from her notes to memories of details clouded by time.]
From the same source that furnishes the history of the origin of the Colonial Flag there is also much to be learned concerning the origin, the meaning, the informal consideration and the reason to be, of the final adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the National Standard.
It seems that after the adjournment of the Franklin Committee at Cambridge, on the evening of December 13, 1775, Doctor Franklin, general Washington and the Professor, spent most of the night in earnest comparison of views concerning the momentous question in which they each and all had such vital interest.
They all agreed that the proper policy to pursue was to press vigorously and persistently the demands of the Colonists for the redress of all their wrongs, and the full recognition of their rights as British Subjects. Franklin and Washington had fair hopes of success on this line of procedure; the Professor had none at all. Still the latter was heartily in favor of pressing the demands upon the English Government; and they were all of one mind in believing that the continued refusal or neglect of the Home Government to comply with such just demands would speedily ripen and popularize the sentiment and the ideas of the Colonists into an enthusiasm and determination towards a confederation of the Colonies as independent States; and the Professor confidently maintained that such a result would surely be accomplished within the coming year, with the two gentlemen before him as important factors in the formation and establishment of the New Government. He informed them also that he had some suggestions concerning, and an appropriate design for, the flag of the New American Nation -- so soon to take its place among the recognized governments of the world; and he added that these suggestions and this design would be forthcoming at the proper time and place -- when such a flag was under consideration as a practical issue.
The following memoranda is in the handwriting of the lady who made the notes of the Franklin Committee-meeting in Cambridge, and in the same hand bears this endorsement:
“By direction of Dr. Franklin, now in Paris, I made this copy of the Professor’s memoranda; and today I delivered the original of the same, and also a sealed letter (marked “private” and tied up with it), into the hands of General Washington May 13, 1777.”
The following scrap in the same handwriting and evidently from a letter -- but not showing either date, address nor signature -- is full suggestion:
“You know how much interest I have taken in the new flag. It seems that there has been considerable attention given to the matter, in a quiet way, by some of our prominent men; and that the Professor’s design is almost universally pleasing to them. Last Friday afternoon I was invited to be present at a little gathering where the subject would be considered; and you may be sure I was greatly surprised, and not a little confused, to find myself the only woman there, while there was men around a dozen. They read the Professor’s memoranda and discussed the design. That is they one and all approved it. I explained to them how I came to be the custodian of the paper, and why they had not been sooner delivered to General Washington. The matter is finally settled, however, for the very next day the Congress here adopted the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the thirteen Colonies. And now that the matter is brought to such a satisfactory issue, you can not, I am sure, at all imagine how pleased I am with the result, and how proud I am with the accidental and humble part I have had in its consummation.”
This letter evidently refers to a meeting held on the afternoon of Friday, June 13, 1777, the day before congressional action upon the adoption of the Stars and Stripes.
[Editor’s note: It is interesting to note that originally the white stripes were intended to mean purity, peace, arbitration, intelligence and justice. The red stripes signifying royal lineage, war if necessary to maintain their God-given rights and the willingness to shed their own blood for the preservation of liberty. The blue field was to epitomize industry and economy as well as the sky in which a new, glorious and permanent constellation would rest with its thirteen independent United States as represented by the thirteen stars.
It’s interesting to note that the alignment of the stars in the original Stars and Stripes was not as shown by tradition today to be thirteen stars in a complete circle. Instead there were twelve stars in a circle with the thirteenth in the center. The significance of this is that the flag of the Kingdom of God as given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and later revealed to the public by Brigham Young was this very same design with the only changes that the center star was larger than the rest, (although some early drawings depict it larger in the original Stars and Stripes), and the red stripes were replaced by blue. This showing that the final sacrifice of blood had been made and that peace and liberty would from then on be eternally found for His elect in His fully established Kingdom. The twelve stars in the circle were to represent the twelve tribes and apostles with the center star representing Christ as head of the Kingdom of God.]