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American Flag

People are often offended by the burning of the American flag, but most of those offended don't realize that the flag being burned is the military flag. I don't know of a single instance of the civil flag being burned at a protest. Do you know what your nation's flag looks like? Read on to find out about the history of the American Flag.
American Flag
American Flag

Which Flag is Which? by Richard McDonald

The people of the United States actually have two national flags: one for our military government and another for the civil. Each one has fifty stars in its canton and thirteen red and white stripes, but there are several important differences.

Although most Americans think of the Stars and Stripes (above left) as their only flag, it is actually for military affairs only. The other one, meant by its makers for wider use (peacetime), has vertical stripes with blue stars on a white field (above right). You can see this design, which bears civil jurisdiction, in the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs flags, but their service insignias replace the fifty stars.

I first learned of the separate, civil flag when I was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. The introduction, titled "The Custom House," includes this description:

From the loftiest point of its roof, during precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats or droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but with the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally, and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military post of Uncle Sam's government, is here established.

It took me two years of digging before I found a picture that matched what he was describing: my second clue was an original Illuminated History of North America (1860). If this runs against your beliefs, look up those two references.

History book publishers contribute to the public's miseducation by always picturing the flag in military settings, creating the impression that the one with horizontal stripes is the only one there is. They don't actually lie; they just tell half the truth. For example, the "first American flag" they show Betsy Ross sewing at George Washington's request, was for the Revolution - of course it was military.

The U.S. government hasn't flown the civil flag since the Civil War, as that war is still going on. Peace has never been declared, nor have hostilities against the people ended. The government is still operating under quasi-military rule.

You movie buffs may recall this: In the old Westerns, "Old Glory" has her stripes running sideways and a military yellow fringe. Most of these films are historically accurate about that; their stories usually took place in the territories still under military law and not yet states. Before WWII, no U.S. flag, civil or military, flew within the forty-eight states (except in federal settings); only state flags did. Since then, the U.S. government seems to have decided the supposedly sovereign states are its territories too, so it asserts its military power over them under the "law of the flag."

Today the U.S. military flag appears alongside, or in place of, the state flags in nearly all locations within the states. All of the state courts and even the municipal ones now openly display it. This should have raised serious questions from many citizens long ago, but we've been educated to listen and believe what we are told, not to ask questions, or think or search for the truth.



1.hornswoggled: deceived. The term comes from the traditional image of cuckolded husbands wearing horns.ķEditor
2.canton: The rectangular section in the upper corner of a flag, next to the staff.
3.The Scarlet Letter: An Authoritative Text, edited by Sculley Bradley, W. W. Norton, New York, 1978, pp. 7-8.
4.There is also a picture of the Coast Guard flag in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass., 1966.
5.For more about the law of the flag, see "A Fiction-at-Law . . . ," in the printed version of Perceptions Magazine May/June1995, Issue 9, page 11.


About the author: Richard McDonald is a California Citizen domiciled in The California state Republic. He does legal research and has his own site on the web, The Citizens Forum File area .


This information reproduced without permission of the author for non-profit educational use. This constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed an interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
flag question 11.Apr.2003 10:32

me why, isnt the net all run by big brother??

Maybe you should educate yourself before blindly posting something. The flag that most people know, the one with the horizontal stripes, was adopted as the official flag of the USA.


a deeper historical outline of the civil flag 11.Apr.2003 11:20

The One True b!X

Can be found here:


It's story is more complex than the poster above makes it out to be. But technically such a flag does exist.

If nothing else, it would be a useful bit of historical trivia to turn into a protest symbol. But if we do so, let's make sure we understand the details of its history first.

addendum 11.Apr.2003 11:37

The One True b!X

Which is not to say that I buy into the conspiratorial aspects of any of the histories posted online of the civil flag. But its usage would certainly provide a means for dissenters to display their support for, say, the Constitution and for their fellow countrymen by flying -an- American flag. And it would certainly be something of a conversation starter.

flags 11.Apr.2003 13:25

Molly Anne Stanton.

I somehow thought the flag to the right is the U.S. Customs flag. You see this one side by side with the normal flag at the border and at the Customs House.

yeah 11.Apr.2003 20:32

The One True b!X

Yeah, read the pieces provided. That's part of the story.