Arago: Exhibits

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Resolved, That the flag of the United States...

United States Master Collection, Scott 1350, First Stars and Stripes, Historic Flag Series

The 6-cent First Stars and Stripes stamp was issued July 4, 1968. (Scott 1350)

United States Master Collection, Scott 1509, U.S. Flag

The 10-cent 50-star & 13-star flags stamp was issued December 8, 1973. (Scott 1509)

By 1777, the Revolutionary War was in full swing, with no indications of ending quickly. Morale was low, and casualties were high. To show unity with the Continental Army, and in order to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act on June 14, 1777. This act set forth the model of the American flag: “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.” The 6-cent First Stars and Stripes stamp at left depicts the flag that the Continental Congress adopted as the national emblem. The Continental Congress did not stipulate how the stars were to be arranged, which has resulted in the many star arrangements on the flag over the years. For the first official flag the thirteen stars were arranged in a circle.

The inclusion of stars and stripes would remain with the flag through its evolution, though the design would go through numerous revisions. Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that would change the shape, design, and arrangement of the flag. Presently, the American flag has thirteen horizontal stripes (seven red, six white), which symbolize the first thirteen colonies that became the first American states. The fifty stars adorning the canton symbolize the fifty states of the Union. Even the colors are symbolic. White stands for purity and innocence; red for hardiness and valor; and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

The 10-cent stamp on the right featuring the fifty-star flag and the thirteen-star flag was issued in 1973. The use of the thirteen-star flag was a salute to the bicentennial of the American Revolution, in 1976, with the fifty-star flag reminding the nation just how far it had come.