Aflag can be described as quadrilateral fabric with idiosyncraticdesign that is used as a symbol of a nation, an institution or groupof people. can also be used as signs or decorations. However, aflag can also be printed on a piece of paper or any other media,where the term flag describes the graphic designs that represent theflag. The most important uses of flags in the history of human kindwere in the ancient military activities where flags were used to forsignaling an identification purposes. Military leaders used flags tocoordinate their soldiers in the battle fields or mark theirterritories. In the modern world, the most important flags are thenational flags which act as national symbols, internationalassociations as well as government and nongovernmental organizationssuch as police, military, religious groups, Red Cross, European Unionand United Nations (Thomas and Richard, 1). These institutions usethe flags to advertise their presence, to send a particular messageor for decorative purposes. For example, the Red Cross is a reliefand rescue organization and therefore uses its flag to symbolize andsend a message of hope to people in distress. The flag also identifythem as non combatants in the battle fields. Nonetheless, the flag iswidely used in military activities in the modern world, andtherefore, strongly associated with the military (Thomas and Richard,1).

Inthe antiquity, flags were mainly used as military tools and asheraldic devices. However, in the medieval and middle ages, statelike structures started to emerge where flags were used as signs andsymbols. A good example was the Old Swiss Confederation flag in thelate middle ages (Thomas and Richard, 14). However, the modernregimental national flags emerged in the early middle modern periodof history. The earliest forms of the modern flags emerged in theScandinavian countries in the 15thand 16thcentury. The flag of Denmark which was designed in the mid 15 centuryis considered to have inspired the modern cross design flags in themodern Scandinavian flags as well as flags in other parts of theworld. Other earlier flags include the tricolor flag of Denmark inthe early 16thcentury, the tricolor flag of France, The Union Jack (UK), The OldGlory (USA) and the Ethiopia tricolor flag which inspired the colorsin many African countries. National flag played an important roleduring the age of sail. The use of flags by sailors’ ships was animportant customary act, which later became an international legalrequirement in the modern maritime activities. The flags were used asmeans of communication and identification (Thomas and Richard, 14).


Thehistory of the American flag can be traced back to 1775 when Americanship sailed with a flag known as the ‘liberty tree’. The flag wasa plain fabric with a green pine tree representing the liberty treeand the wars ‘An Appeal to Heaven’. In the same year, thecontinental navy also used another flag with the words ‘Don’ttread on me”. Additionally, three other flags are believed to havebeen used in different parts of the United States in 1775. Theseflags included ‘Forster flag’, ‘sons of liberty flag’ and‘New England flag’. However, in late 1775, the leader of thecontinental army, George Washington instructed a renowned seamstressfrom Philadelphia to design the first American flag. GeorgeWashington together with other members of the continental congressgave seamstress a rough design of what they proposed to be theAmerican flag. This led to the first unofficial flag of the UnitedStates with all the continental colors commonly know as The GrandUnion Flag. It has been argued that the design of the flag wasinspired by the ‘British East India Company flag in the 18thcentury which contained red stripes and star in blue and whitebackgrounds. It has also been argued that the flag was inspired bythe “British Red Ensign” which was one of the major flags used bythe British Empire in the 18thcentury. However, the British Empire flag did not have white stripes.Since then, the flag has been modified at lest 26 times (Whipple,34).

Thefirst modification of the flag was in June 1777 where the continentalcongress agreed that the flag should contain 13 alternate red andwhite stripes and thirteen stars in a blue field. The thirteenstripes and stars represented the new constellation. As a result theFlag Day is celebrated on every 14thday in June in the United States. In 1795, the United States flag wasfurther modified where the number of stripes and stars were increasedto fifteen, from thirteen. This was after two states, Vermont andKentucky joined the union. However, subsequently entry of states intothe union did not result into altering of the flag. This was notuntil 1818 when the congress made a decision to add one star for eachstate that enters the union. However, the number of stripes would bereduced to 13 to honor the original colonies that formed the union.These changes were to be effective on the Independence Day (4thof July) every year. The most recent took place in 1960 when Hawaiiwas declared a state in the United States, resulting into 50 stars inthe United States flag. However, the 49 star flag was short-livedsince Alaska had been admitted into the United States in 1959. The 50stars fashion of the American flag has been used for the longesttime, surpassing the 48 star flag which was used for 47 years (Testi,77).

Inthe late 1860s, the modern use of the American flag emerged whenAmericans in the northern states used the flag as a symbol ofnationalism and to express objection to secessionism. Since them, theuse of the American flag changed from a military symbol to a nationalsymbol all Americans were willing to fight for. According toGoodheart (1), before1861, “heflag served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking ofAmerican territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, anddisplayed on special occasions like the Fourth of July. But in theweeks after Major Anderson’s surprising stand, it would becomesomething different. Suddenly, the Stars and Stripes would fly – asit does today – from houses, from storefronts, from churches abovevillage greens and college quadrangle”. This resulted into massproduction of American flags, such that the producers could not keepup with the demand. According Bonner(293)to the flag “as symbols of motivation and inspiration forConfederate patriots” during the American civil war. In the modern20thand 21stcentury United States, the American flag is the most widely used andtreasured national symbol. Although there is an explicit Americanflag code, the American flag is displayed in both public and privateproperties including cars, clothing, ornaments and residences. Afterthe September 11 attack, “American flags were hung not only fromwindows and porches, they also appeared bound on automobiles bumpers,tattooed on the body parts, as a wallpaper screen on cell phones, onall attires, from boxers and socks to winter coats, collectibles,pins and many more” (Brata 232) as an emotional reaction and a signof a united nation against terrorism. Additionally, the flag is usedin different part of the world in reference to the United States andas a symbol of Americanization. However, Pineda and Sowards (164)argue that the use of the American flag of any other flag may havedifferent connotations since “flagwavingconstitutes a visual argument about cultural citizenship that isinterpreted differently by different audiences”.

Throughouthistory, there are specific codes and traditions that guide thedisplay, use or how to dispose the American flag. One of the mostimportant traditions involving the American flag is that it can neverbe dipped to any individual, unless if responding to a salute in themaritime activities. Other traditions are guidelines on displayingthe flag at night, repair or disposal of worn out flags, display onvehicles and uniforms and displays on national days (Testi, 111). Animportant aspect of the American flag in the modern society is theexpression of public outrage through desecration of the Americanflag. Both in the United States and other parts of the world,individuals and groups of individuals have expressed their angeragainst the United States government by burning the flag. Although itis condemned since the flag is a treasured national symbol,desecration of the flag is protected by the constitution as an aspectof freedom of speech.


Bonner,Robert. E. “Flag Culture and the Consolidation of ConfederateNationalism”. TheJournal of Southern History,68(2), (2002), p 293-332.https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-86192282/flag-culture-and-the-consolidation-of-confederate

Bratta,Philip. M. “Flag display post 9/11: A discourse on AmericanNationalism”. TheJournal of American Culture,32(3), (2009), p 232-243.https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-1869142041/flag-display-post-9-11-a-discourse-on-american-nationalism

Goodheart,Adam. Thethree flags,(2010). New York Times,http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/three-flags/?_r=0

Pineda,Richard. D. and Sowards, Stacey K.&quotFlag Waving as VisualArgument: 2006 Immigration Demonstrations and Cultural Citizenship&quot. Argumentationand Advocacy.43(3-4), (2007), p 164-174, webhttps://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-175525520/flag-waving-as-visual-argument-2006-immigration-demonstrations

Testi,Arnaldo. Capture the flag : the stars and stripes in Americanhistory, New York: New York University Press, (2010),https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=cSyiU1bzLAsC&ampprintsec=frontcover&ampdq=american+flag,+history&amphl=en&ampsa=X&ampei=dWWIVc-KIaSAzAObmbm4AQ&ampredir_esc=y#v=onepage&ampq&ampf=false

Thomas,Hylland Eriksen and Richard Jenkins. Flag, Nation and Symbolism inEurope and America, ISBN 1134066961, Routledge, (2007),https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=scHXHTkRmZcC&amppg=PR13&ampdq=uses+of+flags+in+history&amphl=en&ampsa=X&ampei=UmeIVcCfHKXOygOiw4jQBg&ampredir_esc=y#v=onepage&ampq&ampf=false

Whipple,W. Thestory of the American flag,Bedford, Mass.: Applewood Books, (2000).https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=N7uN9Gfm0a8C&ampprintsec=frontcover&ampdq=american+flag&amphl=en&ampsa=X&ampei=NAVwVYrHKbSt7AauwoKYDw&ampredir_esc=y#v=onepage&ampq&ampf=false