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New Stars in the Constellation

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The 15 star-and-stripe flag was adopted in January of 1794 to represent the addition of the new states of Vermont and Kentucky.  Two years later Tennessee became our 16th state.  Thus it was that, at the turn of the century, sixteen states were represented by the flag of 15 stars and fifteen stripes.

states_20.gif (5799 bytes)Over the first seventeen years of the new century, four more states were added to the union.   Evenso, throughout the early part of the century and all the way through the war of 1812, it was a 15 star flag like Mary Pickersgill's that continued to represent a nation that by 1817 numbered 20 states.  Meanwhile congress wrestled with how to represent their rapidly growing nation in the flag.  The fifteen state flag needed to be increased almost 35% to represent the new states of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi.  And, should the country continue its rapid growth, who could tell HOW large the flag might become if a star and a stripe was added for each new state.  Navy Captain Samuel C. Reid suggested the most logical option:
  1. Return to and keep a flag of 13 stripes -one to represent each of the ORIGINAL colonies that founded the United States, and
  2. Include 20 stars, one for each existing state at the time of the legislation, and simply add one star to the blue union for each NEW state.

 

Congress saw the practicality of Captain Reid's idea and sent the President legislation accordingly.   On April 4, 1818 President Monroe signed the bill establishing that the Flag of the United States of America would consist of 13 alternating red and white stripes that would remain unchanged, and that the field of blue would contain 20 stars to represent the current number of states in the union.  Unlike previous actions regarding the flag, this bill further provided for expansion by:
  1. Setting forth that a star would be added to the blue union at any time in the future that additional states were added to the union, and
  2. Every time the field of blue changed because of the addition of a new star, the newly designed flag would be flown first on the birthday of our Nation, July 4th.
In keeping with this new legislation, the first flag of 20 stars was flown on July 4, 1818.  It was a flag with four rows with five stars in each row like the flag at lower left.  Once again, however, the legislation establishing the design of the flag fell short of defining the arrangement of the stars in the blue union, or even again to establish if the stars would have 5 points or 6.  It was an oversight that wouldn't be addressed for almost another century.  Below are some of the popular designs of the 20-star United States flag that was established in 1818.
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Typically the 20-stars were displayed in four rows of five vertically aligned stars.

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A variation of this flag displayed the four rows of stars in a staggered pattern.

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The "Grand Star Flag" displayed the 20 stars in the shape of one large star

states_24.gif (5163 bytes)After the new 20 star flag was introduced, the United States grew at the rate of one-state-each-year for the next four years.  When Illinois joined the Union in December of 1818, the flag increased to 21 stars the following July 4th.  In December, 1819 Alabama joined the Union, but before the 4th of July arrived (on March 15, 1820) Maine was separated from Massachusetts  and became a state.  Thus, on July 4, 1820 our flag bore 23 stars.

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Shortly after this new flag was introduced on the 4th of July, 1820; it was raised atop the 14,110 high summit of Pike's Peak in Colorado.

Since 1761 Maine had been a part of Massachusetts, but separated and became a separate state as part of the Missouri Compromise that added the area of Missouri as a state in 1822, increasing the field of blue to 24 stars, usually arranged in four rows of five stars each.  Thus it was that our Nation celebrated its 50th birthday in 1826 with 24 total states, almost half the total it would achieve in the two hundred years leading to the bi-centennial in 1976.

flag_28.gif (3015 bytes)The growth of the United States slowed for fifteen years, then resumed in 1836 with the addition of Arkansas.  The following year Michigan became number 26.  Eight years later Florida achieved statehood and the following year (1846) Texas was added.  The 28-star flag adopted on July 4, 1846 continued to grow over the next fifteen years, as our Nation both grew and as it moved towards a civil war that threatened to tear eleven stars from that flag.

 

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flag_34.gif (1301 bytes)The admission of Kansas as our 34th state in January, 1861 led to a flag of 34 stars.  These were usually arranged in a pattern of two rows of seven at the top and bottom, with a row of 6 stars in the center.  The field almost appears divided upon first glance, perhaps a somewhat prophetic statement of what lay ahead for the United States of America as well as our Nation's flag.
 

Click on the NEXT arrow to go to the next page is this series on the history of our Flag.  If you ever get lost along the way, you can click on the compass to go to our hyper-linked Site Map for the Hall of Heroes.


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Flags of the Civil War

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[History of the Flag]  [13 Star Flag] [15 Star Flag] [Pre-Civil War Flags]
[Civil War Flags][20th Century Flags][Our 50 Star Flag] [Flag Day]
[Arthur MacArthur's Flag] [William Carney's Flag] [FDR's Flag of Liberation]


FLAG DAY           STATE FLAGS

How to Display the Flag The National Anthem The Pledge of Allegiance
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Sources:

OUR FLAG, Joint Committee on Printing, United States Congress. 1989
Chronicle of America 1997 Dorling Kindersley
Family Encyclopedia of American History 1975 The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
The Citizens Flag Alliance, Inc.