Category — History
Vexillologists, scholars and enthusiasts who study flags, get very picky as they endeavor to be strictly accurate in describing flags. Sometimes they get too carried away and magnifying a small detail causes them to miss the larger picture. The name of Britain’s flag is one such issue.
The flag of the United Kingdom is a combination of three flag each bearing a cross symbolizing one of the three kingdoms which constitute the British nation. A white flag with a red cross, known as the Cross of Saint George, represents England; a blue flag with a white X-shaped cross, known as the Cross of Saint Andrew, stands for Scotland; and a white flag with a red X-shaped cross, called the Cross of Saint Patrick, has become recognized as the symbol of Ireland. Sandwich the three flags together and they form the Union flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Formally, the flag is known as the Union Flag, but for centuries it has been popularly known as the Union Jack.
If “Union Jack” were merely a nickname, like Old Glory, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Stars and Stripes are nicknames for the United States flag, its popular use should be understandable and acceptable. There is something familiar and charming about referring to this historic banner as the Union Jack. Certainly veterans who have defended the U.K. feel they have the right to address their flag in familiar terms. As in fact do many other subjects of the Queen.
Nevertheless, some have insisted that the term Union Jack refers only to a special nautical flag flown on the jack staff at the bow of ships. The term jack refers to these specific maritime flags not only in Britain, but in nations around the world. In the United States, for example, the jack is the union of stars displayed without the field of thirteen red and white stripes. So, in that sense the U.S. jack could also be called a “Union Jack,” but it is simply call the United State Jack. Jacks flown by other nations may not necessarily be a union device, but some other design adopted to be flown on the jack staff of their ships.
Still, call the U.K.’s flag the Union Jack, and a vexillologist could be quick to point out that on land the flag was to be called the Union Flag, and it could only be called the Union Jack when displayed on the jack staff of a vessel. I must admit that I have often avoided using the term “Union Jack” just to avoid the debate.
Now, however, Graham Bartram has come to the rescue. Bartram is the Chief Vexillologist of Britain’s Flag Institute. Having made a careful and exhaustive study of the question, Bartram has determined that the term Union Jack has been used historically to describe the Union Flag whether flown on land or as a jack aboard a ship. So, vexillologists and other flag enthusiasts can relax as either name is perfectly correct. O.K., so if it is flown on a jack staff it is correctly termed a jack, but the design of the jack is, yes indeed, the Union Flag.
So, three cheers for the Union Jack. It is after all an ancestor of our own Stars and Stripes. We inherited our national colors of red white and blue and the concept of a union flag from the Union Jack, and that should give Americans the right to call the flag by its familiar name. Three cheers for the Union Flag sounds too formal and stuffy anyway.
October 30, 2013 No Comments
Rules of flag display were of little concern in the United States until after the Civil War, and then flags were usually draped and festooned to decorate buildings and halls for ceremonies and celebrations. As decorative displays using the Stars and Stripes increased during the nation’s centennial in 1876, some Americans began to question if some displays were in good taste. At the same time merchants used the flag in their advertisements in ways that many found distasteful. A keg of whiskey wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, a stores entrance shaded by an awning made of Old Glory—these were just two examples of commercial exploitation of the U.S. flag.
As the nineteenth century moved to its close, patriotic organizations called for laws to be enacted that would protect the U.S. flag and provide rules for proper display. While this resulted in some legislation to bar use of the flag in advertizing, rules of flag display remained rare. During World War I display of the flag surged and Americans looked for guidelines of flag display.
The few rules that began to appear were often contradictory and confusing. The Boy Scouts might display a flag one way while the Sons of the American Revolution might do something opposite.
In January of 1917, the Army’s Adjutant general issued a set of guidelines known as the Flag Circular. The Adjutant General began his circular by admitting that he had no jurisdiction of display for the flag by civilians. Nevertheless, he would suggest some guidelines for flag display which he hoped would prove helpful.
Then ninety years ago, in 1923 the American Legion sent out a call to patriotic associations to gather in Washington, D.C. to produce a Flag Code which would provide rules for appropriate flag display. The American Flag Code Convention met in June of that year to prepare a list of rules for flag display, and they compiled the first Flag Code comprising a list of rules for civilian flag display.
Although patriotic organizations repeatedly asked the federal government to adopt the Flag Code, Congress was slow to act. Finally almost twenty years later, in the midst of World War II, Congress in 1942 adopted the U.S. Flag Code which was based largely upon the work of the American Flag Code Convention.
In 1976 the Veterans of Foreign Wars spearheaded the revision and updating of the U.S. Flag Code, and it was then that a rule for clamping a flag to an automobile’s radiator cap was finally deleted. However, with changing ways of flag display, the Flag Code seems never to be fully up to date.
People often assume that the U.S. Flag Code covers every question of flag display. Unfortunately, it does not. Many also assume that rules found in the Flag Code describe the only way to correctly honor a flag. In fact the U.S. military, the Federal Government’s departments and foreign nations have some provisions that either are not found or are different from rules found in the U.S. Flag Code.
Further complicating the issue of flag display is that some individuals insist that their interpretations of rules found or rules which they believe are found in the Flag Code are the only way to correctly honor the U.S. Flag.
Business and organizations that display flags at their facilities report that no matter how they display the flag, they will receive calls from indignant individuals insisting that the flag is being displayed incorrectly. Complainers often further insist that the display dishonors the flag.
Colonial Flag Company has resources to help Americans who want to fly the flag correctly and will be happy to respond to questions about flag display. We refer not only to the U.S. Flag Code, but to other military and government regulation. We also check, as appropriate, rules of flag display followed in various states and in foreign countries. No, as surprising as it may be, they do not always agree.
Colonial Flag believes that the vast majority of those who display the U.S. flag desire to honor the flag and all the flag symbolizes, and that an error in flag display does not mean that the flag has been dishonored. As stated before, the Flag Code does not clearly answer all questions about flag display, and to some degree it is not up to date with the way Americans display the flag in the 21st Century. When we become too dogmatic and inflexible about flag display, we discourage people from displaying the flag, and that is unfortunate.
Someone can follow all the rules of flag display and still dishonor the flag. It is how we live our lives as citizen that determines if we truly honor the flag. As Paul Swenson, the owner of Colonial Flag Company has said, “The Flag is made up of millions of stitches just as the United States is made up of millions of citizens. We each need to take care of our own stitch to keep the flag an honored symbol.”
September 23, 2013 No Comments
A previous aricle in flag-post.com titled “Flag Sizes to Match the Day” elicited this response from a reader:
I went another direction with this concept. Not knowing anything about different [size] flags on different days, I decided to make sure I had an additional flag that was different from my daily flyer. I try to fly my 5×8 stars and stripes every day. On holidays, like the 4th of July, I fly my 5×8 Betsy Ross. Occasionally I will fly another flag below them (Gadsden). I have received many compliments about both flags and I hope it has inspired them to fly a flag in their yard.
I like his style. I have also flown different historical flags on appropriate holidays. January 1st is a good day to fly the Grand Union Flag to honor the date in 1776 that GeorgeWashington took command of the Continental Army. A 13-star flag is perfect for either Flag Day or the Fourth of July.
I like to fly a 15-star flag on the 14th of September to remember the date Francis Scott Key saw the huge Star Spangled Banner flying over Fort McHenry as the British retreated. He was inspired to write our National Anthem, and I am inspired each time I see my 15-star flag “so gallantly streaming.
State holidays are an appropriate time to fly state flags, and our fifty state flags have some fascinating origins. Hawaii’s flag is our only state flag that was once the flag of a Kingdom; it once flew over the realm of King Kamehameha. Texas has a state flag that flew over the Texas Republic, and also flew when the Lone Star State was a Confederate state. Although California was never actually an independent republic, its design with a motto proclaiming “California Republic,” honors a flag displayed during the Bear Republic Rebellion. Utah’s flag displays a beehive to honor the Mormon Pioneers who arrived in the Great Basin in 1847 and established colonies where settlers, like bees in hives, worked together for the benefit of all. Ohio is the only swallow tailed state flag, and New Mexico’s flag displays the sun symbol or the native Zia Indians.
Colonial Flag Company has a selection of historical flag replicas and all the state flag available that can be flown to match the flag to the holiday. These flags can add variety to display of the Stars and Stripes as we celebrate the holidays of the year.
August 7, 2013 No Comments