This Independence Day, our nation celebrates 237 years of freedom, strength, and prosperity. And what’s the one symbol we associate the most with our freedom and liberty? The national flag of the United States of America.
The modern meaning of the flag was forged in December 1860, when Major Robert Anderson moved the U.S. garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Adam Goodheart argues this was the opening move of the Civil War, and the flag was used throughout the North to symbolize American nationalism and rejection of secessionism.
Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like American Independence day. But in the weeks after Major Anderson’s surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew—as it does today, and especially as it did after the September 11 attacks in 2001—from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads. For the first time American flags were mass-produced rather than individually stitched and even so, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. As the long winter of 1861 turned into spring, that old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for.
—Adam Goodheart, Prologue of “1861: The Civil War Awakening” (2011).
Throughout the world the flag has been used in public discourse to refer to the United States, not only as a nation, state, government, and set of policies, but also as a set of ideals. The flag has become a powerful symbol of Americanism, and can be seen being proudly flown on many occasions, from homes, schools, on Military installations, even in the hands of a small child.
The United States Flag Code establishes advisory rules for display and care of the flag of the United States (Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code). This is a U.S. federal law, but there is no penalty for failure to comply with it.
Though not part of the official Flag Code, according to Military custom, flags should be folded into a triangular shape when not in use. Check out the video below to learn the proper way to fold the “Old Glory.” Note that the goal for the U.S. Army 3d US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) is to have the flag folded in 1:55.
After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, reminding us of the Soldiers who served under General George Washington and the Sailors and Marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States.
As you celebrate this Independence Day, take a second to find the American flag closest to you and remember all those who have served/are serving to protect the freedom it has come to symbolize.