Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 121 and 122.
Q121: Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
The stripes represent the number of presidents we've had.
The stripes represent the number of freedoms in the Constitution.
The stripes represent the original colonies.
The stripes represent the number of years the colonies were under the king’s rule.
Q122: Why does the flag have fifty (50) stars?
Each star represents a president.
Each star represents a war the United States has won.
Each star represents one of the fifty (50) rivers in the United States.
Each star represents one of the fifty (50) states.
The very first American flag was the Grand Union Flag, which had the 13 red-and-white stripes we know today but the canton (the corner) was the British ensign. The stripes represented the colonies while the ensign a connection to Britain. This was used before the colonies formally declared independence and were instead fighting to maintain what they understood as British liberties, though whether that is the reason for the design is unclear.
“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.”
So reads the Flag Act of 1777, a simple, single sentence clarifying the flag’s design, passed by the Continental Congress on June 14 of that year. First a red stripe, then a white, alternating, and representing the 13 colonies. Then the canton, a “blue field” with 13 stars, “representing a new Constellation.”
Early versions of the American flag have the stars pattered in any number of ways, for there was no single mandate. It was not until, after the admission of Arizona in 1912 and an executive order by William Howard Taft, that standards were given. Prior to that, stars could be found in a number of different patterns and styles.
The number of stars has changed over time as states joined the Union. Thus, there are now 50 stars on the flag, one for each state.
The American Flag has undergone a few design changes since it first flew over the fledgling nation, reflecting the changes that the nation itself has experienced.
Flags are not simply pretty designs. Each part of it has meaning, symbols of the nation. The American flag has thirteen stripes and fifty stars. Why are there 13 stripes? What do they represent? What do the stars represent? And how and why has the number of stars changed over time?
The original flag was called the “Grand Union Flag,” and consisted of 13 red and white stripes and the British ensign where the blue canton and 50 stars are today. Like the nation, the flag underwent a number of changes since its inception. What story does the American flag tell us? How does it help remind us of our nation’s beginnings? What does the flag represent today? Use current and past events to illustrate your answer.