The DIY Flag Designs of the Early Republic

...and the Progressive Era's rather different approach to the national banner


Today is Flag Day, which in theory exists to commemorate the birth of the American flag on June 14, 1777. But the flag wasn't actually adopted that day—not in the sense that we think of when we hear the phrase "the flag." A former Reason editor explains:

Flag of David?
Zaricor Flag Collection

In the early Republic, different people put forth all sorts of seals, mottoes and flags, representing both competing ideas of liberty and different graphic heritages. The Stars and Stripes, [David Hackett Fischer] notes, emerged as a national banner not out of an official committee but through a decentralized process of experimentation.

In 1777, the Continental Congress finally voted that the national flag should combine the red and white stripes used by Boston's Sons of Liberty with the star-strewn field of blue carried by George Washington's Army. But even that decree left the exact design open. "American citizens received it not as a fixed instruction but as an invitation to creativity," Fischer tells us. "The result was an outpouring of stripes and stars in many designs." Some flag makers arrayed the stars in rows, others in a circle, still others in an ellipse; five-, six- or seven-pointed stars appeared. Some flags included mottoes ("Virtue, Liberty, Independence"), additional images (the Liberty Tree) or the Masonically significant number 76. John Adams added the constellation Lyra to his version. Only in 1912 was the flag's form fixed by law, a symbol, unremarked by Fischer, of that centralizing era.

That's from Virginia Postrel's review of David Hackett Fischer's Liberty and Freedom; both the article and the book are worth reading in full. That spirit of centralization would soon intensify: From 1918 to 1920, it would become illegal to "willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the flag. What had been a source of self-expression was now a center of censorship.

For an assortment of early American banners, some of which fit the Continental Congress' specs and some of which do not, go here and here.

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  1. From 1918 to 1920, it would become illegal to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the flag.

    Woodrow Wilson, one of America’s greatest presidents!

    1. His nickname was Chip.

      1. He’s history’s greatest monster.

        1. Second. FDR is still Number One.

        2. He’s Americanhistory’s greatest monster.

          1. That would be Eli Whitney. Without the cotton gin slavery would have died a natural death. Maybe Robert E. Lee. If he had fought for the Union the war would have lasted the time it took to march to Richmond.

            1. Lincoln. The Yankees had a shallow bench of competent tyrannical military dictators.

  2. “I am thy Flag, you shall worship no other flag than me”

    1. The Yangs would agree.

  3. What had been a source of self-expression was now a center of censorship.

    Because that is what the Government does.

  4. I have a massive, fifty-foot Betsy Ross flag I’ll display every time some leftist complains about my porch flag.

    1. I have a 5 foot Betsy Ross flag I have hanging on the wall in my living room.

      But I’m in Canada so nobody knows what it is other than a weird looking American flag.

      1. You have a great flag, Canada. Simple and classic.

        1. Nothing designed by Mike Pearson can be classic.

  5. Actually, it’s a day to celebrate the anniversary of my birth.

    1. ‘Celebrate’ is not the word the rest of us use.

      1. “Self-pleasure”?

    2. It’s also for celebrating the birth of Poodles Hanneford.

    3. What kind of jerk has a birthday on a Sunday?

      1. Jesus?

        1. Nah. He fucks up Christmas every year.

      2. Seriously, happy birthday, Ted’S.

    4. Happy anniversary.

      And many more.

    5. Happy Birthday dude!

    6. It’s the day to recover from celebrating my birthday the day before.

    7. Happy Birthday

    8. Happy Birthday Ted S.! Here’s to many more. Most because I’m selfish and love your movie commentary here and on your blog.

  6. Did anyone notice this?


    Attack on police station in Dallas last Friday.

    1. Yeah, I saw that. What was hilarious is that it was a white guy in an armored vehicle and all of the Black Lives Matter people on Twitter were initially like “IT’S PROOF OF RACISM THAT THEY HAVEN’T SHOT THIS GUY TO DEATH LIKE THEY DO TO US.”

      Of course, the reason they didn’t shoot him to death was cause he was in an armored truck and eventually they disabled it with a sniper and he was shot to death. They’ve been strangely silent about the fact that their initial assumptions were proven wrong by later events.

      BTW: Have you set up a Go Fund Me or anything? We probably shouldn’t talk about the actual Troubles in the comments, I was just wondering if there’s any legal fund up and running yet.

      1. BTW: Have you set up a Go Fund Me or anything? We probably shouldn’t talk about the actual Troubles in the comments, I was just wondering if there’s any legal fund up and running yet.


        1. +2

      2. Yes I have – but I’m holding off on taking donations.

        Its likely that nothing will come of this – simply an investigation – so I don’t want people giving me money if its not necessary.

        Strangely enough though – these crowdsourcing sites won’t allow you to set things up but hold off on making the site live. As soon as I had finished they pushed the page out to take donations and there’s no way to stop it short of completely turning off the campaign.

        1. I don’t want people giving me money if its not necessary

          If someone from Salon reads this comment on a libertarian blog, their heads may literally explode.

          Which could make the comment a threat….

          1. I don’t want people giving me money if its not necessary

            If someone from Salon reads this comment on a libertarian blog, their heads may literally explode.

            Does Not Compute!

          2. Because they don’t want us to spend our money as we wish.

            We have to ask for permission first.

        2. You could always take donations and donate the unused proceeds to FIRE or the Institute for Justice. Even if nothing comes of this, at least free speech organizations would benefit and other people who find themselves in situations like yourself could have improved representation.

          1. I intended to so that *if* I needed the money and *if* I got more than I needed – donate the excess.

            But, better it stays in your pocket – you guys know better what you’d want it donated to than me.

            1. Classy.

              *thumbs up*

            2. If ya’ll send me that money I would buy Warty a few “pretty things” and then blow the rest in Vegas.

              So keep those dollars flowing in people. If we get $1o in benefits from every $1 in investment to the National Park service like Mr. President says imagine how much fun I would have if you invested it in my recreational budget.

              Yes I know it might be hard to make the connection but trust me.

        3. Good to hear from you. I’ll be there to help if the time comes.

        4. “Agammamon’s Sand Rail fund”

          1. Don’t kid – its soooo tempting.

            I’m trying to sell the one I have – its a wee bit too small for me and uncomfortable to drive – so I can get a proper one.

            1. Best of luck bro. I second the sentiments above. Could’ve happened to anyone here. Hang tough.

              1. Yep. It could have been anyone of us.

        5. Good to hear things are going okay for you. Hope you’re right about nothing coming of it. But, if not, please let us know. I know I’ll be happy to chip in.

        6. Hang tough Ag. I’m good for a hunk of cash if you need it.

          1. There is a special place in heaven for you and the rest of the woodchipper league.

            1. It’s nice to see you’re out of the doghouse .

              1. After 10+ years I can’t quit y’all.

                1. Ditto.

            2. Same applies to you Rhywun. Good to see you back.

              1. I concur

            3. Rhywun,
              If they actually come after you, you’ll be a rich man.

            4. Rhywun and Agammamon,
              I’m glad you’re back. I feel very strongly about this, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, that you will be able to afford an appropriate legal defense, if necessary.

            5. Rhywun! *tackleglomps*

              I missed you! None of these assholes missed you. Only me.

        7. Could we all show up and claim to be you? Now, that’s crowd sourcing!

          Je suis Agammamon.

        8. If it does come to needing donations, I’m dead broke, but i will offer, signed and numbered limited edition prints, and the original artwork of my now viral* political cartoon [redacted] as gifts/incentives/prizes or whatever they are called for your fund raiser.

          *over 300 views is viral, right?

          1. Not when they are all your mom. Well, that’s viral for a different reason, anyway.

          2. How are you at designing flags?

            1. Well there’s this Chippertopia

              but I’ve only had six Strohs so far today, so you know consider…

              1. LOL@ “gay stitching”

          3. A woodchipper flag with “Don’t Tread In Me” on it?

        9. But the ‘situation’ still pisses me off.

          I go from “are they crazy?” to “what a bunch of fucking assholes!” Disbelief and anger.

    2. Also, of course a Gawker affiliate says the following:

      “This brings into question how this man, who had such a violent track record, was able to obtain firearms and explosives. His access to armored vehicles replete with gun ports (which there is no current law against) should also come into question as police deconstruct what was likely intended as a mass murder event.”

      The guys at Charlie Hebdo managed to buy a fucking rocket launcher in a Belgian train station. If only rocket launchers were illegal in France and Belgium! Clearly more regulation is needed.

      1. “His access to armored vehicles replete with gun ports”

        Wow. People have to work to get that stupid.

        1. Yeah, it’s like they never watched the A-Team.

          1. We must outlaw steel, cutting tools, and welders! For the children!

    3. It’s just missing the bumper sticker: “my kid is an honor student at Jiminy Cricket Middle School”

      I guess you’re out of the pokey.

  7. Huh, I didn’t have a whole lot of strong opinions about Dolezal’s ‘race’, and if she wants to say she’s “black” and the NAACP is good with it, I’m good with it.

    However, it appears she may have used her “social construct” to get in the front of the application line…

    The city is investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she applied for the police board.


    1. I don’t have a problem with her saying she “feels” black culturally, etc., much as I don’t have a problem with someone saying they feel like a woman, even if they have a penis. Far be it from me to tell someone how they feel on the inside.

      But she’s not black by the commonly accepted definition of the word. That’s just an objective fact. Her saying otherwise is dishonest, much like a transgendered man saying they actually are femaile (i.e. posesseing two X chromosomes).

      1. But she’s not black by the commonly accepted definition of the word. That’s just an objective fact.

        Except there really isn’t some objective definition of what is “black”. It’s not like there is a “black gene” or a “white gene”.

        1. We’re all brothers.

          1. Even the girls?

            1. We have to have someone to have sex with.

              1. Bitch or ho, ho or bitch.

                1. I prefer “cuntress”. You may or may not use it as a proper noun, your choice.

                  1. “Diana the Cuntress”. Thou dost wax poetic.

        2. It’s not like there is a “black gene” or a “white gene”.

          So, skin melanin is not a genetic thing?

          1. But, melanin isn’t binary – you have it or you don’t. Everyone has it. Some people have more, some less. And it’s not like there’s some objective cut-off that differentiates the races.

            1. Albino “blacks” is totally a thing too.

          2. Spray on melanin, son. Don’t be a Luddite.

            1. “Fat, drunk, and white is no way to go through life, son.”

              1. How about thin, cute and female, Cupcake?

                  1. Oh, yeah.

        3. Except there really isn’t some objective definition of what is “black”. It’s not like there is a “black gene” or a “white gene”.

          The government check-writing department says otherwise.

    2. “it appears she may have used her “social construct” to get in the front of the application line”


      1. Those check boxes are racist.

  8. I’m thinking.. ASCII art star middle finger and fytw in the blue section.. The digital age..

    1. With prison stripes?

  9. Time to break out my Old Glory dishtowels and toilet paper.

    1. You don’t want to run afoul of the flag code, son.

      *puts on USA boardshorts*

  10. This article is bullshit.

    Everyone knows that Bettsy Ross was bumping uglies with George Washington so he threw her the position of “National Flag Designer” as a political appointee perk to make her feel useful while the menfolk went off and did something useful.

    I learnt it is grammer school.

    1. Her main competitor was screwing Ben Franklin, but he had such a vigorous sex life he forgot who she was.

  11. Only in 1912 was the flag’s form fixed by law, a symbol, unremarked by Fischer, of that centralizing era.

    Modern progressives will ridicule the idea of “dying for a piece of cloth”. Not necessarily without good reason (though it misses the whole point of what a flag stands for). But I find it remarkable how unaware they are of the history of their own movement. People will rightly point out all the ways in which 18th/19th century America failed to live up to the libertarian ideals we sometimes ascribe to the era, but all the libertarians I know are well aware of those shortcomings and have no problem admitting it. I don’t see the same level of knowledge in the history of the progressive movement.

    1. They can’t admit it because they believe in principals, not principles. And suffer from a whole heaping of doublethink.

    2. Progressives, no matter how intelligent they may be within certain fields, tend to have ridiculous and gaping blind spots when it comes to their understanding of history. This is especially true with unions. At the Chicago World Fair in the 1800s, Union workers attacked immigrant Italian workers who were trying to build the fairgrounds because they were non-union. Of course, one reason immigrant workers often were non-union was because the unions themselves were unrepentantly anti-immigrant and often outright racist. So immigrants couldn’t join the unions that existed for the benefit of the “American” working man, and then when they tried to find work without the unions’ blessing they were impugned as scabs and brutally assaulted. This sort of thing is completely ignored by progressives.

      On the other hand, I’m well aware of the sins of business during the same period of time. There were union organizers in West Virginia who actually had bombs dropped on them from airplanes hired by the mining companies. I know this happened and I don’t condone it in any way, and had I been alive at the time I would have supported the unions’ right to organize without such violence being used against them. So I know about and abhor the violence used by people allegedly “on my side” whereas progressives are so ignorant that they don’t even know the violent history of many elements of their own movement.

      1. Thinking about it a little more, it isn’t all that surprising, I guess. Progressive and conservative are the dominant political philosophies of the day, and precisely because they are dominant there a lot of “casual” progressives and conservatives that are not that knowledgeable about the movements’ pasts. I don’t think there are many casual libertarians.

        And the more dedicated progressives are rarely put in a position where they have to defend their ideology, so they don’t have much incentive to learn the detailed history.

        Still, I have to wonder what they would say if confronted with such facts.

      2. Unions are one of those things that were necessary at one time to correct a huge imbalance in power between employer and employee.

        But like all such organizations (examine any NGO/activist group) they refuse to admit that they simply aren’t relevant today. Especially in their government-empowered form.

        And there’re a lot of people who won’t acknowledge that what was once a useful tool is not a drag on us – its a similar mechanic with the CRA and AA. You can make a decent argument that the things these laws allowed/required were necessary to push integration and combat racism, but no-one wants to point out they do more harm than good *today*.

    3. What exactly does a flag stand for?

      1. Nationalist erections?

        1. Exeptionalism bitches!
          Also, America, fuck yeah!

          1. Love your handle!

            1. Dammit, you’re both derivative assholes.

              I WAS FIRST!

              1. I am not derivative!

                1. Yes you are, you just don’t realize it because you’re in a tranche.

              2. No way man! I chipped in early on.

      2. The meaning associated with most flags (or any other symbols) stem in part from history and commonly accepted narratives, and partly from the meaning that individuals ascribe themselves.

        1. Thank you. My faith in the commentariat remains in tact!

      3. What exactly does a flag stand for?

        Maintaining the status quo power structure.

      4. It’s like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant – marking its territory, warning every other dog to back off.

  12. My flag has the trucker’s chrome mudflap girl in the center with a hamburger and a beer bottle above the girl.

    1. You’re a great American. If you add an AK it can be our next flag!

      1. I may just do that.

    1. I’d be more than happy to get rid of the California flag AND give CA back to Mexico.

      1. We’re going broke because 5O% Medi-Cal recipients are illegl. Undocumented . . Whatever

        1. You are going broke because your state is being run by unrepentant socialists. Escape while you still can.

          1. I plan on doing just that, right after I make a bundle off my stupid fellow Californians. They’d buy anything or believe anything, as long as it fits their progressive mindset. And I am an unfettered opportunist.

            1. I’m still not sure when to sell. Prices keep going up.

              1. Slanderer !

      2. Can the good breweries become city-states?

        1. Lagunitas is opening up a satellite location back east.

          1. Hmm. Well I guess it won’t be Asheville as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues are already there.

            1. Chicago, if that qualifies as back east. It does to me.

              1. Ohh. Yea that’s not back east. Also, I hear they do not know how to make pizza there.

                1. No, as was discussed before, they bake pure manna from heaven there.

        2. We’re getting a BrewDog in Columbus. Their first brewery outside of Scotland.

          1. Is British beer as good as the food?

            1. They have to be good at something you would think?

                1. Dentistry. They are great dentists. They have to be.

  13. Call me a patriot. Old Glory is better looking than most other countries’ gross flags.

    1. I love mine so much it’s all crumpled and sticky.

    2. Well, sometimes you have to accessorize


    3. Can’t we just the rattlesnake one back?

      1. Or just let AC design one. We can suggest a rattlesnake somewhere on it.

        1. Can the rattlesnake have an AK?

          1. I just assummed that it would. I’m guessing it would have some sort of funky genitalia as well.

        2. We can suggest a rattlesnake somewhere on it.

          Nemo me impune lacessit!

          1. +1 Montresor family

        1. I’ve never wanted a tatoo until just now.

  14. As a reminder for the gamers among us – got a STEAM group for commenters here.


    Send me a friend request to join up.

    And – tonight 1845 PT, Bethesda’s E3 press conference. Should be more FO4 (and some of them other, lesser, games). Expect Dishonored 2 and Doom (Doom4).


    1. Send a request to which user? I am Dessic on Steam.

      1. Incunabulum

        1. Don’t you mean Mulubanucni?

          1. What the hell are you nerds talking about?

            1. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure your mom has a better use for her basement than you playing video games in it.

              1. Oh… Thanks. Video Games.

                Basement? What is this, Ohio?

                1. Basements are the best

                2. Warty isn’t the only one with a basement

                  1. That sounds like a confession. I need to call Preet.

      1. Can we be friends? No social media platform, just asking.

  15. Today is Flag Day

    and the 240th Army Birthday. I had steak for breakfast and pie is on tap for tonight.

    1. Shouldn’t those be K-rations?

      1. Awesome. Saved.

  16. ”The original meanings of freedom and liberty,” he writes, ”were not merely different but opposed. Liberty meant separation. Freedom implied connection.”

    I couldn’t really understand from the review what Fischer’s idea of Freedom actually was? Somehow it’s a collective term?

    1. If you take the quote in its full context, it is clear that Fischer is comparing the etymologies of the two words. And he is correct; “free” in the original old Germanic meant “friend”. That is, someone who was part of your family or clan. People outside of that group were fair game for enslavement. “Liberty,” of course, comes from the Latin liber, which meant something like “lack of restrictions”. Indeed, we can see a shift between the two words reflected in the move from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. “Join or Die” require the States not only possess liberty from English rule, but that they enter a state of freedom, that is, in its original sense of clanship.

      1. Yeah, I get the etymology aspect of it. And I kind have understand why he doesn’t like Liberty (I obviously don’t agree with him). I don’t get how that relates to the here and now. What does freedom represent to him today that liberty does not? Would perhaps Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association actually represent Liberty (which he does not like)? And in contrast, hate speech laws and public accommodation laws represent freedom (to him)?

        1. The short answer is “because he’s a moron.”

          The long answer is “‘libertarian’ is related to the word ‘liberty’. He doesn’t like Milton Friedman; therefore, ‘liberty’ is a dirty word and right-thinking people shouldn’t use it.”

          That’s all. You shouldn’t expect anything more sophisticated .

          1. Got it. Yeah, there are definatley some people whom I hope I never “get”.

  17. Off-topic: glad to see certain handles in this thread.

    On-topic: “Well, if you don’t have a flag, you can’t have a country. Those are the rules..”

    1. what was Zappa’s rule of nationhood?

      to be a country you need a flag, a beer, and a… sports team?

      1. ah. an *Airline*!

        “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer”
        – Frank Zappa

  18. Strategy

    “The highest-premium voter in ’92 was a voter who would vote for one party some and for another party some,” said James Carville, Mr. Clinton’s chief strategist in 1992. “Now the highest-premium voter is somebody with a high probability to vote for you and low probability to turn out. That’s the golden list. And that’s a humongous change in basic strategic doctrine.”

    “Who are those other mugs gonna vote for, Rick Perry?”

    1. “somebody with a high probability to vote for you and low probability to turn out.”

      code language = the young people, blacks/hispanics that won for Obama

      yes, they are liberal as fuck, but they are about as uninspired as can be imagined. I hear nothing but Bernie-love anywhere there be liberals on the net. and the people pleading for Hildebeast don’t seem to be trying to sell her on the merits, but rather, “TEAM RED IS WURSE!!” which is not ‘positive message’ stuff that increases turnout.

  19. Off topic = Also good to see Ag, Rhywun etc. May your chippers stay fueled and well oiled.

    Off off-topic = does anyone know if there is any use for an old Iphone 3G that has no AT&T service, and has no intention of ever using those bloodsucking bastards ever again?

    i’m aware its a GSM device, and so unusable on CDMA networks (which my current provider is); but given that its still fairly functional portable hardware (with a better battery life than my current POS device), i’m curious if there’s any OS replacements or hacks that make it useful in any other regard… the current plan is to load a bunch of games on it and gift it to some 4yr old. Any other ideas?

    1. If you know a boy or girl between the ages of 10-17 who needs a soldering iron, small tools kit and a supply of old working electronics with which to dicker around, you could make some future tinkerer a very happy kid.

    2. Give it to the 4 yo.

      I scrapped an iphone 3g, a 4s, and a 5.
      Well, one of those is the DJ in my Swagger Wagon.

      1. Yeah, this. We gave the 1 year old grandkid an old, dead TV remote. She thinks it’s the SHIT….and she doesn’t keep trying to grab the actual, working TV remote.

        Win – Win!

        She gets her first wood chipper in another couple weeks.

  20. Too lazy to look upthread, but in case someone else hasn’t already noted:

    Flag Day was better when Virgina Postrel was running Reason.

    Also, woodchippers are handy tools.

    That is all.

  21. nice flag design, you can also recommend http://bit.ly/2jySMkg

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