National Geographic : 1959 Jul
NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHERJ. BAYLOR ROBERTS The flag holds a place of honor in the United States House of Representatives. When displayed flat, whether horizontally or vertically, the stars always lie to the observer's left. Presi dent Dwight D. Eisenhower reports to Congress on the state of the Union: January 9, 1959. Congress's vague stars-and-stripes directive. But designs differed sharply. How sharply can be seen by flags displayed as battle relics of Bennington, Guilford Court House, and Cowpens (pages 93, 94, and 97). To present-day Americans, whose flag has come to be the fixed and secure symbol of their country, such confusions and contradictions seem almost incomprehensible. The clue lies in the attitudes of a time when neither flag nor Nation was fixed or secure. After Vermont and Kentucky joined the thirteen original States in 1791 and 1792, Congress was forced to consider a new law. The Senate quietly passed a bill at the end of 1793 providing for two more stripes and two more stars. But when the measure came before the House, debate soon showed that some members, at least, regarded the flag's alteration as a bore and a bother. "A trifling business," observed one Representative. "A consummate specimen of frivolity," said another sternly. If the bill had to be dealt with, it was suggested that it be passed quickly, so as to get on with more important affairs. But "for the honor of the House," warned the opposition, let it not appear upon the minutes that such an act was the first passed at the session. "O Say Can You See?" The resolution as finally approved was brief enough. It ordered sim ply "That from and after the first day of May Anno Domini one thou sand seven hundred and ninety five, the Flag of the United States, be fifteen Stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen Stars, white in a blue field." As it turned out, this "consum mate specimen of frivolity" pro duced Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner. "I had no idea it was so big," said my companion as we stared at a mammoth, partly folded flag hung in a display case at Washington's Smithsonian Institution.