National Geographic : 1959 Jul
New Stars for Old Glory punishment, since we fly them day and night, by special Presidential proclamation. "Soon we'll be flying nylon flags, however," he added. "We tested one recently and found it lasted about three times as long as the cotton bunting." Before the War of 1812 the United States had fought and won two struggles under the 15-star, 15-stripe flag. One was an almost forgotten contest with France over shipping rights soon after the Revolution. The second was the war with Tripoli that checked the Barbary pirates' raids on Medi terranean shipping. On April 27, 1805, a combined land and naval force overwhelmed the Tripolitan town of Derna. Over its cap tured fortress they raised the first American flag to fly in victory over Old World soil. But such adventures were mere muscle flex ing by the young Republic. The most far reaching event of the Star-Spangled Banner era was the Louisiana Purchase (page 101). Overnight in 1803 the purchase nearly doubled United States territory and flung open to settlement a continental interior of fantastic wealth and opportunity. A decade and a half later, as the human tide poured over the eastern mountains, America's family of States numbered 20. Obviously, if each rated another stripe and star, stripes soon would overrun the flag. March of the Stars Begins Even without additions the flag situation in 1818 was chaotic. In Washington, Congress man Peter H. Wendover of New York called his colleagues' attention to three flags of 18, 13, and 9 stripes which in the past two years had floated over Federal buildings within sight of Congress. None, he pointed out, conformed to the then-prescribed 15 stripes. Wendover made his point. On April 4, 1818, Congress passed the third, and last, major flag act. It provided for a permanent return to the 13 original stripes, and for the first time re quired that they be horizontal. It also speci fied that a new star be added to the blue field whenever another State formally joined the Union, and that such stars should appear on the Fourth of July following the accession. This law has governed all national flags since. Yet curiously it failed to designate a star arrangement-an omission that left the problem of design to be solved afresh each time the flag has changed (page 99). As the Nation expanded during the 19th century, it became harder than ever to keep up with the march of stars symbolizing United States growth. By the end of 1845 there were 28 stars for 28 States, reaching from Maine to Florida, deep into the central prairies, and across the broad plains of Texas. Annexation of Texas touched off the Mexi can War. When peace was signed in 1848, the Red, White, and Blue stretched across the Southwest and California. Already, by peaceful agreement with Great Britain, Oregon Territory extended northward to the 49th parallel. It wasn't quite up to the "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" of President Polk's catchy campaign slogan, but the coast to-coast spread marked a startling advance for a national emblem that had stopped at the Mississippi River less than 50 years before. Stars and Stripes Follows Yankee Trade While the pioneers' flag rode prairie schooners toward "manifest destiny," the Stars and Stripes at sea saw the world from the masts of the American merchant marine. As early as 1790 the 13-star, 13-stripe flag had first circled the globe over the sturdy mer chantman Columbia, out of Boston. Round ing the Horn, the Columbia took on a cargo of Indian furs in the far Northwest, exchanged it for China tea, and then sailed home by way of the Cape of Good Hope to a rousing wel come in her home port. Already, shrewd and daring Yankee busi nessmen were carrying on a flourishing trade with the Orient, India, and the pepper and spice isles of the East Indies. In time the American ensign became a familiar sight in the world's remotest ports. Flung to the breeze over fleets of trading schooners, whalers by the hundreds, and, finally, the fast and graceful clippers, the starry flag stood for American leadership in a saga of sail that for sheer adventure and romance has never been surpassed.* Steam was beginning to push sail from the seas when Commodore Perry opened up long isolated Japan in a theatrical performance with overtones of comic opera (pages 104-5).t Matthew Calbraith Perry, an enthusiast for the Navy's recently introduced steamships, based his strategy on two factors: Japanese * See "American Pathfinders in the Pacific," by William H. Nicholas, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, May, 1946. , See "The Yankee Sailor Who Opened Japan," by Ferdinand Kuhn, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, July, 1953.