15 stars, 15 stripes


January 13, 1794, President George Washington signed the law adding two stars and two stripes to the U.S. flag, after Vermont and Kentucky joined the union.

This was the only U.S. flag ever officially to have more than 13 stripes.

Replica of the flag flown during the War of 1812, with 15 stripes and 15 stars.  Very few examples of a 15-stripe flag remain.  The flag that flew over Ft. McHenry, the original

Replica of the flag flown during the War of 1812, with 15 stripes and 15 stars. Very few examples of a 15-stripe flag remain. The flag that flew over Ft. McHenry, the original “Star-spangled Banner,” is one. This replica flies in the peace garden in Oswego, New York.

The “Star-spangled Banner” that flew over Ft. McHenry, near Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem which was put to music to form our national anthem, had 15 stripes. President James Monroe signed a law in 1818 that specified 13 stripes, with a new star to be added on July 4 of any year after a new state was added, a practice which has held through our current 50-star, 13-stripe flag.

Tennessee was the 16th state. I have been unable to clarify what happened with the number of stripes between Tennessee’s admission to the union on June 1, 1796, and the law passed in the Monroe administration in 1818. Does anyone know? Got links?

More (added after August 2013):

18 Responses to 15 stars, 15 stripes

  1. […] admission to the union pushed the U.S. flag to 15 stars and 15 stripes.   President George Washington signed the law that authorized the U.S. flag be expanded to 15 stripes in early 1794.  I’ve not pinned down the history of what happened next.  So far as I know […]

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  2. […] No, the U.S. stopped adding stripes to the flags with 15, in 1794; the most stripes the flag had was 15 […]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Louisiana was admitted to the union on April 30, 1812, becoming the 18th state. An 18 star flag would be one made sometime after that date, and before the admission of the 19th state.

    Louisiana was the 19th state, admitted to the union on December 11, 1816.

    Assuming the flag you saw was an original and not a later copy, it was made between April 30, 1812, and December 11, 1816.

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  4. darryl murphy says:

    dear sir,my friend showed me a 18 star,13 stripe old flag the other day.any info thank you

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  5. j a higginbotham says:

    Oops, I wrote too soon. Here is a nice one with photographs, scan, and weblinks although from no official organization:
    http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeo1z2a/CivilFlag.html

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  6. j a higginbotham says:

    There are a number of sites which disagree with the civil flag claims listed above (I deleted them after my earlier search).

    I did get an email from an officer at http://www.nava.org:

    No, the US flag never officially had 16 stripes. The 1794 law said that it
    had 15 stars and 15 stripes, but made no provision for adding more stars and
    stripes for new states. That’s why the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in
    1814 (when Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner”) had 15 stars and 15
    stripes, even though there were 18 states at the time. (The three that
    joined after 1794 were Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana.)

    The 1818 law, which set the number of stripes back to 13, was the first one
    that provided for automatically adding more stars for new states. At the
    time it was passed, there were already 20. That law is still in effect and
    is codified in Title 4 of the US Code. When the law was codified there were
    48 states, but of course we’ve added Alaska and Hawaii since then for a
    total of 50.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m intrigued by the wild hare chase possibilities of that complaint at barefoots world (I don’t have access to the site right now, so I’m going solely on what is quoted above in Bernarda’s post).

    Federal jurisdiction over lands in territories, and then states, was agreed upon prior to the 1785 act on disposal of the Northwest Territories. The U.S. flag would have been the only one flown over 37 of the states, prior to their statehood. The transcontinental railroad, through several states and territories, was built with lands granted to the railroads by the federal government.

    Admiralty and maritime law is largely international, much common law, and consequently either superior to state law under the Supremacy Clause, capable of being modified by a diligent state legislature (in the case of any common law), or completely irrelevant (Montana has little use for maritime law). The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is not federal law, but is instead state-created law, created under a model code created by the states’ attorneys general, with an eye to improving upon common law, without federal interference. The UCC is distinctly state-driven, not federal at all.

    And then there’s the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act, which gives jurisdiction over navigable waterways to the Army Corps of Engineers, with intentions to keep harbors clear and safe for passage, and clean enough not to cause disease. That was 41 years prior to 1940, of course.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivers_and_Harbors_Act_of_1899

    If a U.S. flag did not fly at any particular state institution, it was likely due to the lack of a U.S. flag rather than any legal purpose. As early as I can find photos, U.S. flags have flown at schools across the nation, for example. Schools are arms of the state government.

    In short, I can’t figure out what sort of a states rights argument the author is aiming at, but it’s wacky and probably historically in error. The author appears not to recognize distinctions between federal law, state law, international law and common law, and consequently confuses the results, and whatever argument he’s trying to make.

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    I don’t think flying a flag trumps what the law actually says about who has jurisdiction.

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  9. bernarda says:

    Being curious about this, I found another site.

    http://www.barefootsworld.net/uscivilflag.html

    It has this little bit of news.

    “Before 1940, no U.S. flag, civil or military, flew within the forty-eight states except in federal settings and installations. Only state flags did. Since the 1935 institution of Social Security and the Buck Act of 1940, 4 U.S.C.S. Ch. 4 Sec. 104-113, by clever legal maneuvers the feds have entirely circumvented the U.S. Constitution, and have overlaid federal territorial jurisdiction on the sovereign States, bringing them under the admiralty/military jurisdiction of Law Merchant, the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the law of Creditors and Debtors.

    Since then the U.S. military flag appears beside, or in place of, the state flags in nearly all locations within the states. All of the state courts and even the municipal ones now openly display it. In the last half century they have more openly declared the military/admiralty law jurisdiction with the addition of the gold fringe to the flag, the military flag of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

    Such has been the path that has brought us under the Law of the Military Flag. This should have raised serious questions from many citizens long ago, but we’ve been educated to listen and believe what we are told, not to ask questions, or think for ourselves and search for the truth. ”

    I am not sure of the accuracy of all in this quote, but I suppose it merits verification.

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  10. bernarda says:

    Here is more about the flag with vertical stripes with some pictures.

    http://www.uscivilflags.org/articles-history.html

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Great stuff! There’s enough in the comments for a couple of lesson plans that will stick with students, I think. Thank you, everyone.

    Anybody got more?

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  12. bernarda says:

    I may have posted on this before, but here are two renditions of Mark Twain’s proposed flag for the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish American War.

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  13. Ed Darrell says:

    Sorry about that — for some reason the filter took exception to the links, I think — though you didn’t trip the wire for number of links. I’ll have to review the settings.

    Thanks for your patience, and thanks for the information!

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  14. j a higginbotham says:

    Do comments now need to be approved?

    http://www.crwflags.com/FOTW/flags/us-16.html
    In 1795 the U.S. flag law changed to have the flag go from 13 stars and stripes to 15 stars and stripes. However, no provision was made for recognizing the entry of new States into the union.

    In 1796 Tennessee entered as the 16th State. Despite the lack of a change in the flag law, some people added additional stars and stripes to the flag. This is what eventually lead to the flag act of 1818. In 1817, during a debate in Congress on changing the flag law, Congressman Peter Wednover of New York discussed the lack of uniformity among U.S. flags, and the lack of compliance with the law in their use. As illustrations, he pointed to the flag over the U.S. Navy Yard, which had 9 stripes, and the flag flying over the capitol building, which had 18.

    In 1995 I had two replicas made of a flag with 16 stars and stripes. The larger of the two, measuring 5 x 9.5 feet, flew over the Tennessee capitol on 6 February 1996 (the 200th aniversary of the adoption of the first Tennessee constitution) and on 1 June 1996 (the 200th anniversary of the admission of Tennesseee to the union). It is the flag which I will fly on my main flag pole on the 4th.

    Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 2 July 1998

    http://gba.wavethemes.net/usa-flags.html
    16 to 19 Star Flags

    Congress dragged their heels until 1818 when they finally added 5 stars to the official Flag making it a 20 star Flag (with 13 stripes). This included Tennessee (1796), the 16th state and Ohio (1803), the 17th state – and both states displayed versions of their own flags. The other states added were Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816) and Mississippi (1817). There were 16-star to 19-star flags made. It is said that none were ever official, yet since the 18 Star, 18 Stripe Flag was flown over our Nation’s Capitol, that makes it an official flag.

    http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/Coast_Guard_Flags.html

    The solution was to create an ensign unique to the revenue cutter to fly in place of the national flag while in American waters. Nine years after the establishment of the Revenue Cutter Service, Congress, in the Act of March 2, 1799 provided that cutters and boats employed in the service of the revenue should be distinguished from other vessels by a unique ensign and pennant.

    On August 1, 1799, Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, issued an order announcing that in pursuance of authority from the President, the distinguishing ensign and pennant would consist of, “16 perpendicular stripes, alternate red and white, the union of the ensign to be the arms of the United States in a dark blue on a white field.”

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  15. j a higginbotham says:

    http://www.crwflags.com/FOTW/flags/us-16.html
    In 1795 the U.S. flag law changed to have the flag go from 13 stars and stripes to 15 stars and stripes. However, no provision was made for recognizing the entry of new States into the union.

    In 1796 Tennessee entered as the 16th State. Despite the lack of a change in the flag law, some people added additional stars and stripes to the flag. This is what eventually lead to the flag act of 1818. In 1817, during a debate in Congress on changing the flag law, Congressman Peter Wednover of New York discussed the lack of uniformity among U.S. flags, and the lack of compliance with the law in their use. As illustrations, he pointed to the flag over the U.S. Navy Yard, which had 9 stripes, and the flag flying over the capitol building, which had 18.

    In 1995 I had two replicas made of a flag with 16 stars and stripes. The larger of the two, measuring 5 x 9.5 feet, flew over the Tennessee capitol on 6 February 1996 (the 200th aniversary of the adoption of the first Tennessee constitution) and on 1 June 1996 (the 200th anniversary of the admission of Tennesseee to the union). It is the flag which I will fly on my main flag pole on the 4th.

    Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 2 July 1998

    http://gba.wavethemes.net/usa-flags.html
    16 to 19 Star Flags

    Congress dragged their heels until 1818 when they finally added 5 stars to the official Flag making it a 20 star Flag (with 13 stripes). This included Tennessee (1796), the 16th state and Ohio (1803), the 17th state – and both states displayed versions of their own flags. The other states added were Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816) and Mississippi (1817). There were 16-star to 19-star flags made. It is said that none were ever official, yet since the 18 Star, 18 Stripe Flag was flown over our Nation’s Capitol, that makes it an official flag.

    http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/Coast_Guard_Flags.html

    The solution was to create an ensign unique to the revenue cutter to fly in place of the national flag while in American waters. Nine years after the establishment of the Revenue Cutter Service, Congress, in the Act of March 2, 1799 provided that cutters and boats employed in the service of the revenue should be distinguished from other vessels by a unique ensign and pennant.

    On August 1, 1799, Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, issued an order announcing that in pursuance of authority from the President, the distinguishing ensign and pennant would consist of, “16 perpendicular stripes, alternate red and white, the union of the ensign to be the arms of the United States in a dark blue on a white field.”

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  16. According to the US government booklet Our Flag at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/misc/ourflag/history4.htm, it seems like the number of stripes stayed at 15:

    ——————–
    When two new States were admitted to the Union (Kentucky and Vermont), a resolution was adopted in January of 1794, expanding the flag to 15 stars and 15 stripes. This flag was the official flag of our country from 1795 to 1818, and was prominent in many historic events. It inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the bombardment of Fort McHenry; it was the first flag to be flown over a fortress of the Old World when American Marine and Naval forces raised it above the pirate stronghold in Tripoli on April 27, 1805; it was the ensign of American forces in the Battle of Lake Erie in September of 1813; and it was flown by General Jackson in New Orleans in January of 1815.

    However, realizing that the flag would become unwieldy with a stripe for each new State, Capt. Samuel C. Reid, USN, suggested to Congress that the stripes remain 13 in number to represent the Thirteen Colonies, and that a star be added to the blue field for each new State coming into the Union. Accordingly, on April 4, 1818, President Monroe accepted a bill requiring that the flag of the United States have a union of 20 stars, white on a blue field, and that upon admission of each new State into the Union one star be added to the union of the flag on the fourth of July following its date of admission. The 13 alternating red and white stripes would remain unchanged. This act succeeded in prescribing the basic design of the flag, while assuring that the growth of the Nation would be properly symbolized.

    ——————–

    Hope this helps!

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  17. tuibguy says:

    If I remember right, the Flagmaker’s Guild threatened to strike if they were forced to make more stripes without more pay.

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