The people of the United States actually have two
national flags: one for our military government and another
for the civil. Each one has fifty stars in its canton and
thirteen red and white stripes, but there are several
Although most Americans think of the Stars and
Stripes (above left) as their only flag, it is actually for
military affairs only. The other one, meant by its makers for
wider use (peacetime), has vertical stripes with blue stars
on a white field (above right). You can see this design,
which bears civil jurisdiction, in the U.S. Coast Guard and
Customs flags, but their service insignias replace the fifty
I first learned of the separate, civil flag when I
was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter,
published in 1850. The introduction, titled "The Custom
House," includes this description:
From the loftiest point of its roof, during
precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats
or droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic;
but with the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead
of horizontally, and thus indicating that a civil, and
not a military post of Uncle Sam's government, is here
It took me two years of digging before I found a
picture that matched what he was describing: my second clue
was an original Illuminated History of North America
(1860). If this runs against your beliefs, look up those two
History book publishers contribute to the public's
miseducation by always picturing the flag in military
settings, creating the impression that the one with
horizontal stripes is the only one there is. They don't
actually lie; they just tell half the truth. For example, the
"first American flag" they show Betsy Ross sewing
at George Washington's request, was for the Revolution - of
course it was military.
The U.S. government hasn't flown the civil flag
since the Civil War, as that war is still going on. Peace has
never been declared, nor have hostilities against the people
ended. The government is still operating under quasi-military
You movie buffs may recall this: In the old
Westerns, "Old Glory" has her stripes running
sideways and a military yellow fringe. Most of these films
are historically accurate about that; their stories usually
took place in the territories still under military law and
not yet states. Before WWII, no U.S. flag, civil or military,
flew within the forty-eight states (except in federal
settings); only state flags did. Since then, the U.S.
government seems to have decided the supposedly sovereign
states are its territories too, so it asserts its military
power over them under the "law of the flag."
Today the U.S. military flag appears alongside, 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. 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 or search for the truth.
- hornswoggled: deceived. The
term comes from the traditional image of cuckolded
husbands wearing horns.óEditor
- canton: The rectangular section
in the upper corner of a flag, next to the staff.
- The Scarlet Letter: An
Authoritative Text, edited by Sculley Bradley, W.
W. Norton, New York, 1978, pp. 7-8.
- There is also a picture of the Coast
Guard flag in Webster's Third New International
Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, G.
& C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass.,
- For more about the law of the flag,
see "A Fiction-at-Law . . . ," in the
printed version of Perceptions Magazine
May/June1995, Issue 9, page 11.
About the author: Richard McDonald
is a California Citizen domiciled in The California state
Republic. He does legal research and has his own site on the
web, The Citizens Forum File area .