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American Heritage

  1. The Flag of the United States Air Force

    US Air Force Flag The United States Air Force has its origins in the Army Signal Corps, founded as a division in 1907 to pursue aeronautical endeavors. Initially, this mostly meant balloons for reconnaissance purposes, as had been developed during the Civil War, but, by 1914, they had a full aviation division. The progress after that was not spectacular, and the planes the U.S. could field during World War I were quite inferior to the ones that had been developed on the European continent.
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  2. Flying the Flag at Half-Mast

    When you see a flag flying at half-mast, it is natural to wonder, “Who passed away?” Typically, the American flag is flown at half-staff when someone has died, as a mark of respect, but it can also mean distress, to be in mourning, or, in some cases, a salute. This custom traces back to 1612 and an ill-fated mission.

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  3. How the Eagle Became the U.S. Mascot

    A true Native American, the bald eagle can be found from Alaska to the northern border of Mexico, and from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. It is the only eagle found exclusively in North America, so it is very fitting that it is our national emblem. Not only was it decided early on but, contrary to myths and folklore, it was a quick and widely supported decision. Since Roman times, the eagle has been associated with strength, and the Legions used it as their standard. Rightfully so, as the American bald eagle weighs between 7 and 14 lbs., males being smaller than females, and their wing spans measure 6 to 8 feet. This incredible size and power allows them to fly up to 10,000 feet in the air and dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The eagle is a sea bird and feeds on turtles, snakes, fish, and ducks. They are also known to add rabbits, muskrats, and dead animals (think roadkill). They are an incredible bird of prey with acute eyesight and sharp talons, giving them the ability to attack from the air. So, with the knowledge of all these qualities, it is no surprise that our founding fathers chose this bird to be our national emblem. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to come up with an official seal. With the brain power of these three, you would think it would be an The Great Seal of the USeasy task. They failed to design something that would satisfy Congress. They turned to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress. Finally, on June 20, 1782, the Great Seal was adopted. Thomson chose the best elements from various designs and changed the small white eagle (originally in a design by William Barton, a lawyer from Pennsylvania) to the American bald eagle. Thus, our national emblem became the American bald eagle. There are stories told about Benjamin Franklin’s opposition to this choice. The myth is that Franklin wrote: “I wish that

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  4. In Appreciation of City Flags

    featim2 Throughout history, flags have served as an excellent display of cultural and geographic identity. A flag tends to be viewed as a physical representation of the intangible idea of the nation. Every weekday children across the United States of America say The Pledge of Allegiance to Old Glory, and they could easily explain to you that the thirteen red and white stripes are for the thirteen original colonies, and that the fifty stars stand for the fifty current states in the union.
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  5. Why Being Patriotic Means So Much

    Orson Welles once said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

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    Such a truth exists in that statement, as it is only by choosing to connect with the people around us that we are able to experience a fulfilling existence. In America, that is done by expressing a deep affection for our country, by being patriotic.

    There are certain times, particularly when tragedy strikes, that we see people come together in support of America. It is during these times

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  6. Where to Find Some of the Most Famous American Flags

    Where to Find Some of the Most Famous American Flags

    With its 13 stripes and 50 stars, the red, white, and blue banner that serves as the flag of the United States is one of the world’s most recognizable symbols. It even has a slew of nicknames, including “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory,” and even simply “The Red, White, and Blue.” There have been many versions of the American flag over the years, but certain variations have a particular historical significance for United States citizens the world over.

    The stories of the most famous flags are preserved in museums throughout the United States, but where exactly are the flags? In some cases, they are kept alongside the stories that go with them, but in others they may not be where one might expect.

    The Betsy Ross Flag

    It is widely accepted that, in 1776, Betsy Ross sewed the first United States flag at the behest of none other than George Washington. The flag she designed featured 13 white stars arranged circularly over a square blue background and alternating red and white stripes. The following year, Ross’s flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. This day, June 14, 1777, was established Flag Day (origins of this day are heavily debatable, but that’s for another time).

    Where to Find This Flag

    Unfortunately, our nation’s first flag isn’t around anymore, but that doesn’t mean Betsy Ross’s involvement in designing it hasn’t been properly acknowledged. In fact, the headquarters for Flag Day are in the Betsy Ross House, located in Philadelphia, where she is believed to have sewn America’s inaugural flag. If you go there, you’ll be treated to a tour, complete with actors and backdrops of that time period.

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    The Star Spangled Banner

    Every American knows that “The Star Spangled Banner” is the United

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  7. How Many Flags Over Texas?

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    It’s a good question. Texas has been governed by six different nations over the course of its history, it has its own state flag, and there is the matter of Texas’s constitution allowing it to split four new states away from itself, which would all require new flags for themselves. We’ll get into that part of the problem later.

    First, let’s discuss the flags that have already flown over the state. Texas was originally settled by Europeans around 1685. The French established a colony called Fort Saint Louis, which they had originally meant to place on the Mississippi River. The colony only lasted a few years before collapsing, but its presence meant that the Spanish felt they had to reestablish their claim, having made landfall and a map a century and a half earlier, then largely ignoring it.

    The Spanish thus constructed missions in East Texas, which were routed by native resistance. They tried again after the French started settling southern Louisiana, establishing San Antonio in 1718 as the first civilian Spanish settlement in Texas.

    This gives us two of the famous “Six Flags Over Texas”: Spain (twice: 1519 – 1685, and then again from 1690 – 1821), and France (from 1685 – 1690). Which flags were they, though? Spain used several different flags during its exploration of the New World. One of the most commonly seen on “Six Flags” displays, since it was chosen by the Texas Centennial Exposition committee, is the Castile and Leon royal banner, consisting of two lions and two castles:

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    Nice, right? Unfortunately, Spain wasn’t using this flag during the period they were in Texas – it’s the banner used by Cortez during the conquering of Mexico. They mostly were using this one at the time:

    Which is fine, representing the House of Burgundy, except that nobody seems to recognize it as a Spanish flag anymore. The Texas Historical Commission proposed in 1996 that the Spanish flag from 1785 be used. It is supplanting the royal banner in displays as per the Historical Commission’s recommendation.

    The French flag is even less clear. There was no official national flag of France, at the time, and the flag carried by the leader of the colony is unclear. A few proposals were made, including one with three white or gold fleur-de-lis on a blue banner.

    Two down. Next is Mexico, which controlled the area from 1821 – 1836. Its flag was adopted in 1823 and is more or less the same today, barring some artistic variance:

    Nowadays you are more likely to see a stylized eagle in place of the realistic one depicted here. Very little controversy or confusion with this flag.

    Next, of course, the state of Texas itself. It has had two different official flags. The first is extremely straightforward - a yellow star on a blue banner. It only lasted from 1836 – 1839. It was then replaced with the current flagEveryone knows this one.

    The Confederate flag, flown over Texas between 1861 – 1865, brings us back to vagueness and confusion again. Their flag went through several changes during their existence, from the Stars and Bars, which was never actually officially adopted by the Confederacy, but nonetheless was used for two years; to the Stainless Banner.

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    The one most commonly seen in displays is the Stars and Bars; as mentioned, this was never legislatively adopted as an official flag, largely because it resembles the Stars and Stripes of the United States too strongly. This made it unsuitable as a war banner, to say the least.

    The Stars and Stripes, of course, is the flag of the previous (1845 – 1861) and next (1865 – present) nation to claim Texas: the United States of America.

    The design is well-known, as is its symbolism. The thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies, with the field of white stars on the blue canton representing the total number of current states.

    After the Civil War, the United States controlled Texas.

    This brings us to the point of how Texas actually entered the Union. On December 29, 1845, statehood was granted to Texas, with the proviso that it be a slave state. The Missouri Compromise, however, forbade slavery north of the 36-degree 30-minute northern latitude line, as well as west of Missouri. The new territory extended further in both directions. In order to overcome objections to the violation, Congress passed a joint resolution that allowed Texas to split itself into as many as five states.

    Technically, it allows Texas to split off up to four new states, and the remainder would retain the name and statehood of Texas, but that’s just wording. The idea with this compromise was that any new states would follow the Missouri Compromise rules according to location; new states above the restriction would automatically be free states, while any remaining in the area where slavery was still allowed would hold a popular vote to determine their slavery status.

    In 1850, with the admission of California to the United States as a free state, Southerners wanted to split off an additional slave state from Texas to balance it. Instead, Texas was given ten million dollars in exchange for ceding its territory north of the line and west of Missouri, which eventually became parts of Colorado and New Mexico. A few years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and, thus, the question was settled for all time.

    Except that the Civil War happened, and, with its end, slavery was no longer allowed in any state, which meant that Texas’s ability to split into new states was unneeded. However, and this is the important part, it was never repealed. Technically, Texas can split off new states if it wants to do so.

    Ordinarily such a move would require an act of Congress, which is fine; Congress has been doing that sort of thing for a long time. If it wanted to split a state after its ratification, it only needs permission from the state’s legislation. That’s how the nation was built in the first place, after all.

    Land purchases were made, and then, after some time to let new settlers sort of eke out an idea of where to live and what to concern themselves with, Congress would divide them up into various states and those states would start concerning themselves with legislature and government. But it seems that Texas can do this without any permission from the federal government; indeed, without any input whatsoever.

    Related to this ability is the common belief that Texas can secede from the United States at any time; this statement is more plainly false. (See above note on the Civil War and how that is not allowed.) This seems to stem from Texas’s long history of independence and the fact that it entered the Union as a sovereign republic nation. However, it was not the first republic to join the Union, nor the last. In fact, the last republic to do so was a kingdom prior to that, and Hawaii has no legal right to secede, either.

    Back to the problem of the division, though. There is the issue of how to divide Texas: probably along county lines. Nate Silver came up with a method of dividing the state up into politically sound parts in 2009. He considered things like population density and demographics, to wind up with:

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    New Texas is where Austin, the current capital of Texas, is located. It would be the technical remainder of the previous state of Texas and thus retains the name. Trinity has Dallas and Fort Worth; Gulfland has Houston and Corpus Christi, and would rely largely on offshore oil drilling for its economy; Plainland and El Norte would each have only about two and a half million people. This would change the political balance of power of the United States, although perhaps not as much as some might think, especially given the divisions outlined above.

    So, all we need to know now is what each of our new states wants to have for its flag, right?

    Not quite. There are several other proposals for division that have been raised and denied in the past; any of these previous attempts would have an equal claim for their own flags as well. For example, the best-known effort was in the late 1860s, for a vertical division into East and West Texas, which was presented to Congress but not ratified. An attempt to break off the panhandle into the state of Jefferson was floated in 1915 but also went nowhere. It’s been tried several times, most recently in the 1990s.

    So, sure, on paper it looks like Texas has a unique ability to stymie Congress and suddenly add up to four stars to the flag. Can it, in fact, do that?

    Now we run into the legal ramifications of precedent and what that means for Texas. In order to see what the meaning of “state” is, we turn to the Supreme Court’s decision in Escanaba Company v. the City of Chicago [107 U.S. 678 (1883). In this case, Chicago was legislating when certain drawbridges could raise and lower, and the Escanaba Company determined that the schedule was inconvenient to them and their profits. So they sued. In the briefing, Justice Stephen Field acknowledged that states have

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  8. Declaring Our Independence

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    Did you know that a majority of the colonists felt that declaring independence from the British was a radical idea? Men like Jefferson, Franklin, and the rest of our forefathers were considered radical thinkers for their vision of a free, independent United States of America. So, how did the political climate change to the point men and women picked up arms against the red coats?

    First, it is important to understand how the American colonies came to be in the first place. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain

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  9. Fourth of July: What Were the Actual Events of That Fateful Day?

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    The events leading up to July 4, 1776 are well documented in U.S. history books and historical documents, and almost every American will tell you that we became a free nation on the Fourth. Technically, that's not entirely true.

    The British imposed the Tea Act of 1773, which set everything in motion. Up to that point, the settlers who had come to America were impartial to the rule of their prior homeland. Essentially, the Tea Act was an effort to save the East India Company by lowering their tax rate and giving them a monopoly on the tea trade in the Americas.

    Outraged, the colonists revolted by tossing eighteen thousand pounds of tea into Boston Harbor, known as the Boston Tea Party. This angered the British so much they put Boston under military rule. So, not only did they try to enforce tax tyranny, but punished the colonists by closing the city to merchants.

    Imagine what our history would look like had the British not drawn up the Tea Act?

    Of course, this led to the fateful day of April 19, 1775 when the first shots were fired on the Lexington green. Thus began the Revolutionary War in which the colonists fought for their freedom. They wanted freedom from tyranny and religious persecution, with a burning desire to lead a life in which one could pursue happiness in whatever manner they deemed fit.

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    After fighting for fourteen months, the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. Yes, you read that right: July 2nd, not the 4th. Some think the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, when in fact it was signed on August 2nd. Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in June of 1776.

    So,

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  10. Join or Die: The Flag That United the Colonial Settlers

    1280px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_DieBefore the American Revolution, the political temperature throughout the world was shaky all around. France and Britain were in competition to be the most powerful nation in the world, the American Colonies were still settling into their new homelands, deciding if they should expand west or finally organize a revolution to throw off British rule.

    The French claimed the entire Mississippi basin extending from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada. Britain and France had long debated over the borders of their territories in the Americas. Austria changed allegiances, Prussia was backing Britain ... everything was changing.

    At the same time, Benjamin Franklin was

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