The Flag Act of 1818

Did you know that during the War of 1812 there were 18 states in the Union?

Delaware – December 7, 1787
Pennsylvania – December 12, 1787
New Jersey – December 18, 1787
Georgia – January 2, 1788
Connecticut – January 9, 1788
Massachusetts – February 6, 1788

Maryland – April 25, 1788
South Carolina – April 23, 1788
New Hampshire – June 21, 1788
Virginia – June 25, 1788
New York – July 26, 1788
North Carolina – November 21, 1789

Rhode Island – May 29, 1790
Vermont – March 4, 1791
Kentucky – June 1, 1792
Tennessee – June 1, 1796
Ohio – March 1, 1803
Louisiana – April 30, 1812

(Dates represent when statehood was granted by the U.S. Congress.)

The Flag Act - 15 Star Flag
The Flag Act - 20 Star Flag

If there were 18 states in the Union during the War of 1812, why did the Star Spangled Banner only have 15 stars and 15 stripes?

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia representing the thirteen colonies passed the following resolution:

 “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

Eighteen years later the U.S. Flag Act of January 13, 1794 was signed by President George Washington altering the flag design with the admission of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky  (1792) into the Union providing for fifteen stripes as well as fifteen stars.

“An Act making an alteration in the Flag of the United States Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand 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 the blue field.”

These were followed with the admission of Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803) and Louisiana (1812).  By June 18, 1812 with a declaration of War with England, a total of eighteen states were then in the Union.

This act is responsible for the original star-spangled banner that was at Fort McHenry having the 15 stars and 15 stripes that is preserved today (since 1907) at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  A replica of this flag is flown by the National Park Service at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, by Presidential Proclamation, day and night.

On April 4, 1818, the Flag Act of 1818 signed by President James Monroe provided, with what is still honored today:

An Act to establish the flag of the United States.  Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.  

And be it further enacted, that on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

So, in summary…

The 15 Star Flag ( Star Spangled Banner) remained in effect until the Flag Act of 1818.

Realizing that the addition of a new star and new stripe for each new State was impractical, the United States Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818 which returned the flag design to 13 stripes, to represent the original 13 colonies, and specified 20 stars for the 20 states that were in the Union, at the time.

The 20 Star Flag became the official United States Flag on April 13th, 1818. Five stars were added for the admission of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi.

Chapter and State Pages - 15 Star and Stripe Flag