Why do we use flags?
Flags are symbols, but they’re also made up of symbols.
Throughout history, flags (or banners) have been flown to tell others that a piece of land is claimed and ruled over by a certain group: clubs, tribes, kingdoms, States, Nations, and even groups of Nations all use flags.
In the Book of Mormon, Amalickiah, an evil and cunning man who wanted to be king, led away the hearts of many people with his flattering words. He sought to destroy the church of God and destroy the foundation of liberty.
Moroni, the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, heard of these dissensions and needed a symbol around which true believers of Christ could rally. He tore is coat and upon a piece of it wrote “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”, and fastened it to a pole which could be held high in the air. This banner was called the Title of Liberty.
Flags are Symbols
This flag, the Title of Liberty, was nothing more than a torn piece of cloth with writing upon it. By itself, it wasn’t any more significant than any other piece of cloth. But because of what it stood for – freedom, God, their religion, and the great worth the Nephites felt for their wives and for their children – the symbol, the meaning of that flag, was mighty.
When the armies of the Nephites went into battle, they were united under their flag. They didn’t fight for their flag, rather, they fought for all the things their flag represented.
All those who saw it were reminded of what it meant:
- Those who were on the side of Moroni were unified under the causes of freedom, of God, and protecting their wives and their children. The Title of Liberty flew as a banner to remind them why they had to fight.
- When those who were against Moroni saw the Title of Liberty flying boldly, they knew the kind of people they were facing, and the fierceness which the Nephites would fight.
Similar to the Title of Liberty, American flags also have symbolism.
Before these United States of America were joined in our solemn Union, the Colonies had to fight many battles against the British and other foes. During this revolutionary period, the Colonists rallied under many flags, one of which was the Gadsden flag.
The Gadsden flag, a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, with the words “DONT TREAD ON ME” at the bottom, is named after an American general and politician, Christopher Gadsden, who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution.
The timber rattlesnake, which can be found in the area of the original Thirteen Colonies, was used as a symbol of the American colonies and can be traced back to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, he made the first reference to the rattlesnake in a satirical commentary published in his Pennsylvania Gazette. It had been the policy of Great Britain to send convicted criminals to the colonies, so Franklin suggested that they “thank” the British by sending rattlesnakes to England in return.
In 1775, under the pseudonym American Guesser, Franklin published this essay about the rattlesnake in the Pennsylvania Journal:
“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America”
Other flags of the American Revolution also featured the rattlesnake as a symbol.
Old Glory, Stars and Stripes
The Symbolism of our American Flag is of revolutionary significance.
Flag Day is observed on June 14 of each year. On that day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated:
“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
Beginning with the original 13, there are now 50 stars displayed in blue field, each representing one of the 50 states in our current Union.
When the flag was adopted in 1777, the colors red, white, and blue had neither specific meaning nor representation. However, the colors in the Great Seal of the United States did have specific meanings. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Seal, stated:
“The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”
More recently, Congress has clarified further meaning to the symbols of our flag:
“The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”
Just as our nation’s flag is made up of symbols, it, too, is a symbol.
When we handle the flag, we treat it with respect, but not because it is special. Our flag is just a piece of fabric with a fancy design printed or sewn into it. Instead, we treat our flag with respect because of what it represents.
- It represents a group a people who fled religious oppression, destined to find a new land where they could worship God.
- It represents the struggle of those people, who despite their differences, united under a common purpose – and fought the forces that would have had them fail.
- It represents our continued struggle over these many, many years against those who would have the Grand Experiment of these United States fail.
- It represents the great diversity which still exists among us today, which can be brought together again, forged anew in the belief that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- And, just like the Title of Liberty, it represents everything we love and hold dear: our families, our God, our religion, our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
- It represents everything that we have to lose – and stands as our promise that we will stand together to ensure that we never lose that which we hold most dear.