The Flag Act of 1818 

US #1622 pictures the 13-star, 13-stripe flag.

On April 4, 1818, President James Monroe signed a flag act that changed the way the US flag was updated when new states joined the Union.

Many people claimed to have designed America’s first flag, including Betsy Ross and Francis Hopkinson. Regardless of who designed it, the Flag Resolution of 1777 declared that the flag contain 13 stars and 13 stripes, in honor of the 13 states of the Union.

However, that resolution didn’t specify the arrangement of the stars, the number of points they had, or whether the flag should have seven red stripes and six white ones or vice versa. So many early flags had different variations of this design. These included some with all the stars grouped to form one larger star, all the stars in a circle, and in rows.

US #1597 – The 15-star Fort McHenry flag.

In 1795, the number of stars and stripes was increased to 15 (to represent the admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union).  This was the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in September 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner.”

US #1038 from the Liberty Series.

For over 20 years, the flag was not changed when states were added to the Union due to the belief that it would be overcrowded.  By 1818, there were 20 states in the Union and Congress sought to resolve the issue once and for all. On April 4, 1818, Congress passed and James Monroe signed the Flag Act of 1818. The act changed the flag to a 20-star flag, one star for each state in the Union.  The number of stripes was returned to 13, to honor the 13 original colonies.

US #3403 pictures historic US flags.

From then on, the number of states in the Union would dictate the number of stars on the flag.  The change would be made official on the fourth of July following the state’s admission.  That act has continued to dictate how the flag is updated ever since, with the most recent change occurring in 1960. As of 2007, the 50-star flag is the longest-used flag in US history.

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  1. Mystic, thank you for keeping us informed on our great history through stamps. In addition to the law, there is a flag etiquette. Many who fly our colors, do not follow this etiquette, some of which is flying the flag at night without it being lit and flying it torn and tattered. We have a great country and a great flag. Let’s us never take it for granted.

    1. And never let the flag touch the ground. And the disposition of the flag that has been damaged, etc is to by burning, not just thrown in the garbage. The flag should be treated with the same respect that one would give to the country and to the men and women who have so bravely and proudly served to protect it and our way of life.

  2. Great History Lesson Mystic! Im a 30yr Navy Veteran, fly the flag in my front yard on a 20ft pole, 24-7, 365 days and It’s illuminated at night as per flag etiquette. My father also a Navy Veteran did the same in the front yard of the house I grew up in. Guess old habits are hard to break, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  3. It’s a real pleasure to read these comments of our country men and women. A veteran myself, it seems like respect for the symbols of our Great Country are seen less and less. Comments like the ones posted here, are so amazingly refreshing! How could we have ever have gotten to the point that patriotism is no longer appreciated? Worse, it’s actually unwanted and considered radical. God bless this country and the men and women who sacrifice for our freedoms. Thanks to Mystic for the great article.

  4. I, too, am an Army veteran and sincerely appreciate this great history lesson. Thank you !!

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