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October 31, 2001: In this time of our country's peril, it seems appropriate to take a look at the symbols of the United States, their history and their meaning.
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The U. S. National Mottos: "E Pluribus Unum" & "In God We Trust": History, debate, origins, controversy
United States (Overview) and Section II. E Pluribus Unum: The American Experience
The Great Seal Motto: E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)
In God We Trust
Madison's Arguments Against Special Religous Sanctions of American Government (1792)
Religious Measures in Congress 1888-1949
On June 14, 1777, Congress 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." In 1794, on the admission of Vermont and Kentucky, the number of stars and stripes was increased to fifteen. Then in 1818 Congress, seeing the dilemma the nation was facing by the addition of new states, wisely adopted the plan suggested by Samuel Chester Reid (1783-1861), a naval hero of the War of 1812, to have the number of stripes reduced to thirteen to perpetuate forever the states that formed the original union, and to add a new star for each new state. This gives the history, traditions, and ideals of the "old thirteen" a place of enduring recognition, while at the same time calling to mind by the stars the importance of every state in the Union.
The design of the flag was evidently taken from the coat of arms of the Washington family. As to the origin of this there is some doubt. Some authorities trace its ancestry back to the blue, scarlet, and white cloth on the table of shewbread before the ark of the covenant. They believe that these colors of the early Jewish Church were taken over by Christendom and used for the main colors of the flags of Christian nations. In this connection Zollmann quotes the superintendent of naval records and librarian of the United States Navy Department as saying:The flag may trace its ancestry back to Mount Sinai whence the Lord gave to Moses the Ten Commandments and the book of the Law, which testify of God's will and man's duty, and were deposited in the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle whose curtains were blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen. Before the Ark stood the table of shew breads, with its cloth of blue, scarlet and white. These colors of the Jewish church were taken over by the early Western Church for its own and given to all the nations of Western Europe for their flags. When the United States chose their Rag, it was of the colors of old, but new in arrangement and design.
This is merely a matter of opinion. It is a case where proof is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Red has always been the color of sacrifice; blue the symbol of constancy, the color of the heavens, and consequently of the glory of God; and white of purity. Whether it is possible to go beyond this in the identification of the colors of our flag, seems doubtful.
Professor Charles Beard has called my attention to the fact that the United States was probably the first great nation to leave out from the design of its flag any specific religious or authoritarian symbolism. For example, it does not contain the cross on the one hand, or the fasces or sword on the other. It is inspiring because of its intrinsic beauty of design and color; its historic representation through its stripes of the formation of the government by the thirteen original states; its representation by the white stars in the blue field of the diversity in unity of the forty-eight existing states; and its reminder of the family of George Washington by its adaptation of the general design of his family's arms.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that nearly all our historic patriotic songs and anthems have a spiritual note and refer to the Deity. I have in mind the "Star-Spangled Banner," inspired by the American flag in the War of 1812 and adopted as the national anthem in 1931; "Once to every man and nation," "O God, beneath Thy guiding hand," "God bless our native Land," "God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand," the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "America the Beautiful," and "America," "My country, 'tis of thee." The last named, which is still by far the most popular, was written in 1832 by Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895), then a young theological student.
Church and State in the United States, by Anson Phelps Stokes, D.D, LL.D. Volume I, Harper & Brothers Publishers, N.Y. (1950) pp 469-470.
Section 5. The Adoption of the American Seal and Other National Symbols (1776 ON)
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson "a Committee to prepare a device for a Seal of the United States of America." It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the omission of Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, this was the same committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Church and State in the United States, by Anson Phelps Stokes, D.D, LL.D. Vol. I, Harper & Brothers Publishers, N.Y. (1950) pp 467.
The Great Seal of the United States
The Great Seal of the United States
A Mason discusses the Great Seal and the legend of Masonic influence.
http://www.greatseal.com/symbols/fdr1935.html How the Great Seal got onto the back of the one dollar bill.[As of 2/19/03, this article is no longer on the website, however the site is still available.
State Department of the United States discusses how the Great Seal may be used.
|This article was originally found at www.vineyard.net/vineyard/history/pledge.htm. |
We thank Dr. Baer for his gracious permission to reprint it here.
The Pledge of Allegiance