The American Flag: Symbolism & Facts

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Is the U.S. flag just a multi-colored rectangle of striped and starred fabric? No. It has a rich history and is full of symbolism. This lesson reviews the symbolism and facts of the flag of the United States of America.


What do you think of when you see the flag of the United States of America? What feelings does it conjure? Does it bring to mind any specific memories? What does it mean to our country? The United States flag represents so much of what America means and its symbolism runs deep in its history. This lesson offers specific symbolic aspects of the U.S. flag as well as factual points pertaining to the flag and its history.


Back in 1776, the original 13 colonies were ready to break free from England and govern themselves. A new flag served as a powerful symbol and meant freedom from the perceived tyranny of the English king. Much like the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, a new flag solidified new beginnings for the colonies. While the formation of the stars has changed over the past 250 years, the meaning of the flag has stayed true to certain ideals designed for a citizen of a new nation: courage, valor, perseverance, justice, innocence, purity and bravery.

Stars and Stripes

Without even looking at the flag, every American citizen should know that it's comprised of stars and stripes. But what is the meaning behind these colors and shapes? The design and colors of the U.S. flag are not random and weren't chosen simply to look pretty; all of the aspects of the flag hold important meaning.

The stars and stripes of the American flag have many meanings
American flag

  • Stripes: The stripes were incredibly symbolic in both color and number. Additionally, the stripe design signified sun-rays shining down; a strong image when considering the birth of a new nation.
    • Red stripes were chosen to represent valor, courage and hardiness.
    • White stripes represented innocence and purity, a new country just born and starting on its own.
    • Even the number of stripes has meaning. The 13 stripes honor the original English colonies; those men and women who worked hard and sacrificed much to make it in the new world, the world becoming a new country.
  • Stars: Just as constellations in the night sky will stand ''forever,'' the stars on the flag represented the idea of a constellation, the stars of the heavens. The stars on the flag represent the number of states in the union of states.
    • Blue Star Field: The blue field on which the stars sit represents justice and perseverance.

Symbol of Pride

Not only is the flag full of symbolism, it is, itself, a symbol. Olympic athletes wrap themselves in the flag when they have won gold. The flag flies high above the crowd during the medal ceremony honoring both the athlete and the athlete's country.

What was left on the Moon after man's first visit there? Footsteps and a U.S. flag. The flag, in this instance, represented pride in our space program and told the story of the U.S. being the first to make it to the Moon.

In a military funeral, a U.S. flag is properly draped over the coffin. The flag is then folded 13 times and handed to the surviving family. Pride in the country and the service the person gave for his or her country is clear.

Whenever the U.S. flag is flown with other flags (such as those of a company or corporation), the U.S. flag is flown higher than the others. This is a symbol of the nation ranking above all others belonging to it.

Symbol of Dismay

Not only is the flag used as a symbol of pride, but it can also be used as a symbol of distress or dismay. In times of social unrest, some may protest by burning the flag. This is a symbolic action intended to express deep dissatisfaction with the government or other actions occurring in the country.

The flag flown at half-staff at the USS Arizona Memorial
half staff flag

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