USA First Country With "SECULAR" Flag ???

Discussion in 'American Flag History' started by Robin Hickman, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Hello !

    There has been this idea rattling around inside my brain for the past couple of years and I can't seem to shake it. I do not remember ever running across this idea before or since then.

    The idea is this : That the United States of America is/was the first nation in recorded history to have a National Flag that was NOT based on, or originated from, religion (or royalty). In other words, a National Flag that was/is purely "secular".

    As near as I can recall, I heard, read, or saw this particular "claim" about two years ago, but for the life of me, I've been unable to figure out WHERE! Ever since I joined this website's forums back in the first part of March, I've been wanting to ask about it.

    Is the USA the first nation to use a "secular" National Flag?

    I thought that one of the resident experts here might be able to shed a little light on the subject. And, also, that it might make for an interesting discussion.

    Anyway, I've been looking all over the internet and Googling my fingers to the bone, but to no great success. I've been looking around on this site too. Not until today did I find anything remotely connected to the "Secular Flag" idea.

    I was checking out the different threads in this category, "American Flag History", when I ran across a thread by PRGringo titled, "PBS Program". I read it and it mentioned the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) program, "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict".

    I remember watching the program a couple of years ago (VERY Good) but I didn't remember if that was where I had come across the "Secular Flag" idea. However, at the end of the entry, PRGringo mentioned that there was a video available at FlagCenter.org.


    I went to the website and looked around until I found their "Facts" page. Lised there in the #5 spot of Flag Facts was the following entry :

    "5. The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag. Throughout history rulers and countries were closely associated with a single predominant religion, which was reflected in the design and use of their national flags. In contrast, the red-white-blue colors and the symbols (stars, stripes) of "Old Glory" were chosen in 1777 to represent the structure of American government and the guiding principles of the country, including liberty of conscience. Freedom for Americans to exercise choice in religious belief was a principle enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 12 years later."

    LINK : http://www.flagcenter.org/facts.htm

    The Copywrite information at the bottom of that page is as follows :

    ©2002 Whitney Smith & Ben Zaricor. Compiled with the assistance of the world's leading vexillologist, Dr. Whitney Smith of the Flag Research Center, Winchester, Massachusetts. Dr. Smith is the co-author (with Howard Michael Madaus) of the book entitled "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict." Many of the flags and artifacts featured in the book and the film, "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict," are from the Zaricor Flag Collection.


    Although I am happy to have at least found out SOMETHING about the idea of a National Secular Flag, I have, as yet, been unable to verify or corroborate it. I don't know if it is accurate or not. If it's anywhere near accurate, I don't know if that's the way it started out way-back-when or of someone played connect-the-dots 200 plus years later (if you know what I mean).

    Does anybody HERE know anything about it?

    Robin Hickman
     
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    5. The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag.

    I count both Whitney Smith and Ben Zaricor as respected colleagues and friends, but I think that they overstate their case here. It seems to me that they are mixing up two different issues: the secular nature of the US government, and the design of the flag.

    Throughout history rulers and countries were closely associated with a single predominant religion, which was reflected in the design and use of their national flags.

    The first part is mostly true, but the second part is not. There are several national flags older than ours that were indeed based on religious symbolism: Britain, Denmark and Sweden are examples. However, others are not. The Austrian flag, for example, has no obvious religious symbolism, and neither did the French royal ensign or the Russian national flag.

    In contrast, the red-white-blue colors and the symbols (stars, stripes) of "Old Glory" were chosen in 1777 to represent the structure of American government and the guiding principles of the country, including liberty of conscience

    This is a bit of a stretch. The numbers of stripes and stars were chosen to represent the 13 states, and to that extent the flag reflected "the structure of American government." However, the colors and design of the flag were chosen for utilitarian reasons, and don't really symbolize anything about structure or guiding principles.

    Freedom for Americans to exercise choice in religious belief was a principle enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 12 years later."

    Arguably true, but this has nothing to do with the design of the flag.

    One could, I think, make a stronger case that the US flag was the first truly *national* flag. Older flags symbolized the monarch or the ruling family rather than the nation as a whole. Then again, this was also more a reflection of our political system itself, rather than our flag.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  3. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    I agree with Peter that the US Flag is the world's first National Flag, but there is nothing more or less secular about it than other national flags per the modern definition. I suspect that Smith may have advanced that theory as it is in line with his own atheistic beliefs.

    Regardless of how we, today, construe the designers' intents more than two hundred years ago, earlier flag historians had no problem in claiming that George Washington was divinely inspired when he said "We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty."

    I don't recall who originally came up with that quote but it is a total fabrication. GW never said that, or at least he never wrote it down. The closest official explanation for the colors of the flag is in the explanation of the colors in the Great Seal of the United States which, of course, has a shield repeating the colors of the flag. And the origin of the stars as a symbol for the 13 colonies representing a new constellation was probably inspired more my astronomy than anything else.
     
  4. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Thank You, Peter Ansoff !
    Thank You, NAVA1974 !

    Thank you for responding to this thread. I appreciate your time and effort.

    Going back a couple of years (in my mind) has pretty much convinced me that the "source" of my question was more than likely the PBS airing of, "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict". I'd probably have to watch it again to see if the reference is in the program to know for sure.

    Given the nature of its subject matter, I probably watched it twice as OPB (Oregon Public Boroadcasting) usually re-broadcasts programs a couple of nights later in the middle of the night (3:00 am). For some reason I'd forgotten about the program and convinced myself that I had "run across it somewhere on the Internet".

    In this case, I think I might have fallen victim to the old saying, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" (Alexander Pope). I say that due to making some preliminary judgements based on my extremely limited knowledge of other nation's flags and their origins & history, circa 1777. Outside of the European nations, I know even less!

    The idea that the USA was the first nation with a "secular" based national flag seemed "right" to me in some way. Given what I think I know about the rise of Christianity, the rise and fall of the Holy Roman Empire (and all its symbolism), the ever-changing nation-states, the formation of "royalty", the reformation, etc, led me to believe that back in the mid-18th century, probably all of the european nations' flags were more than likely influeced by religion and/or by royalty.

    Here's how I REALLY get myself into trouble !!! :eek:

    Hypothesis : Assuming that both of you are correct in your opinions that the Flag of the United States of America was the world's first NATIONAL Flag, AND that since it carries no overt or covert religious sybols of any kind, THEN... could it not also be said that the USA was not only had the first national flag in the world, it was the first SECULAR national flag in the world ??? :cool:

    Hmmmm..... I wonder.

    FWIW : I Googled the first sentence in Flag Center's Flag Fact #5 : "The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag". There were ZERO results. Not even the FlagCenter.Org page it was on was listed! I tried searching again after removing the first "the", so as to be within Google's ten word limit. Nothing. I removed the words, "Stars and Stripes was the" from the search. Still nothing. Finally, I removed the word, "world's", and Googled just the last four words, "first secular national flag". There were NO results for those four words in that particular order.

    Although I am not exactly sure what the failed search means, I'm guessing that the opinion expressed in the sentence in question, "The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag", is NOT a widely held one.

    I don't know what the religious affiliations, if any, that the people involved with the creation of, "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict", might have. I don't even know if it really matters.

    What I'm REALLY curious about is what evidence, information, historical records, or other data, is their opinion based on? You know what I mean? HOW and WHERE did they come up with the idea that, "The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag"???

    Anyway, Thanx again for taking the time to respond to this thread. I appreciate your efforts!

    Robin Hickman

    PS. To clarify a wee bit. In my original post in this thread, I was NOT automatically "accepting" the idea of a "secular" national flag. While I find the idea intriguing, I'm not sure if it is based on then-current mid-18th century evidence, or early 21st century, post-event re-construction (or wishful thinking).

    Which is why I ended my original entry with the following paragraph :

    Although I am happy to have at least found out SOMETHING about the idea of a National Secular Flag, I have, as yet, been unable to verify or corroborate it. I don't know if it is accurate or not. If it's anywhere near accurate, I don't know if that's the way it started out way-back-when or of someone played connect-the-dots 200 plus years later (if you know what I mean).

    Robin
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2009
  5. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Although I am happy to have at least found out SOMETHING about the idea of a National Secular Flag, I have, as yet, been unable to verify or corroborate it. I don't know if it is accurate or not.

    The problem is that you need to define what you mean by a "secular national flag." Do you mean that the design of the flag itself lacks religious symbolism, or do you mean that the nation represented by the flag has a secular form of government?

    If you mean the first definition, then the answer to your question is no, because several older flags lacked religious symbolism. If you mean the second, the answer is, arguably, yes: The USA was the first nation that did not have an established religion and whose governing documents specified the people, rather than a deity, as the ultimate source of their authority. In the second case, however, it's not the flag itself that is secular, but the nation that the flag represents.

    Also, as both NAVA1974 and I pointed out in previous posts, the basic concept of a "national flag" was new in the late 18th century.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  6. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Hello, Mr. Ansoff.

    While I am not being totally serious throughout this entire post, there ARE some serious elelments in it.

    I've read and re-read your latest entry and I was unable to make heads or tails out of it until I realized that there is the destinct possibility that you might have either mis-construed my "hypothesis", or over-analyzed it.

    My "hypothesis" was stated as such :

    Hypothesis : Assuming that both of you are correct in your opinions that the Flag of the United States of America was the world's first NATIONAL Flag, AND that since it carries no overt or covert religious sybols of any kind, THEN... could it not also be said that the USA was not only had the first national flag in the world, it was the first SECULAR national flag in the world ???

    The first part of my hypothesis is based on statements made by you and NAVA1974 earlier in this thread.

    YOU : "One could, I think, make a stronger case that the US flag was the first truly *national* flag."

    NAVA1974 :"I agree with Peter that the US Flag is the world's first National Flag...".

    The first part of MY Hypothesis read : "Assuming that both of you are correct in your opinions that the Flag of the United States of America was the world's first NATIONAL Flag...".

    The "object" in my hypothesis is "NATIONAL Flag" as it was referred by both you and NAVA1974. Perhaps I should have put the word, "Flag" in capital letters, and maybe even the word "first" as well, to make it more clear. Sorry about the confusion.

    So, to be a little more clear on MY part, my hypothesis was referring to the world's "FIRST NATIONAL FLAG", and NOT the republic for which it stands.

    So, with that in mind, let us re-read my hypothesis in its entirety with some additional capitalization and emphasis added by me:

    "Assuming that both of you are correct in your opinions that the Flag of the United States of America was the world's FIRST NATIONAL FLAG, AND that since it carries NO overt or covert religious sybols of ANY kind, THEN... could it not ALSO be said that the USA [was] not only had the FIRST NATIONAL FLAG in the world, it was the FIRST SECULAR NATIONAL FLAG in the world ???"

    Kind of along the line of thinking that, bear with me here, the U.S. Flag was the FIRST NATIONAL FLAG and it had Stars and Stripes, therefore it was the FIRST NATIONAL FLAG THAT HAD STARS AND STRIPES.

    I will, and DO, admit that when I wrote my silly little hypothesis I was being a little bit facetious when I did it. It was but a tongue-in-cheek attempt to offer some semi-rational explanation regarding the assertion of Flag Center's Flag Fact #5 : "The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag".

    We can discuss it here all we want, but I really don't think WE will be able to "prove" anything one way or the other. I'd think we would need to go to the SOURCE.

    Assuming that that assertion was from the book, "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict", then perhaps ONLY the authors of the book would be able to clear things up.

    Since Howard Michael Madaus, one of the co-authors of the book, passed away in July of 2007, that would leave Whitney Smith as the one who would be able to say with any degree of certainty HOW and WHY they came to the conclusion that "The Stars and Stripes was the world's first secular national flag".

    If I knew Whitney Smith I'd ask him to show me what lead him to that particular conclusion.

    I'd want to know what kind of historical papers, letters, books, essays, or writings did he read? Are there ANY other similar references that he can cite?

    Know what I mean?

    Robin Hickman
     
  7. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Ok Robin. The US Flag is truly the world's first secular national flag. It is also the world's first national flag with red in it. It is also the world's first national flag with stripes. It is also the world's first national flag with elements representing a new constellation. Since it is the world's first national flag, it is the world's first national flag with every element that can be ascribeded to it. However, I believe it is incorrect to ascribe the motive of secularism to those who designed the flag. I do not believe they replaced the Christian crosses of St George and St Andrew with 13 white stars because it secularized the flag. They did it to make the flag distinct from that of the mother country, and to include an additional set of elements representing all 13 colonies united against the tyranny of England.

    As far as the source of the contention that the Stars and Stripes was the world's first national flag, that is a modern interpretation of the design - I doubt you will find any 18th Century sources that make that claim. It does make for an interesting concept, though.
     
  8. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Nick is absolutely correct, of course: If the US flag was the first national flag, and its design included no religious symbolism, then it was the first secular national flag. If it had had a cross on it, it would have been the first *religious* national flag!

    As far as the source of the contention that the Stars and Stripes was the world's first national flag, that is a modern interpretation of the design - I doubt you will find any 18th Century sources that make that claim.

    Quite true. The underlying point, of course, is that the concept of a "nation" (as opposed to fiefdom, kingdom or empire) was still evolving in the 18th century. Previous flags were symbols of the ruler, rather than the constituent population. This is still technically true, in a way. We still refer to British "subjects" but to American or French "citizens."

    I'd want to know what kind of historical papers, letters, books, essays, or writings did he [Whitney] read? Are there ANY other similar references that he can cite?

    I think Nick was correct that Whitney did not base this on any deep analysis -- it was just a rhetorical flourish. As I think this whole discussion has shown, there is no hard-and-fast answer to the question. It all depends on how you define things.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  9. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Hello, NAVA1974 !
    Hello, Peter Ansoff !

    I am not making the claim that the U.S. Flag was the world's first "secular national flag, nor am I defending it. All I'm doing is commenting on it. I DO find the idea somewhat intriguing.

    Until there is more (any) evidence, I don't know is anybody could prove it one way or the other.

    I would very much like to hear (read) what Whitney Smith would have to say about where he/they came up with the idea.

    Heck, if you happen to believe that "astrology" is a religion, then the stars in the "New Constellation" take on a whole new meaning, eh?

    Speaking of Stars in the form of a NEW CONSTELLATION, I think the Betsy Ross model of the 13 Stars in the form of a CIRCLE fits the description of a "Constellation" a whole lot better the Francis Hopkinson's 3-2-3-2-3 "brick-layer" one. :D

    Don't YOU think so too ???

    Robin "ALMOST Sorry That I Started This Thread!" Hickman :cool:
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