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I've run across some historical info that indicates that the US originally had two flags: 1: The flag we're all familiar with, as in the pictures across the top of ...
  1. #1
    MidnightDStroyer is offline Junior Member
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    Default Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    I've run across some historical info that indicates that the US originally had two flags:
    1: The flag we're all familiar with, as in the pictures across the top of the forum pages, indicating "wartime" & military jurisdiction.
    2: A Civil flag, to be flown when the US is in peacetime & military jurisdiction isn't in force.

    I have a link that displays a pic of both flags side-by-side (not a photograph, which is why I question the validity of the "two-flags" claim. The link references a book by the title: Illuminated History of North America, published in 1860. The link with the pic is: HORNSWOGGLED?

    Once I found this bit of info, I had trouble finding any other historical documentation that could back this up...And I then found this website. From what I've seen so far, people here are pretty serious in researching the history of the US flag & that's what I need right now: Serious researchers into a subject that is not really my "opus maximus."

    What seems a bit disturbing is that I'm having trouble verifying this info with other historical documentation. Granted, one of the references in the weblink is obviously fiction (Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter story). But since I've never obtained or read the "Illuminated History" book, I can't really cite that as a true source of history.

    If true, the info indicates that, between the War of Independence & the Civil War, the Republic Civil flag could have been flown over courthouses, homes & pretty much everywhere else except on military installations...But also if this is true, the difficulty in finding verifiable historical data would also indicate the US government had been (& still does) actively suppress the knowledge that we've been technically "at wartime" since the Civil War & the whole of the US is under military jurisdiction. Yet, if the historical info is valid, then shouldn't the Citizens be able to fly the US Civil during any official "peacetime" period?

    I'm not trying to actually make a judgment here...Just trying to find some *real* facts in history. If any of this is true, it may indicate that the US has been engulfed in "war" for a lot longer than currently-taught history indicates & our schools are not really teaching the truth to our children. Don't our children at least deserve the truth?

  2. #2
    Peter Ansoff is offline USA Flag Site Admin
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Hello, Midnight -- glad to have you in the forum!

    The reason that you've had trouble finding historical documentation about the "civil flag" is that it doesn't exist. This story has been floating around for at least 10 years, but it's complete nonsense. The United States only has one flag, the one that was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777, revised by Congress in 1794 and 1818, and codified in 4 USC. The "flag code" adopted in 1942, which is also part of 4 USC, makes it clear that the flag is for civilian as well as military use.

    I'm not exactly sure where the "civil flag" legend started. It's part of an ideology promoted by people who feel that they are being oppressed by a tyrannical US government that needs to be returned to its historical roots. They seem to like to make up their own "history" to support their cause.

    Apparently the idea for the "civil flag" story came from the Nathaniel Hawthorne quotation that was repeated on the web site you found. Hawthorne worked in the Customs House in Salem, Mass., and the flag that flew there was, of course, the US Customs flag. That flag was adopted in 1799 for the use of the Customs Service to identify Customs houses and vessels, and its history is well documented. There's an article on that subject on the US Customs web site at www.customs.usteras.gov/custoday/jan2000/tradtn.htm. The Customs flag was also the ancestor of the current flag of the US Coast Guard. Note that both the Customs flag and the Coast Guard flag have 16 stripes, not 13, because that's how many states there were in 1799. (Hawthorne said there were 13 -- apparently he never counted them!)

    Many countries do have different flags for military and civilian use. A good example is Russia, which flies the historic blue and white "Andreevsky" ensign on its naval ships, but uses the white-blue-red tricolor as the civil flag. Germany actually has three different versions of its flag: one for naval ships, one for government installations ashore, and one for non-government use. The USA, however, has only one.


    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff

  3. #3
    MidnightDStroyer is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Thanks for the info...But I should also mention that the link you included doesn't seem to work for me. I get only a page load error that specifies that the server can't be found.

    I'd also like to ask if there's anything known about the "Illuminated History" book I mentioned in the original post?

  4. #4
    Peter Ansoff is offline USA Flag Site Admin
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Greetings, again!

    But I should also mention that the link you included doesn't seem to work for me. I get only a page load error that specifies that the server can't be found.

    Sorry about that -- apparently the Customs Service web site shuffled things around. The correct link for the article is

    U.S. Customs Today

    I'd also like to ask if there's anything known about the "Illuminated History" book I mentioned in the original post?

    Well, here's what I know about it. The book was published in two editions, one in 1854 and one in 1860. The author's name was John Frost, and it was published by Henry Bill, New York. Although billed as a history of North America, it dealt mostly with the military history of the US up to that time. The 1854 edition is on line in Google Books, you can read it at

    Google Book Search

    (There's a search function on that page, just put in the title.)

    I've looked through the 1854 edition, and have not found any reference to a "civil flag." I have not had a chance to review the 1860 edition yet (it's on my list of things to do next time I get to the Library of Congress!) but I strongly suspect that there's nothing about a Civil flag there either.

    The publisher of this book, Henry Bill, also published a "Chart of National Flags" at about the same time that he published the first edition of "Illuminated History." You can see the chart here:

    Antique map by SINCLAIR -A Chart of National Flags. Published by Henry Bill. New York.

    Click on the image on this page, and you'll get a nice high-resolution, zoomable image. At the top center of this chart, you'll find the "American Costoms" (sic) flag, which, again, is apparently the basis for the "Hornswoggled" article. As I mentioned in the last post, this flag has a well-known history and was never the "civil flag of the United States."

    I have heard (but cannot confirm) that the 1860 edition of "Illuminated History" had this flag chart pasted in before Chapter 1 as a foldout. The fact that both were published at the same time by the same publisher makes this reasonable, but it needs to be confirmed. If this is not true, then I'm not sure what the "Hornswoogled" article was talking about.

    In your original post, you commented:

    . . . the difficulty in finding verifiable historical data would also indicate the US government had been (& still does) actively suppress the knowledge that we've been technically "at wartime" since the Civil War & the whole of the US is under military jurisdiction.

    I don't think the US Government could "suppress" something like this, even if it wanted to. A friend of mine, who grew up in Romania under the Communist regime, said it best: "Trust me -- if we were under military occupation, we'd know it!" I think it's much more likely that the "verifiable historical data" is hard to find because it doesn't exist.

    Best Regards,

    Peter Ansoff

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    MidnightDStroyer is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Thanks for the info...I should have remembered a general truism that you inferred near the end of your reply, that it's impossible to prove a negative.

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    Peter Ansoff is offline USA Flag Site Admin
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    . . . it's impossible to prove a negative.

    Very true. In this case, however, I think it's reasonable to say that the "civil flag" story is not true. There is no evidence whatsoever for it, and there are many examples of the real US flag being used by civilians before the Civil War (e.g., as the ensign on merchant ships). The story is nothing but a clumsy piece of libertarian propaganda.

    By coincidence, I just discovered that Henry Bill (the publisher of the "Illuminated History" and the flag chart) also published a history of the world in 1859, and that book *did* include a foldout copy of the flag chart with the Customs flag. I wonder of the chap who made up the civil flag story cited the wrong book!

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff

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    lizrob19464@aol.com is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Now I understand why history class was so confusing. Definately need to get it straight. I don't believe it will happen. Not enough people care or can care cuz there r way more serious issues at the present.

  8. #8
    Peter Ansoff is offline USA Flag Site Admin
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Now I understand why history class was so confusing.

    Hi, Liz, welcome to the forum! What aspect of history did you find confusing? We have some people here who are pretty knowledgeable about history -- maybe we can help clarify a few things.

    Peter Ansoff

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    nevadaman is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?


  10. #10
    Peter Ansoff is offline USA Flag Site Admin
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    Default Re: Two US Flags: Military & Civil?

    Unfortunately, this is just another rehash of the same silly story. The US Customs flag has never been designated as the "Civil Flag of the United States." The fact that Mr. Hawthorne was wrong about the number of stripes on the Customs flag isn't evidence for any sinister government conspiracies.

    Peter Ansoff
    "We live by symbols, and what shall be symbolized by any image of the sight depends upon the mind of him who sees it."
    -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

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