The Tradition of Flying the U.S. Flag Twenty-four Hours a Day

Today the U.S. Flag flies day and night at countless locations around the country; however, one spot claims the honor for beginning the tradition of flying the United States flag twenty-four hours a day.

Civilians gave little thought to rules of flag display before the turn of the twentieth century, but during World War I the Army started receiving questions from Americans about how to display the flag.  The Adjutant General was quick to explain that the military had no authority to proscribe rules of flag display for civilians; however he did in 1917 issue a War Department Circular explaining military flag traditions that civilians could use as a guide.

One portion of the circular gave details concerning the time of display.

It is the practice in the Army, each day in the year,
to hoist the flag briskly at sunrise, irrespective of the
condition of the weather, and to lower it slowly and ceremoniously at sunset, indicating the commencement
and cessation of the activities of the day.

Nevertheless, the Adjutant General went on to explain that the War Department had “no objection to flying the flag at night on civilian property. . .”

When during World War II Congress passed a resolution listing rules for the proper display of the flag by civilians, it prescribed that while the flag normally was to be displayed between sunrise and sunset, “the flag may be displayed at night upon special occasions when it is desired to produce a patriotic effect.”

However, there were many locations where Americans not only wanted to fly the flag at night “upon special occasions”, but continually.  Congress and the President received and approved many requests for special authorization to fly the flag twenty-four hours a day and each site had its story and arguments as to why the flag should be displayed continually there.  Over the years the list of officially approved sites increased until the Flag Code was amended to allow that “the flag may be displayed at night upon special occasions when it is desired to produce a patriotic effect.”

The story of the oldest claim is especially interesting in that it dates back to the Civil War.  However, this claim is not for one of the great battle fields of the war.  It did not even happen in the States comprising the Union or even in the rebellious States which made up the Confederacy.  Yet the site has a history dating back to the earliest days of European colonization in North America.  Not in New England or in the vast stretches of colonial Virginia, but in the West, in New Mexico to be specific.  The history of the Taos Plaza stretches back more than two centuries when Spaniards first settled the area, and the story of Taos and its flag took place over one hundred and fifty years ago.


The U.S. flag had thirty-four stars at the beginning of the Civil War

The U.S. flag had thirty-four stars at the beginning of the Civil War.


Confederate sympathizers in Taos repeatedly tore down a U.S. flag raised over the town square.  United States Army Captain Smith Simpson enlisted the help of an Army scout named Kit Carson, and the man with the aid of a few others nailed a thirty-four star United States flag to a cottonwood pole and raised it over the plaza.  Carson warned that any man who attempted to remove the flag would be shot.

Famed frontier scout, Kit Carson, nailed the U.S. flag to a cottonwood pole in Taos, New Mexico

Famed frontier scout, Kit Carson, nailed the flag to a cottonwood pole.


To emphasize their point, the men posted a guard to ensure that the flag would remain flying undisturbed.  Since it was nailed to the pole, there was no question of lowering the flag each day at sunset, and the flag flew twenty-four hours a day, as it has continued to do so ever since.  Visitors to Taos today will still find a United States flag flying over the Plaza just as it first did in 1861.  Likely the town’s residents do not want to anger Kit Carson’s ghost by ever lowering the flag.

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