Three Cheer for the BLUE, White & Red

draped bunting

The Flag of the United States evolved from banners which had designs rooted in Europe but molded by the traditions of the New World.  The colors of the flag are those of Great Britain, the Mother Country of the thirteen American Colonies, and at the beginning of the rebellion against Great Britain’s Parliament the colonists still saw themselves as British.  When Paul Revere spread the alarm of approaching troops, he did not call out, “The British are coming!”  The New England colonists were fighting for their rights and British men and women.   So, Revere would have warned that, “The Redcoats or Coming!” or perhaps “The Lobster Backs are coming!”  Both terms were derogatory nicknames of the British troops that occupied Boston.

In the natural evolution from the British Red Ensign to the Stars and Stripes, the colors red, white and blue became the colors of the new nation.  Nevertheless, the colors did not have any specific meaning for Americans when in 1777 they flag adopted their new flag

In 1782 Congress adopted a new national seal and coat of arms displaying and eagle with a shield on its breast fashioned after the Stars and Stripes.  The new Great Seal of the United States therefore used the colors red, white and blue in its design.  Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Congress wrote a short description of the Great Seal and explained the meaning of the colors as used in that design.

“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue . . . signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”

However, what is the correct order of the colors?  We are accustomed to saying, “red, white & blue.”  Strangely, one man strongly insisted that we should say, “the blue, white & red.”  Gridley Adams, a man who considered himself the finial expect on all issues surrounding the flag, believed that Thomas á Becket, a British song writer and performer, mixed the order up when he wrote the song, “Columbia, the Gem of the of the Ocean.”  The chorus proclaims, “Tree cheers for the red, white, and blue.”  Adams argued that blue is the most important color of the flag since the union of stars is found in the blue field in the upper corner next to the flag staff.   For the fanatical Adams, the colors should always be listed as the blue, white and red.  Also Adams dictated that when arranged in colored stripes of bunting for patriotic decoration,  blue should always be at the top with red at the bottom the two colors separated by a stripe of white.   Alas, while some American may agree to place blue at the top, our national colors are recited using the words of the song, “Three cheers for the red, white, and blue.”

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