Everyone is familiar with the phrase "stars and stripes," a metaphor for the American flag, etched in our minds in recent times in large part to John Philip's Sousa's march, "Stars and Stripes Forever," played at numerous Fourth of July celebrations each year.
When referring to the American flag in the nineteenth century, however, both phrases "Stars and Stripes" and "Stripes and Stars" were in common usage. Both phrases described the American standard as it proudly waved from the masts of America's ships, buildings, and in parades.
Following is a typical example as referring to a ship's star-spangled banner:
The L'Insurgent French frigate, lately captured in the West-Indies by Captain Truxton, was at New-York in the summer of '96, and then mounted 44 guns--she is a larger vessel than the Ambuscade, and when fitted out, and manned by the brave defenders of the Stripes and Stars, will become an excellent auxillary to the navy of America. [Newport Mercury, 2 April 1799, 3]"Stripes and Stars" was also commonly used in patriotic poetry and songs. For example this poem written during the War of 1812 and to be sung to the tune "Yankee Doodle" included this final stanza:
Columbia, Hail! to weep and wailOne of the earliest uses of the phrase on the Fourth of July appeared in the opening sentences in the newspaper The Centinel of Freedom that described the celebration in Springfield, New Jersey:
Thy lot, shall never be, Sir,
Thy Stripes and Stars, our Jolly Tars
Shall keep, from danger, free, Sir.
Yankee Doodle, &c
[New Jersey Journal,29 December 1812, 4.]
At sunrise the day was ushered in by the display of the American stripes and stars--the ringing of the parish bell--and the discharge of ordnance. "Celebration of the 4th of July at Springfield," [The Centinel of Freedom, 16 July 1816, 3.]
On Friday evening last [the women] presented to Captain Timothy Gardner, the venerable commander of the Union, a superb set of silk colours to be worn by this vessel. Any comment on the amiable feelings which prompted them to the gift, or on the grateful emotions elicited in this old Seventy-Sixer's breast by it, would be needless. Suffice it to express a fervent hope, that those fair, who have thus with their own hands, so beautifully united the Stripes and Stars, which form the rallying standard, dear to every American breast, may in the moment of need, find every manly heart as truly united in their defence. [Baltimore Patriot, 1 July 1828, 2.]Sometimes the phrase was used in Fourth of July toasts as in this example offered at a celebration held at the hotel in Lawrenceville, Virginia, on July 4, 1832:
By Algemon S. Claiborne. The Stripes and Stars of the American Banner: May it ever declare to the world the tale of our Union, Independence, one and inseparable. ["Brunswick Celebration," Richmond Enquirer, 20 July 1832, 1-2.]
The proud ensign of America, the flag with the stripes and stars, was displayed in every part of the building, and pennants were floating in great profusion over the heads of the assembled multitude. [Baltimore Patriot, 11 July 1834, 2.]
Shall those stripes and stars, which now wave triumphantly in every breeze, and which are honored in every land as the representative of a free people, ever be trampled beneath the feet of a foreign foe, or torn by the violence of civil strife? [Hudson River Chronicle, 17 July 1838, 2.]
"Palos-Alto and Resaca--By W.G. Simms."Stripes and Stars" continued to be used during the Civil War
A New Song for the 4th of July, 1846"
For Taylor--"Rough and Ready,"
True son of truest sires:--
For May, who, swift and steady,
Trod down La Vega's fires;
Maintain'd in pride the stripes and stars,
The dead, who won immortel [sic] life,
And they who live for other wars:
For these, who with their victory,
New wreaths to grace our laurel bring--
A health that drains the goblet dry,
A cheer that make the welkin ring! [Pittsfield Sun, 25 June 1846, 1.]
The anniversary of American Independence was celebrated in this city and its vicinity with the spirit, regularity and decorum by which our citizens are generally distinguished. Early in the morning the customary salutes were fired; the American flag was displayed at the navy yard, the custom house, and other public places; the stars and stripes waved from the masts of the different vessels in our harbor. ["At Philadelphia," City of Washington Gazette, 8 July 1820, 3.]
Victorious from the trial,
Our valiant Fathers rose;
And while above the stars shall shine,
Firm will we meet our foes!
Let the Briton, or the Gaul invade,
The North its legions pour--
They shall see, how the free
Will repel them on the shore--
While our stars and stripes on high shall wave,
"And our Yankee thunders roar!" [New-Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette, 12 July 1824, 4.]
Quick may oppression's work be done,
Where stars and stripes so proudly wave;
And when we next shall hail this sun,
May the loud echo rench the slave [Haverhill Gazette, 17 July 1841, 2.]
This page last updated April 2011
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