Old Glory and the Representation of U.S. Territories

Our guest blogger today is Allison Walsh, an Archives Technician at Archives I who works with Navy / Maritime records.  She is proud to display the Stars and Stripes every Flag Day, which also happens to be her birthday.

File: 10599 (Bostick letter, pg. 2)

Finding the file number nearby, I carefully pulled the trifolded papers open.  A handwritten letter dating from 1899 fell out of the pages (see image above).  Harry Bostick, from Trindad, Colorado, wrote to his senator concerned that the U.S. territories were underrepresented on the flag.  Mr. Bostick in his letter addressed the fact that the territories contributed much to the Union, and deserved a place among the states on the flag.  He argued that for the flag’s design to be changed, “[h]ere-to-fore, only the states have been represented upon the flag.  We deem it fit and proper to have our territories represented for they are a part of this glorious union of ours.  They are extensive in area, rich and valuable in many ways.  We, unquestionably, would resist to the last before we would allow any power to seize any one of the nine territories now in our possession.  We can see no reason why they should not be represented upon our flag.”

Furthermore, he states that “[a] person might mention a great number of reasons why the Territories should be represented and only one why they should not, and it is a poor one in my estimation.  It would be something like this, ‘We never did have them represented and we don’t need to have them now.’  That is a poor excuse in this age of progressiveness.”

File: 10599 (Dept. of Navy response, Jan. 27, 1900)

He recommended that red stars be added to represent the territories, because “the red ones do not shine forth with as much prominence as do the others; hence neither do the territories assume such a prominent part in this union as do the states.  But, we do think that the territories shine with enough prominence to be represented upon our national flag.”  As the territories became states, Mr. Bostick proposed the red stars would then change to white.  Additionally, each row of stars stood for a different war, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the most recent war of his time, the Spanish American War.

This letter circulated from the U.S. Senate to the Department of State, reaching the Department of the Navy before it was referred to the Bureau of Equipment.  Mr. Bostick unfortunately did not see the territories represented on the flag in his design, as the senator he wrote refused to adopt legislation to change the flag.  Still, the effort to change a national icon to represent the territories demonstrates a patriotism and dedication to the growing Union.

The images in this post are from: “File: 10599”, General Correspondence, 1897-1915, (NAID 921968), Entry 19-A , Record Group 80, General Records of the Department of the Navy.