Why Red White and Blue?

With it being close to the Fourth of July, I thought I would show my patriotism by doing a little fun fact about the symbol of our nation, Old Glory.  Today I'm going to look at why the flag is red, white and blue and what the colors symbolize.

At first glance its easy to see why a young United States would pick the color scheme it did for their symbol. I mean just look at the flag of our mother-nation:

Source: wikipedia.org

Source: wikipedia.org

The King's Colours - The national flag of Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries.

While it's tempting to think that the United States simply ripped the colors off the British flag it should be known that there is meaning to the colors.  And indeed the iconography of the flag itself, I mean beyond the fact that the stars represent the States found in the union and the stripes representing the original 13 colonies.

The symbolism of the flag has two interpretations.  The first is the well known interpretation mentioned above.  The second is much less known.  

According to the House of Representatives 1977 book about the flag: "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

On June 14, 1777 a committee adopted a resolution for what the flag of the United States should look like.  They settled on a flag consisting of 13 stripes alternating between red and white with a union (the square in the left corner) that consisted of 13 white stars on a blue field, representing a new constellation.  Though the imagery was decided on, no meaning was given to the colors chosen.

In fact the colors were not given any symbolism until 1782 when Charles Thompson presented a design for the Great Seal of the United States, which looked like this:

wikipedia.org

wikipedia.org

Charles Thompson's original design for the "Great Seal"

Concerning the symbolism of the shield, Thompson had this to say:

The Escutcheon is composed of the chief & pale, the two most honorable ordinaries. The Pieces, paly, represent the several states all joined in one solid compact entire, supporting a Chief, which unites the whole & represents Congress. The Motto alludes to this union. The pales in the arms are kept closely united by the chief and the Chief depends upon that union & the strength resulting from it for its support, to denote the Confederacy of the United States of America & the preservation of their union through Congress.
The colours of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valor, and Blue, the colour of the Chief signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice. The Olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress. The Constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers. The Escutcheon is born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue. 

So there you have it.  White signifies purity and innocence, red, hardiness and valor, and blue, represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.  On a side note, Congress modified Thompson's design slightly, changing it to a symbol you are probably a little more familiar with: