Today, the Star Spangled Banner Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the flag committee and their report read in Congress 200 years ago that reduced the number of stripes to thirteen.
In 1777 to 1795, the nation’s flag consisted of thirteen stars and thirteen stripes representing the original thirteen colonies.
With the addition of two states, the flag in 1795 included fifteen stars and fifteen stripes.
However, additional states joined the Union, and by December 1816 the Union consisted of nineteen states.
The House of Representatives chose a committee to study if the fifteen stars and stripes should be changed and how.
The committee’s report and its subsequent approval introduced a new flag in 1818.
From the Niles Weekly Register of January 1817 and the Century of Lawmaking at the Library of Congress:
Flag of the United States.
Report of the select committee appointed on the 12th ult. to enquire into the expediency of altering the flag of the United States. — Read, January 2, 1817.
The committee appointed to enquire into the expediency of altering the flag of the United States beg leave to report:
That they have maturely examined the subject submitted for their consideration, and are well aware that any proposition essentially to alter the flag of the United States, either in its general form or in the distribution of its parts, would be as unacceptable to the legislature and to the people, as it would be uncongenial with the views of the committee.
Fully persuaded that the form selected for the American flag was truly emblematical of our origin and existence as an independent nation, and that, as such, it has received the approbation and support of the citizens of the Union, it ought to undergo no change that would decrease its conspicuity, or tend to deprive it of its representative character.
The committee however believe, that a change in the number of states in the union sufficiently indicates the propriety of such a change in the arrangement of the flag, as shall best accord with the reasons that led to its adoption, and sufficiently point to important periods of our history.
The original flag of the United States was composed of thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, and was adopted by a resolution of the Continental Congress, on the 14th of June, 1777.
On the 13th of Jan. 1794, after two new states had been admitted into the union, the National Legislature passed an act that the stripes and stars should, on a day fixed, be increased to fifteen each, to comport with the then number of independent states.
The accession of new states since that alteration, and the certain prospect that at no distant period the number of states will be considerably multiplied, render it, in the opinion of the committee, highly inexpedient to increase the number of stripes, as every flag must in some measure, be limited in its size, from the circumstance of convenience to the place on which it is to be displayed, while such an increase would necessarily decrease their magnitude, and render them proportionably less distinct to distant observation.
This consideration has induced many to retain only the general form of the flag while there actually exists a great want of uniformity in its adjustment, particularly when used on small private vessels.
The national flag being in general use by vessels of almost every description, it appears to the committee of considerable importance to adopt some arrangement calculated to prevent, in future, great or extensive alterations.
Under these impressions, they are led to believe no alteration could be made, more emblematical of our origin and present existence, as composed of a number of independent and united states, than to reduce the stripes to the original thirteen, representing the number of states then contending for, and happily achieving, their independence — and to increase the stars to correspond with the number of states now in the Union — and hereafter to add one star to the flag whenever a new state shall be fully admitted.
These slight alterations will, in the opinion of the committee, meet the general approbation as well of those who may have regretted a former departure from the original flag, and such as are solicitous to see in it a representation of every State in the Union.
The committee cannot believe that in retaining only thirteen stripes, it necessarily follows they should be distinctly considered in reference to certain individual states, inasmuch as nearly all the new states were a component part of, and represented in the original states; inasmuch, also, as the flag is intended to signify numbers, and not local and particular sections of the union.
The committee respectfully report a bill. [The bill is in conformity to the preceding report, and provides that the change shall take place on the 4th of July next.]
The Star Spangled Banner Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of the flag with fifteen stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 (one star lost in the battle).