The flag is an emblem of antiquity and has commanded respect and reverence from practically all
nations from the earliest times. History traces it to divine origin, the early peoples of the earth
attributing to it strange, mysterious, and supernatural powers. Indeed, our first recorded references to
the standard and the banner, of which our present flag is but a modified form, are from sacred rather
than from secular sources. We are told that it was around the banner that the prophets of old rallied
their armies and under which the hosts of Israel were led to believing, as they did, that the flag carried
with it divine favor and protection.
Since that time all nations and all peoples have had their flags and emblems, though the ancient
superstition regarding their divine merits and supernatural powers has disappeared from among
civilized peoples. The flag now, the world over, possesses the same meaning and has a uniform
significance to all nations wherever found. It stands as the symbol of strength and unity, representing
the national spirit and patriotism of the people over whom it floats. In both lord and subject, the ruler
and the ruled, it commands respect, inspires patriotism, and instills loyalty both in peace and war. In
this country we have a national flag which stands as the emblem of our strength and unity as a nation, a living representation of our national spirit and
honor. In addition to our national flag, each of the states in the Union has a "state flag" which is symbolic of its own individuality and domestic ideals. The
state flag also expresses some particular trait, or commemorates some historical event of the people over whom it floats. The flags of most of the states,
however, consist of the coat of arms of that state upon a suitably colored field. It is said that the first state flag of North Carolina was built on this model
but legislative records show that a "state flag" was not established or recognized until 1861. The constitutional convention of 1861, which passed the
ordinance of secession, adopted a state flag. On May 20, 1861, the day the secession resolution was adopted, Col. John D. Whitford, a member of the
convention from Craven County, introduced an ordinance, which was referred to a select committee of seven. The ordinance stated that "the flag of this
State shall be a blue field with a white V thereon, and a star, encircling which shall be the words, Sirgit astrum, May 20, 1775."
Colonel Whitford was made chairman of the committee to which this ordinance was referred. The committee secured the aid and advice of William Jarl
Browne, an artist of Raleigh. Browne prepared and submitted a model to this committee and this model was adopted by the convention of June 22,
1861. The Browne model was vastly different from the original design proposed by Colonel Whitford. The law as it appears in the ordinance and
resolutions passed by the convention is as follows:
AN ORDINANCE IN RELATION TO A STATE FLAG
Be it ordained by this Convention, and it is hereby ordained by the authority of the same, That the Flag of North Carolina shall consist of a red
field with a white star in the centre, and with the inscription, above the star, in a semi-circular form, of "May 20th,1775," and below the star, in a
semi-circular form, of "May 20th, 1861." That there shall be two bars of equal width, and the length of the field shall be equal to the bar, the width
of the field being equal to both bars: the first bar shall be blue, and second shall be white: and the length of the flag shall be one-third more than
its width. [Ratified the 22nd day of June, 1861.]
This state flag, adopted in 1861, is said to have been issued to North Carolina regiments of state troops during the summer of 1861 and borne by them
throughout the war. It was the only flag, except the national and Confederate colors, used by North Carolina troops during the Civil War. This flag existed
until 1885, when the Legislature adopted a new model.
The bill, which was introduced by General Johnstone Jones on February 5, 1885, passed its final reading one month later after little debate. This act
reads as follows:
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A STATE FLAG
The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:
SEC. 1. That the flag of North Carolina shall consist of a blue union, containing in the centre thereof a white star with the letter N in gilt on the left
and the letter C in gilt on the right of said star, the circle containing the same to be one-third the width of the union.
SEC. 2. That the fly of the flag shall consist of two equally proportioned bars; the upper bar to be red, the lower bar to be white; that the length of
the bars horizontally shall be equal to the perpendicular length of the union, and the total length of the flag shall be one-third more than its width.
SEC. 3. That above the star in the centre of the union there shall be a gilt scroll in semi-circular form, containing in black letters this inscription
"May 20th, 1775," and that below the star there shall be similar scroll containing in black letters the inscription: "April 12th, 1776."
SEC. 4. That this act shall take effect from and after its ratification. In the General Assembly read three times and ratified this 9th day of March,
It is interesting to examine the significance of the dates found on the flag. The first date, "May 20, 1775," refers to the Mecklenburg Declaration of
Independence, although many speculate the authenticity of this particular document. The second date appearing on the state flag of 1861 is that of "May
20th, 1861." This date commemorated the secession of the State from the Union, but as the cause for secession was defeated, this date no longer
represented anything after the Civil War. So when a new flag was adopted in 1885, this date was replaced with "April 12th, 1776." This date
commemorates the Halifax Resolves, a document that places the Old North State in the very front rank, both in point of time and in spirit, among those
that demanded unconditional freedom and absolute independence from any foreign power. This document stands out as one of the great landmarks in
the annals of North Carolina history.
Since 1885 there has been no change in our state flag. For the most part, it has remained unknown and a stranger to the good people of our State.
However, as we became more intelligent, and therefore, more patriotic and public spirited, the emblem of the Old North State assumed a station of
greater prominence among our people. One hopeful sign of this increased interest was the act passed by the Legislature of 1907, requiring the state flag
to be floated from all state institutions, public buildings, and courthouses. In addition to this, many public and private schools, fraternal orders, and other
organizations now float the state flag. The people of the State should become acquainted with the emblem of that government to which they owe
allegiance and from which they secure protection, and to ensure that they would, the legislature enacted the following:
AN ACT TO PROMOTE GREATER LOYALTY AND RESPECT FOR
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATE
The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:
SEC. 1. That for the purpose of promoting greater loyalty and respect to the state and inasmuch as a special act of the Legislature has adopted
an emblem of our government known as the North Carolina State flag, that it is meet and proper that it shall be given greater prominence.
SEC. 2. That the board of trustees or managers of the several state institutions and public buildings shall provide a North Carolina flag, of such
dimensions and materials as they deem best, and the same shall be displayed from a staff upon the top of each and every such building at all
times except during inclement weather, and upon the death of any state officer or any prominent citizen the flag shall be put at half-mast until the
burial of such person shall have taken place.
SEC.3. That the Board of County Commissioners of the several counties in this state shall likewise authorize the procuring of a North Carolina
flag, to be displayed either on a staff upon the top, or draped behind the judge's stand, in each and every term of court held, and on such other
public occasions as the Commissioners may deem proper.
SEC. 4. That no state flag shall be allowed in or over any building here mentioned that does not conform to section five thousand three hundred
and twenty-one of the Revisal of one thousand nine hundred and five.
SEC. 5. That this act shall be in force from and after its ratification.
In the General Assembly read three times, and ratified this 9th day of March, A.D. 1907.
Many North Carolinians have questioned the legitimacy of having the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration, May 20th, 1776, on the flag. Historians have
debated its authenticity because of the lack of any original documentation. The only evidence of the Declaration is a reproduction from memory many
years later by one of the delegates attending the convention. Historians' main argument, other than the non-existence of the original document, is that
the Mecklenburg Resolves, adopted just eleven days after the Mecklenburg Declaration, are comparatively weak in tone, almost to the point of being
completely opposite. Many historians find it difficult to believe that the irreconcilable tone of the Declaration could have been the work of the same
people who produced the Resolves. Efforts have been made to have the date taken off the flag and the seal, but so far these efforts have proved
fruitless. Removal from the seal would be simple enough, for the date of the Halifax Resolves could easily be substituted without changing the basic
intention of the date. The flag would prove to be more difficult, for there is no other date of significance which could be easily substituted.