Flag Etiquette

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Whether you refer to the flag of the United States of America as Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the Red, White and Blue, or as the Star-Spangled Banner it is the greatest symbol epitomizing our sacred heritage, our civil constitutional government and our American ideals. When the flag waves in the wind we are reminded of American heroism and sacrifice, our dreams as a people and our aspirations for a future that is bright and free for all.

Early History: The American Flag in the Pacific

In post-Revolutionary War America merchants on trading ships converged on the Pacific Ocean, especially with China as their destination, either by Cape Horn (South America) or the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).

The first ship to fly the American flag in the Far East was the Empress of China, financed largely by Philip Morris of Philadelphia. She sailed from New York City on February 22, 1784 and reached Macao, then under Portuguese control, on August 23. The Empress of China sailed for America from Whampoa, the anchorage of Guangzhou (Canton) on December 28 and returned to the United States on May 11, 1785. Though the Empress of China did not anchor in Hawaiian waters its journey paved the way for Americans to seek their fortunes in Asia.

In the meantime, Connecticut-born John Ledyard sailed with British Captain Cook on the third and final voyage of exploration of the Pacific Ocean. (Cook was killed in the Hawaiian Islands) Ledyard persuaded American merchants to trade in otter and beaver fur pelts from Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest with the Chinese. Elsewhere, the North Pacific also provided a lucrative hunting ground for American whalers, and sandalwood in Hawaii was traded in China where demand was high.

The American flag was probably first displayed from the masts of whaling and trading ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when they stopped in Honolulu, Lahaina or Hilo, each flying the flag of the United States. The first recorded American whaling ship arrived in Honolulu in 1820. Some officers and seamen decided to settle in the Hawaiian Islands, making this their home.

Honolulu newspapers record the arrival and departure of many American ships anchored in port that were named in honor of Americans associated with the American Revolution and the Early Republic Era. Such names as USS America, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Charles Knox, Henry Lee, John Jay and United States are some of the examples. The originating ports of various vessels included New Bedford, New London, Stonington (CT), Boston, Sag Harbor, Nantucket, Providence, Mystic, Newport, and New York.

The American Flag in Poetic Verse in Hawaii

Early Honolulu newspapers featured inspired verses and original works of poetry penned by American sailors in port. We are pleased to provide you with some transcriptions of these works. Click on the title of the poem to open a new window containing the transcription of the work:

  • The first of these, The American Flag, was written by J. R. Drake and appeared in December, 1840 edition of The Polynesian
  • Another, entitled America's Banner, was penned by an anonymous sailor on the William C. Nye. It was published in the March, 1845 edition of The Friend, an intelligencer published by Massachusetts-born Rev. Samuel C. Damon, Seamans' Chaplain in Honolulu of the American Seamans' Friend Society.
  • My Country's Flag of Stars was also penned by an anonymous sailor on a U.S. Man-of-War and published in the October 15, 1845 edition of The Friend.
  • America's national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was featured in all its verses in the July 2, 1857 edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.

Web-based Resources

The Hawaii Society of the Sons of the American Revolution is pleased to provide visitors like you with the following web-based resources on the subject of the American flag and flag etiquette. Each provides information on how to properly respect the American flag along with some history:

A Summary of Rules

The American Flag is customarily displayed from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open. Please hoist the Flag quickly and lower it carefully and with respect.

When it is carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the American Flag should be either on the marching right, that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of the line.

The American Flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff.

No other Flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the Flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the Flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.

When it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the American Flag should be on the right, the Flag's own right and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

The Flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.

When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the American flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.

When the American Flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street. When used on a speaker's platform, the American Flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker.

When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the Flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

The American Flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument. However, the American Flag should never be used as a covering for a statue or monument.

When flown at half-staff the American Flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The American Flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

On Memorial Day, the American Flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

When the American Flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The American Flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

The American Flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, state flags, and organizational or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

The American Flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of the dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

The American Flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

The American Flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

Bunting of blue, white and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping in front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

The American Flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.

No part of the American Flag should ever be used as a custom or athletic uniform. However, an American Flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The Flag represents a living country and is itself considered as a living thing. Therefore, the lapel American Flag -being a replica- should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

When it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, the American Flag should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the American Flag, or when the Flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the American Flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Non-citizens should stand at attention. The salute to the American Flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

Displaying the flag with the state flag.

“As the last vibration of the midnight bell proclaimed the presence of the jubilant day, the sound of fife and drum broke on the silent air. Hail Columbia, coupled with the ever stirring strains of The Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle, mingled with the firing of guns, the sharp, loud crack of powder-charged anvil, and the glad cheers of hilarious voices. On came the music and our hearts beat quicker as we beheld, borne in front of a band of Hawaiians, the glorious banner of the free. Fourth of July at Hanalei at Princeville Plantation, Kauai, on the 90th anniversary of American independence.”

Source: Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Saturday, July 14, 1866