FAQ under construction

General

The American flag’s official colors are “Old Glory Red,” “White,” and “Old Glory Blue.” The exact red, white, and blue colors to be used in the flag are specified with reference to the Color Association of the United States (CAUS) Standard Color Reference of America, 10th edition.

When we think of the President of the United States, many people do not realize that we are actually referring to presidents elected under the United States Constitution. Everybody knows that the first president in that sense was George Washington. But in fact the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution, also called for a president—albeit one with greatly diminished powers. Eight men were appointed to serve one-year terms as president under the Articles of Confederation. In November 1781, John Hanson became the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled, under the Articles of Confederation.

Many people have argued that John Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first President of the United States, but this is not quite true. Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States had no executive branch. The President of Congress was a ceremonial position within the Confederation Congress. Although the office required Hanson to deal with correspondence and sign official documents, it wasn’t the sort of work that any President of the United States under the Constitution would have done.

The other seven men appointed to serve one year terms as president under the Articles of Confederation include: Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin.

Uncle Sam was a real person named Samuel Wilson (1766–1854), a meatpacker from Troy, New York who fought in the American Revolution and became the official meat inspector for the northern army in the War of 1812. Wilson was well known in Troy for his meat business and for his friendliness, and over time was given the nickname, “Uncle Sam.” When Wilson started providing and inspecting meat for the troops during the War of 1812, the troops from Troy would joke that the “U.S.” label on the meat barrels actually stood for Uncle Sam. Over time, it is believed, anything marked with the same initials, as much Army property was, also became linked with his name, and so Uncle Sam became the figurehead of American might.

The Liberty Bell was last rung February 23, 1846 for George Washington’s birthday. The citizens of Pennsylvania paid about $300 in 1752 to have it built for their State House. The bell was first cast in England and sent by ship to the colony of Pennsylvania. It cracked when it was rung shortly after its arrival in America. It was recast by local craftsmen in Philadelphia from the same metal in 1753, but this bell also proved to be defective. A third bell was cast by John Pass and John Stowe. Look closely and you will see that the word “Pennsylvania” is spelled as “Pensylvania” (an accepted alternative spelling at the time).

It is uncertain how the bell came to be cracked; the damage occurred sometime between 1817 and 1846. The most common story about the cracking of the bell is that it happened when the bell was rung upon the 1835 death of the Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall. While there is little evidence to support this view, it has been widely accepted and taught. Other claims regarding the crack in the bell include stories that it was damaged while welcoming Lafayette on his return to the United States in 1824, that it cracked announcing the passing of the British Catholic Relief Act 1829, and that some boys had been invited to ring the bell, and inadvertently damaged it. David Kimball, in his book compiled for the National Park Service, suggests that it most likely cracked sometime between 1841 and 1845, either on the Fourth of July or on Washington’s Birthday.

The Pass and Stow bell was first termed “the Liberty Bell” in the New York Anti-Slavery Society’s journal, Anti-Slavery Record. In an 1835 piece, “The Liberty Bell,” Philadelphians were castigated for not doing more for the abolitionist cause.

Washington, D.C. has not always been the political center of the United States. In fact, nine different cities across the country have served as the nation’s capital at one point or another.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the very first capital. The First Continental Congress had to meet in Carpenters’ Hall from September 5 to October 26, 1774, because Independence Hall was being used by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Other United States capitals before Washington, D.C. include: Baltimore, Maryland; Lancaster, Pennsylvania (for one day September 27, 1777); York, Pennsylvania (where the Articles of Confederation were drafted); Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey; the Maryland State House in Annapolis; Trenton, New Jersey; and Federal Hall in New York City (where Washington had his inauguration as the first President of the United States and the first Congress met).

On July 16, 1790, Congress declared Washington, D.C. the permanent capital of the United States.

Vermont amended its constitution to ban slavery in 1777, while it was still independent, and when it joined the United States as the 14th state in 1791, it was the first state to join untainted by slavery. These state jurisdictions thus enacted the first abolition laws in the Americas.

Over the next 25 years, the other Northern states emancipated their slaves and banned the institution: Pennsylvania, 1780; Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 1783; Connecticut and Rhode Island, 1784; New York, 1799; and New Jersey, 1804. Some of the state laws stipulate gradual emancipation.

William Henry Harrison holds the record for the longest inaugural address in history at 8,578 words and one hour and 40 minutes. Unfortunately, he gave the speech during a snowstorm. One month later he died from pneumonia, making his presidency the shortest on record.

Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached. In May 1868, the Senate voted to acquit him by one vote short of the two-thirds required to convict. It would be another 131 years before another president, Bill Clinton, would be impeached. Both presidents were impeached by the United States House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate.

There are eight former United States presidents who were not born in the United States. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Q. Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison were all born prior to 1776, and therefore were born in British colonies. Martin Van Buren, the 8th president, was the first to be born in the United States. Harrison succeeded him, but every President since John Tyler, the 10th president, was born in the United States.

James Garfield was the last president born in a log cabin. He was born in 1831 in a log cabin near Orange Township, which today is near Moreland Hills, Ohio. While others moved from their original birthplaces during their childhood, Garfield remained at his family home until 1859, when he was elected to the state Senate. His term as President lasted only 200 days, cut short by an assassin’s bullet. A replica of the original log cabin stands on the site today.

Six other presidents were born in a log cabin: Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.

James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, the 39th president, was born at the Wise Clinic in Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924, making him the first United States president to be born in a hospital.

The oldest of four children, Carter’s family was unusual and often in the news. One sister rode motorcycles and had a son in jail; another sister was an evangelist; his only brother was an infamous peanut farmer and beer drinker. Both of Carter’s parents and all three siblings died from pancreatic cancer.

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States of America. The founders of the country were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery (usually involving the golden eagle) was prominent. On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress adopted a design for the Great Seal of the United States depicting a bald eagle grasping 13 arrows and an olive branch with its talons.

The bald eagle appears on most official seals of the United States government, including the presidential seal, the presidential flag, and in the logos of many federal agencies. Between 1916 and 1945, the presidential flag (but not the seal) showed an eagle facing to its left (the viewer’s right), which gave rise to the urban legend that the flag is changed to have the eagle face towards the olive branch in peace, and towards the arrows in wartime.

Contrary to popular legend, there is no evidence Benjamin Franklin ever publicly supported the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), rather than the bald eagle, as a symbol of the United States. However, in a letter written to his daughter in 1784 from Paris he stated his personal distaste for the bald eagle’s behavior. In the letter Franklin writes: “For my own part. I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly … besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.”

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people commemorating the alliance of France and the United States during the American Revolution.

In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye (a French political thinker, United States Constitution expert, and abolitionist) proposed that a monument be built as a gift from France to the United States in order to commemorate the perseverance of freedom and democracy in the United States and to honor the work of the late president Abraham Lincoln. Laboulaye hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, the French people would be inspired to create their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy.

Official dedication ceremonies for the Statue of Liberty were held on Thursday, October 28, 1886, when President Grover Cleveland accepted the Statue on behalf of the United States. It was designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty measures 305 feet 1 inch from the ground to the tip of the flame, and is as tall as a 22-story building. In 1886, it was the tallest structure in New York City. The total weight of the statue is 225 tons (450,000 pounds). There are 154 steps from the pedestal to the head. Winds of 50 miles per hour cause the Statue to sway up to 3 inches and the torch up to 6 inches.

Mount Rushmore, also known as the President’s Mountain, is located in the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota. The sculpture of four famous presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, were carved into the granite rock face. These presidents were selected because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory

Historian Doane Robinson conceived of the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 to promote tourism in South Dakota. In 1924, she persuaded sculptor Gutzon Borglum to travel to the Black Hills region to ensure the carving could be accomplished. The construction of Mount Rushmore National Memorial took 14 years, from 1927 to 1941. On October 31, 1941, Mount Rushmore National Memorial was declared a completed project.

Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and it has appeared in works of fiction, as well as being discussed or depicted in other popular works. The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits. It attracts over two million visitors annually.

Harry Truman’s middle name is just “S.” His parents could not decide on a middle name for little Harry, so they simply chose the letter, “S.” This satisfied both of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

Colonial Period

The colonial period begins in 1607, with the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, and ends in 1776 when the United States gains independence from Great Britain and becomes a country.

The first attempt at settlement in the New World was by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1578, but shortly after setting sail, the venture was halted by a fierce storm. The disheartened Gilbert was not able to mount another effort until 1583, when he made landfall in Nova Scotia and sailed down the coast, searching for possible settlement locations, resulting in the establishment of a small settlement on Newfoundland—the first English colony in America. However, his expedition met constant bad weather and hostile American Indians, and Gilbert was forced to head back to England. On the way, his ship was lost near the Azores.

Undaunted, Gilbert’s half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh (also spelled Ralegh), in 1585 organized an expedition led by John White that established the Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in what today is Dare County, North Carolina. It was a late 16th-century attempt by Queen Elizabeth I to establish a permanent English settlement in North America. The colonists disappeared during the Anglo-Spanish War, three years after the last shipment of supplies from England. Their disappearance gave rise to the nickname “The Lost Colony.” There is no conclusive evidence as to what happened to the colonists apart from a single word—“Croatoan”—carved into a wooden post. “Croatoan” was the name of an island south of Roanoke that was home to a Native American tribe of the same name.

After unsuccessful attempts to establish settlements in Newfoundland and at Roanoke, the famous “Lost Colony,” off the coast of present-day North Carolina, in 1607 England established its first permanent North American settlement, Jamestown, named after King James I, in the Colony of Virginia.

They came to explore, to make money, to spread and practice their religion freely, and to live on land of their own.

The Pilgrims and Puritans came to the New World to practice religious freedom after England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, because the pope refused to annul King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and created a new church called the Church of England in 1534.

The Mayflower got underway on September 6, 1620, and after more than two months (66 days) at sea, the Pilgrims finally arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. A few weeks later, they sailed up the coast to Plymouth and started to build their settlement. The Pilgrims lived on the ship for a few more months, rowing ashore to build houses during the day, and returning to the ship at night. The Mayflower Compact was drafted and signed aboard the Mayflower on November 21, 1620. Finally, in March 1621, there were enough houses that everyone could live on land.

The colony survived largely due to the efforts of Samoset, the first native to greet the Pilgrims; Squanto, who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter; and Chief Massasoit, who was the leader of the Wampanoag Indians when the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth.

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag negotiated a peace treaty which established an alliance between the two. The Wampanoags would defend the colonists if attacked and the colonists would defend the Wampanoags if attacked. This peace treaty would last up until King Philip’s War in 1675. Plymouth would not last much longer after the war was over.

The growth of Plymouth was anything but spectacular. After the first winter the Mayflower set sail back to England on April 5, 1621. William Bradford wrote that at this point only half of the original colonists were still alive. A second ship (Fortune) arrived with 37 new colonists. In 1623 two more ships docked at Plymouth harbor bringing the future wife of William Bradford and 89 other settlers. The population of Plymouth Colony was at 99 in December of 1620 and had only grown 200 colonists by January of 1630.

All the same, Plymouth Colony is probably the most famous of all the earlier colonies in America due to the stories of the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving.

It is estimated that about 10 percent of Americans, approximately 35-million people, today can trace their ancestry back to the passengers of the Mayflower.

Independence & Revolution

It was the gunshot that started the American Revolutionary War.

On the night of April 18, 1775, hundreds of British troops set off from Boston toward Concord, Massachusetts, in order to seize weapons and ammunition stockpiled there by American colonists. Early the next morning, the British reached Lexington, where approximately 70 minutemen had gathered on the village green. Someone suddenly fired a shot—it’s uncertain which side—and a melee ensued. When the brief clash ended, eight Americans lay dead and at least an equal amount were injured, while one redcoat was wounded.

The British continued on to nearby Concord, where that same day they encountered armed resistance from a group of patriots at the town’s North Bridge. Gunfire was exchanged, leaving two colonists and three redcoats dead. Afterward, the British retreated back to Boston, skirmishing with colonial militiamen along the way and suffering a number of casualties; the American Revolutionary War had begun.

The incident at the North Bridge later was memorialized by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1837 poem “Concord Hymn,” whose opening stanza is: “By the rude bridge that arched the flood/Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled/Here once the embattled farmers stood/And fired the shot heard round the world.”

The Continental Congress declared the colonies’ independence from Britain on July 2, 1776, when it approved a resolution and delegates from New York were given permission to make it a unanimous vote. John Adams thought July 2 would be marked as a national holiday for generations to come.

After voting for independence, the Continental Congress needed to finalize a document explaining the move to the public. It had been proposed in draft form by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson) and it took two days for the Congress to agree on the edits. The resulting document was the Declaration of Independence which was approved July 4, 1776.

Most of the members of the Continental Congress signed a version of the Declaration of Independence August 2, 1776 at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Five delegates, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton, signed on a later date. 56 delegates eventually signed the Declaration. Edward Rutledge (age 26) was the youngest signer and Benjamin Franklin (age 70) the oldest. Robert R. Livingston, one of the members of the committee who wrote the Declaration, never signed it. He believed that it was too soon to declare independence. The names of the signers were released publicly in early 1777.

On July 8, 1776, the citizens of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were summoned to the State House Yard by the bells of the city. At noon, Colonel John Nixon publicly read the Declaration of Independence for the first time to the gathered crowd. Following the event and continuing long into the night the bells of the city rang in celebration.

The Battles of Saratoga, comprising two significant battles between September 19, 1777 and October 7, 1777, were a crucial victory for the Patriots during the American Revolution and is considered the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The Battle was the impetus for France to enter the war against Britain, re-invigorating General George Washington’s Continental Army and providing much needed supplies and support.

The scope of the victory is made clear by a few key facts: On October 17, 1777, 5,895 British and Hessian troops surrendered their arms. General John Burgoyne had lost 86 percent of his expeditionary force that had triumphantly marched into New York from Canada in the early summer of 1777.

Losses: American, 215 dead, 300 wounded, and 36 missing; British and German, 1,200 dead or wounded, 5,800 captured.

The war virtually came to an end October 19, 1781 when General Charles Cornwallis was surrounded and forced to surrender the British position at Yorktown, Virginia to General George Washington’s troops. The Americans bottled up the British and they could not escape on the river or the sea because the French fleet was barricading the way. And the Americans pushed in from the land and they bombarded them from all sides. Although the war would last for another year, this British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war. After the battle, England decided that it was too costly to continue with the War. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris made it official: America was independent.