If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st U.S state, would the U.S flag be altered to include 51 stars?

  • In the event that Puerto Rico becomes the 51st American state, will this result in the alteration to the U.S flag to include 51 stars instead of 50?

    I'm not from the U.S, but one of those ubiquitous facts from my childhood, "The 50 stars on the Flag of the U.S.A represent its 50 states", is hard to forget.

    Possible argument in favour of altering flag:

    Well, if the Puerto Ricans finally decided to become an American state, it'd be prudent to throw in another star (51 states = 51 stars). Besides, it's not like adding just one star is going to be difficult (it'd be hardly noticeable anyways).

    Possible argument against altering flag:

    Since its just one star, why bother putting it on at all? It'd be best to avoid the bureaucratic/political mess that the addition of another star would create.

    It would be very noticeable because the stars are arranged in a simple pattern.

    With American politics, I wouldn't be surprised if this provided more impetus for D.C. statehood just to keep the number of stars to an even number.

    @ToddWilcox: or to keep the current number of states.

    If your argument against altering the flag were compelling, the flag would have 13 stars, not 50.

    The story of how a student got Eisenhower to adopt the current design to improve his grade on a school project is fun: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Heft

  • James K

    James K Correct answer

    5 years ago

    Each time a new state is admitted to the Union, a new star is added on the following 4th of July (Independence Day in the USA). This was last done on 4th July 1960, following the admission of Hawai'i in August 1959. Prior to that, the flag had 49 stars for just 1 year, as Alaska joined in January 1959.

    The update in the flag is required by the US code and to not update the flag would require an act of Congress. There is no requirement on all flag owners to replace their flags on that date, but new flags after that day should bear the new design. The choice of design is borne by the executive.

    51 stars can be achieved by 3 rows of 9 stars, alternating with 3 rows of 8.

    I think there's a good chance the government would break with tradition this time around. Why mess up the current symmetrical design? Consider, also, the cost of replacing a gazillion U.S. flags in this flag-worshipping country.

    @WordBear that would require a change in the Law. America loves its flag, and it loves its traditions.

    @WordBear Proper respect for the flag involves replacing it on a regular basis, anyway. And burning the old one.

    Who is in charge of defining how the new flag looks like?

    @WordBear First, there is no reason to worry about symmetry; symmetrical designs for 51 stars are quite possible (it is actually pretty hard to tell a 51-star flag from the 50-star flag at a glance if you aren’t looking for it). Second, flags get replaced on a regular basis anyway, and in any event the costs associated with a new state would be pretty significant no matter what you do—cutting costs on *flags* is rather insignificant. But third and most importantly, such a change would be viewed as an immense insult against the new state—it would in some sense “not really count.”

    @KRyan Changing from the current design with nine rows of stars to a new design with 6 rows would, I think, be very noticeable, even at a glance.

    @DavidRicherby If you put them up side-by-side? Sure. If you were aware a change might happen, and looked? Certainly. But if someone just has an American flag behind them, or an American flag graphic on an image, or stuff like that where the flag isn’t the focus? Your brain just recognizes it as an American flag and doesn’t investigate it further. See how there were however many WH staffers who saw the 39-star flag that Hot Licks mentions, and didn’t notice. John Oliver’s bit on DC statehood used a 51-star flag without mentioning it until the end, when he points out “you didn’t even notice!”

    @WordBear Concerning replacement costs: all previous official designs are still correct and may be flown, so there is no need to replace existing flags until they have come to the end of their natural useful span. I suspect that some people would, but they aren't forced to do so.

    There is no requirement to retire existing flags, nor add stars to them, when new states are added. As long as the existing flags remain in good condition, they should continue to be flown as-is.

    @KRyan: The present arrangement of stars has uniform density in the X and Y directions and has four "convex" corners. It's essentially an 11x9 checkerboard with white corners, and stars on all the white squares. An arrangement of alternating rows of 9 and 8 stars would be equivalent to a 17x6 checkerboard with stars on the white squares. Only two corners would be right, and the row and column spacing would be grossly different. Symmetrical arrangements would be practical, but they would not appear as a uniform field. Not that those would be arguments against adding a star, but...

    ...the visual difference between a 50-star and 51-star flag would be more visually obvious than between e.g. a 50-star and a 32-star flag (5x4 overlaid on a 4x3).

    I do wonder how much this issue came up in the 1800's when the US was adding new states frequently. “Mr. Congressman, why did you vote against Iowa statehood?” “Well, I've got nothing against Iowans, but having a 29th state would screw up the symmetry of the flag. How are we supposed to arrange a prime number of stars? Let's wait a year or two until we can get a 30th state, and then we'll have a nice 5×6 rectangle.”

    I can see this devolving into another American tradition... conference realignment (particularly in college sports). "The United States of America is currently exploring 14 other candidates for the necessary 52nd state to keep reasonable symmetry." Maybe the US can try to poach an EU member by pointing out the money shares, and noting that the EU "won't even give you your own star!" Maybe we could even shake up the whole global picture by pulling in a Germany or Switzerland (they weren't in the initial Council of Europe). And we'd then have amazing strength of schedule!

    And to go with it, we could always keep all the references to 50 stars in all our songs and phrases. We're hopelessly confused as is.

    @dan04 don't forget that the first flags also had a prime number of stars.

    @JeopardyTempest I believe that most of Switzerland's cantons wouldn't appreciate being pulled into something like that. Neither Germany, which also is an federation.

    Sorry Stefan, it appears I was set on making a joke that tied into the college sports theme at the time here in the USA which in retrospect was both not too well conveyed, and only possibly understood by a limited cross section of Americans and certainly odd to the rest of the world. I have no visions whatsoever of Germany or Switzerland or any European country joining the United States :-)

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM