"Our flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. It is not a painted rag. It is a whole national history. It is the Constitution. It is the Government. It is the emblem of the sovereignty of the people. It is the NATION."
Henry Ward Beecher, 1861
The Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act in 1777. It described how the flag should look. At the time, it included 13 stars and 13 stripes, one for what had been, before the American Revolution, the 13 original colonies.
Between then and 1960, Congress passed several more acts, primarily to indicate the admission of new states. Today there are 50 stars, representing the 50 states, while the stripes remain a reminder of the original colonies.
The colors of the flag are important, too. The red stands for hardiness and valor. The white stands for purity and innocence. The blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice.