American Flag Folding - The Meaning of the 13 Folds

Apr 18th, 2016

As we revealed in our blog post How to Fold Your American Flag, the origins of the widely accepted flag folding procedure is unknown. It is known that it is folded in a manner that adds dignity and respect to the flag.


Folded Flag


There is no reference to the meaning of the 13 folds of the American flag in the U.S. Flag Code and no other laws that directly relate to that issue. There are several scripts that federal agencies offer a veteran’s family at their request, or words they would prefer to be read, during the folding of the American flag at the funeral of their loved one.


Folding Flag


Example 1


As each fold is made in the flag, the following is recited:


Fold 1: The 13 stripes represent the original 13 states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island


Fold 2: The 50 stars represent our 50 United States of America


Fold 3: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death", Patrick Henry


Fold 4: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman", Thomas Paine


Fold 5: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", Declaration of Independence


Fold 6: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America", United States Constitution


Fold 7: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances", First Amendment


Fold 8: "The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government", George Washington


Fold 9: "My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!" Thomas Jefferson


Fold 10: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal", Abraham Lincoln


Fold 11: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door", Emma Lazarus, inscription on the Statue of Liberty


Fold 12: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", John Fitzgerald Kennedy


Fold 13: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character", Martin Luther King, Jr.




The American Legion states on its website that the meaning of the flag folding ceremony is based on religious principles. It references the U.S. Armed Forces ceremony of retreat at night when the American flag is lowered and the ceremony of reveille that is performed when the American flag is raised the morning as symbol of the resurrection of the body.

Symbols for the Folds of the Flag According to the American Legion


The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.


The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.


The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.


The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance.


The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”


The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we 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.


The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.


The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.


The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.


The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.


The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.




Although there is some evidence that the religious script in Example 2 originated from the United States Air Force, according to the air force protocol chief, Lt. Col. Samuel Hudspath, there are no acts in Congress or any federal laws that assigned meaning to the individual folds made when the American flag is folded during ceremonial occasions.


There is a tradition that scripts can be requested when flags are folded at retirement ceremonies. Hudspath further stated that, while there is no shortage of scripts available, but they should not be attributed to the U.S. Air force. This is true of other arms of the U.S. Armed Forces.


Flagpoles Etc.


Although there is controversy about the meaning of each fold of the American flag, it is apparent that it the scripts are read at the request of family members or retirees, and that those scripts may contain any meaning that they would like.


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