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Why do we say red white and blue in that order?

Why do we say red white and blue in that order?

The colors red, white, and blue have special significance in the United States because they are the colors of the American flag. The particular order we say them in, “red, white, and blue,” follows the arrangement of colors on the flag. So why are the colors ordered that way on Old Glory?

The History of the American Flag

The first American flag was created in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. This flag, known as the Grand Union Flag or Continental Colors, had 13 red and white alternating stripes to represent the original 13 colonies. In the upper left corner was the British Union Jack, a blue flag with the combined crosses of St. George (England) and St. Andrew (Scotland).

Later that year, Congress passed the first Flag Act, stating that the flag should have 13 stripes alternating red and white to represent the original colonies, and 13 white stars in a blue field representing a new constellation. Over the next few decades, new states were added to the union and the flag updated with additional stars and stripes.

In 1818, Congress passed a new Flag Act returning to 13 stripes to represent the original colonies and one star for each state. This defined the basic format of the flag we still have today.

Symbolism of the Colors

So why were those particular colors chosen in that specific order? Each color held special meaning to the Founding Fathers:

  • Red – Valor and bravery
  • White – Purity and innocence
  • Blue – Vigilance, perseverance, and justice

Looking at other national flags from the same time period, red, white and blue were commonly chosen colors, signifying similar values. The order varied, though red and white were often first due to their historical significance. The American flag seems to have settled into the specific order of “red, white, and blue” due to the arrangement on the earliest versions.

Red and White – History and Meaning

The red and white stripes on the flag were derived from the flag of the British East India Company. This flag had 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Jack in the upper left corner. The East India Company was one of the major companies responsible for colonizing North America.

Red and white were colors connected to England that carried meaning to the colonists. Red represented courage and sacrifice, white represented purity and innocence. These colors inspired patriotism and pride in the new nation.

Red and white stripes were featured on many early Revolutionary flags and banners, including the Grand Union Flag. Maintaining them connected the new American flag to the shared history and values of the revolution.

Blue and the Stars – Unity and New Purpose

The blue field and white stars were innovations that gave the flag a unique American identity. The blue color was significant. Blue represents unity, permanence, and justice.

The white stars represented a new constellation signifying the emergence of a new nation. Each state shone brightly together in a unified whole.

The stars were arranged in a circle to show the union of the states. No state outshone another. This expressed the ideal that the new nation was based on democracy, equality, and cooperation.

Order Based on Early Flag Design

On the first American flags, the red and white striped field appears to have been regarded as the background, while the blue field with stars was viewed as the main design element.

Some evidence for this:

  • The Flag Act of 1777 refers to the blue field as the “Union”
  • The stars were arranged in a circle surrounding a center star pattern called the “Betsy Ross flag”
  • The stripes were originally viewed as less important and manufacturers could put the stars either in the blue canton or across the whole flag

So the prominence of the blue field with stars may have contributed to saying “red, white and blue” in that order. “Blue, red and white” would have disrupted the flow.

Additionally, in heraldry, the more prominent color is usually stated last. Saying “red, white and blue” places blue last, giving it hierarchical significance.

How the Phrase Became Tradition

While there was originally no officially stated reason why the colors were ordered as “red, white and blue,” tradition and common usage led to that being the standard way to say it.

A few key events likely solidified the phrase:

  • The Star Spangled Banner lyrics say “red, white and blue” possibly influencing later usage
  • The American flag was colloquially described as the “red, white and blue” by the late 1800s
  • The Pledge of Allegiance from 1892 says the words in that order

By the early 1900s, saying “red, white, and blue” was firmly established as standard phrasing when reciting or describing the colors of the American flag. It represented both the physical flag design and deeper meaningsattached to each color.


In summary, “red, white, and blue” follows the visual arrangement of colors on early American flags. The red and white stripes were the background derived from British history. The blue field and white stars represented America’s new union and national identity.

This order reflected the origins and symbolism of the flag design. Over time, through songs, pledges, and cultural use, saying the colors in that sequence became the standard tradition. The phrase “red, white, and blue” now immediately conjures images of American patriotism and values.

Color Meaning Origin
Red Valor, bravery British East India Company flag
White Purity, innocence British East India Company flag
Blue Vigilance, justice New constellation of stars