GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every June 14, Flag Day comes and goes; a national holiday to remember the day the Stars and Stripes were officially declared the banner for the up-and-coming United States.
Michigan doesn’t just have Flag Day, it has a Flag Month — flying high from June 14 through July 14 — including specific rules on how, when and where the flag should be displayed.
Michigan’s state flag doesn’t have quite the pomp and circumstance, but it has lots of history.
Most Michiganders recognize their state flag: a bold dark blue, featuring the state’s coat of arms: an elk, a deer, an eagle and a shield, along with three Latin phrases.
But this flag wasn’t the state’s first. In fact, far from it. But the coat of arms has always been there.
THE COAT OF ARMS
The shield features an elk and a deer, two animals commonly found across the state, holding up a shield with the word “Tuebor” — which is Latin for “I will defend” — and a man waiving from a shoreline and holding a long gun. The state website says the man is waiving as a sign of peace but holding a weapon to show that “we are ready to defend our state and nation.”
The coat of arms also includes a bald eagle, a nod to the United States’ national bird. The eagle is clutching three arrows — again, implying “don’t mess with us” — and 13 olive branches as an homage to the original 13 colonies.
Outside of “Tuebor,” the logo features two other Latin phrases: “E Pluribus Unum,” the national motto that means “from many, one,” and “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice,” which means “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”
The coat of arms was created and approved at the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1835, two years before Michigan was admitted to the union as a state and one year before Congress passed the Northern Ohio Border Bill, which relinquished the “Toledo Strip” to Ohio and gave Michigan another 9,000 acres of land in the Upper Peninsula, establishing the boundaries the state carries today.
MICHIGAN’S FIRST FLAGS
Michigan was formally granted statehood on Jan. 26, 1837. Though it had an official coat of arms, it did not have an official state flag.
In the years following statehood, communities and groups across Michigan flew many different flags, each with different emblems, many including the coat of arms.
The most well-known of the early flags was created by Stevens T. Mason, Michigan’s first state governor. In February of 1837, just a month after Michigan was granted statehood, Mason presented a flag to a Detroit militia called the Brady Guard. The flag included the state arms, a soldier and a woman on one side and a portrait of Mason on the other.
A piece of the original Mason flag is part of the Michigan Capitol’s flag collection. According to Valerie Marvin, the Michigan Capitol historian and curator, it’s believed that the flag was partially destroyed in a fire at the Capitol in the 1930s.
Michigan did not adopt an official state flag until 1865. The flag included the dark shade of blue we are familiar with today, along with the state coat of arms on one side and the national arms on the other. It was recommended by Adjutant General John Robertson and approved by Gov. Henry Crapo. It was first unfurled on July 4, 1865, during a ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the monument in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
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The design submitted by Robinson served as Michigan’s state flag for nearly 50 years.
Michigan’s Legislature eventually took action to update the flag in 1911, removing the national arms to display the state coat on both sides, keeping the same shade of blue. Gov. Chase Osborn signed the bill in April and the new flag design officially took effect on August 1, 1911.
To this day, the flag design has never wavered. But the Legislature has added more patriotic lore to its story. In 1972, the Legislature approved a pledge of allegiance to the state flag:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, two beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.”Pledge to the State Flag of Michigan
At least one lawmaker believes Michigan’s state flag is due for a touch-up. Former State Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, introduced a bill in 2016 to put together a commission and hold a public contest to redesign the state flag. However, the bill fell flat, and the commission never launched.