Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 31j-845
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 29" x 36"
Flag Size (H x L): 17.75" x 25"
Few elections in American history were more crucial and interesting than the battle won by Abraham Lincoln. With a dividing and indecisive nation at hand, four significant candidates emerged, among which was Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, who is represented here on an strikingly bold campaign parade flag that presently survives as the only known example in this size and style. Large among its counterparts and printed on coarse, glazed cotton, note the bold and whimsical, block-printed lettering with its serpentine format. Also note this beautiful variation of what is called the "Great Star" configuration, a large star made out of smaller stars, which in this case includes an outlying star between each arm.

Great Star designs take on many forms. In this particular example, note that the center is comprised of a single star, surrounded by a pentagon of 5 stars, from which the arms of the Great Star formation extend. Made of 4 stars each, note how the arms are so pointy that the valleys created between them are curved as to opposed to angular, which is especially graphic. With some Great Star designs that feature five outliers, such as this one, a circular wreath is formed between those stars and the outermost ones at the end of each point. In this case, the outliers are within the circumference of the would-be wreath.

As with some political parade flags, the star count pre-dates the election year. This probably occurred as a matter of convenience, since the hand-carved wooden blocks used to produce them would be readily available and most buyers of campaign flags would probably not take the time to count the stars. The 31st star represents the addition of California in 1851. Technically the 31 star flag became official on July 4th, 1851 and remained so until July 3rd, 1858, when a star was added for Minnesota. A 33rd star was added in 1859 for Oregon, and the 33 star flag was technically official at the time of the 1860 campaign. History shows, however, that 19th century flag-makers cared very little about official star counts.

When the Democrats convened in Charleston in 1860 to nominate a presidential candidate, Douglas succeeded in adding his moderate planks to the party platform. Several Southerners stormed out of the convention, breaking off to form their own party with John Breckinridge and Joseph Lane as their candidates. Northern Democrats met again in Baltimore a few weeks later and unanimously nominated Douglas for president.

The Democratic Party orchestrated their own demise when they split into two factions. John Bell’s Constitutional Union Party, which included remnants of hard line Whigs and members of the Know-Nothing Party, split the ballot even further and closed the door on Democrat hopes. The fractured field resulted in a win for Lincoln, who was hardly the favorite at the beginning of the campaign, winning the Republican nomination from the 3rd ticket. His name didn't even appear on the ballot in several Southern States. He was elected with a mere thirty-nine percent of the vote and carried no state south of the Mason-Dixon.

Across all of the known flags made for the Douglas & Johnson campaign, one can effectively argue that this variety is the most graphic. Just one other flags in this style is known, though in a different size. Previously in my own personal collection, that exact flag is documented in “Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (1979, Smithsonian Press), as item 298 on page 159. Collins served as curator of political history at the Smithsonian and his landmark text is considered the foremost reference on political flag and textile collecting.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly backwards orientation. In the 19th century, the same flag ethics that exist today did not apply. In fact, display of the American national flag with the canton in the upper left did not enter the American consciousness as the one correct manner of presentation until sometime around the year 1900, and was not formally dictated as such until the flag code was adopted in 1923. Prior to this time it was just as common to see the flag displayed with the canton on the right.

Brief History of Douglas & Johnson:
Stephen Douglas was born in Brandon, Vermont in 1813, studied at the Canandaigua Academy in Upstate New York, and moved to Illinois at the age of 20 to find work as an itinerant teacher. He studied law and immediately gained the position of State’s Attorney for Morgan County. After this he was elected to the state legislature and then to the Illinois Supreme Court. This was followed by two terms in Congress, 1842 and 44, three terms in the Senate, where he remained until his untimely death in 1861. Lincoln contested his seat in 1858 and though he lost, became famous in the process.

Douglas became famous during the 1850’s due to his role as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, which was the hottest topic of the period due to the potential spread of slavery. Douglas supported a state’s right to choose, and chiefly designed the Compromise of 1850. He also delivered the highly controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act, the opposition of which resulted in the formation of the Republican Party. Keeping to his opinion, he supported Dred Scott. He wasn’t a champion of slavery, but instead of the Constitutionality of state laws with regard to the slavery issue. So when southerners John Breckinridge and Joseph Lane split off as southern Democratic candidates in support of imposed slavery, he fought them tooth and nail.

Douglas’s running mate, Herschel Vespasian Johnson, was an attorney, former U.S. Senator, and Governor of Georgia who opposed secession and was chosen to balance the Democrat ticket. After Lincoln’s election he threw in the towel and fell in line with the Southern cause, where he served on the Confederate Senate. He attempted to return to the U.S. senate following the war in 1866. Though elected by popular vote, he was disallowed for his role in the rebellion. He did, however, play a crucial role in Reconstruction, where he served as head of the Georgia constitutional convention.

History of the Great Star Design:
Among collectors, the Great Star represents the Rolls Royce of geometric star configurations. It is thought to have come about shortly after the War of 1812, when Congressman Peter Wendover of New York requested that Captain Samuel Reid, a War of 1812 naval hero, create a new design that would become the third official format of the Stars & Stripes. A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reid became harbor master of New York following the war. During his lifetime, he created many innovations in signal use, including a system that could actually send messages from New York to New Orleans by sea in just two hours.

Use as a Naval signal had been the primary reason for the initial creation of an American national flag in 1777, but since there was no official star configuration, the appearance of our flag varied greatly. Reid's primary concern centered on both consistency and ease of recognition. His hope was that as more and more states joined the Union, and more stars were subsequently added to the flag, that the design would remain easily identified on the open seas. In 1818 Reid suggested to Congress that the number of stripes permanently return to 13 (reduced from 15) and that the stars be grouped into the shape of one large star. Reid’s proposal would have kept the star constellation in roughly the same format, in a pattern that could be quickly identified at a distance as the number of states grew. His concept for the stripes was ultimately accepted, but his advice on the star pattern was rejected by President James Monroe, due to the increased cost of arranging the stars in what would become known as the “Great Star”, “Great Flower”, or “Great Luminary” pattern. Monroe suggested a simple pattern of justified rows, but did not issue an Executive Order and thus pattern was left to the liberties of the flag-maker. So it was that the Great Star was produced by anyone willing to make it. Its rarity today, along with its beauty, has driven the desirability of American flags with variants of this beautiful design.

A Few Notes Pre-Civil War Flags:
Flags made prior to the Civil War are extremely rare, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. Private use of the national flag rose swiftly during the patriotism that accompanied the Civil War, then exploded in 1876.

Even the military did not use the flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people would be surprised to learn that the infantry wasn’t authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until the 1830’s, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The primary purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) was to mark ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment and a federal standard.

Mounting: Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

Condition: There is modest foxing and staining throughout and minor fraying. There is modest to moderate fading and pigment loss in the stripes and minor of the same elsewhere. There is moderate fabric loss along the top red stripe, primarily toward the fly end, though continuing all the way across. 19th century parade flag fabric with similar red-orange pigment was placed behind these areas for masking purposes, along with white fabric salvaged from a Civil War period flag. There are 3 lateral tears along the hoist end, including 2 in white stripes and a minor, broken tear in the blue canton, accompanied by other minor loss at the top and bottom corners. There is a small hole in the 2nd white stripe, near the fly end, accompanied by a lateral tear in the 8th white stripe and very minor loss at the fly end of the same. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The great rarity and desirability of Douglas flags warrants practically any condition. The flag presents beautifully.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: 31
Earliest Date of Origin: 1860
Latest Date of Origin: 1860
State/Affiliation: California
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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