Non-states at the White House

A few months ago, my girlfriend and I had the chance to attend the welcome ceremony for UK Prime Minister David Cameron on the South Lawn at the White House.

While the Prime Minister and President Obama were swapping jokes about the British burning Washington in 1814, I snuck over to the side to snap a picture of the non-States’ flags lined up just underneath the East Room.

              from left to right: DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands

According to flag protocol, “State flags are normally displayed in the order of admittance to the…Union.” However, considering DC and the Territories are not actually States, they fall at the end of the line, that is, behind Alaska and Hawaii, the last two states admitted to the Union in 1959.

Although the webpage cited above does not spell out the regulations guiding the order in which these flags are displayed, it appears that they are displayed in order of acquisition by the United States.

The District of Columbia, organized in 1800, is displayed first. To its left is Puerto Rico, acquired via the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and then Guam, acquired at the same time under the same treaty (although Guam was occupied by US forces several weeks before Puerto Rico was occupied).

To Guam’s left is American Samoa, formally annexed by the United States in 1900, though the US presence there dates back to the 1870’s. Next is the US Virgin Islands, purchased from Denmark in 1917.

The final flag is that of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which established political union with the United States after decades of UN trusteeship in 1975.


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