Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism (Hardcover)

A Political History of American Patriotism

By Woden Teachout

Basic Books (AZ), 9780465002092, 266pp.

Publication Date: May 1, 2009



Americans honor the flag with a fervor seen in few other countries: The Stars and Stripes decorate American homes and businesses; wave over sports events and funerals; and embellish everything from politicians' lapels to the surface of the moon.

But what does the flag mean? In Capture the Flag, historian Woden Teachout reveals that it has held vastly different meanings over time. It has been claimed by both the right and left; by racists and revolutionaries; by immigrants and nativists. In tracing the political history of the flag from its origins in the American Revolution through the present day, Teachout demonstrates that the shifting symbolism of the flag reveals a broader shift in the definition of American patriotism.

A story of a nation in search of itself, Capture the Flag offers a probing account of the flag that has become America's icon.

About the Author

Woden Teachout holds a PhD in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University. She has taught at Harvard and Middlebury and is currently Professor of Graduate Studies at Union Institute & University. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

Praise For Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism

Ken Burns
“No symbol of our nation carries as much emotional resonance as Old Glory, and as Americans of every era have struggled over how to tap that emotion for their own cause, no symbol has both united and divided us quite so passionately. In this penetrating history, Woden Teachout demonstrates that our shifting uses — and misuses — of the flag tell us more about ourselves and our times than about the Stars and Stripes meant to rally us together.”

Rick Shenkman, author of Just How Stupid Are We?
“The mystery of how a simple piece of cloth bearing stripes and stars has been infused with deep meaning by Americans as different as the white robed men of the Ku Klux Klan and liberals like Bill Moyers is unraveled in this fine, thoughtful history of the flag.”

David D. Hall, Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History, Harvard Divinity School
“A wonderfully accomplished narrative that will surprise every reader in showing how the flag as emblem of patriotism has been emphasized and ignored, contested and affirmed. This is good history that offers lessons for our own times.”

Ted Widmer, author of Arc of the Liberties: America and the World
“With eloquence, passion and deep scholarly research, Woden Teachout illuminates the most American subject of them all.”

James Patterson, author of Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy
“Displaying a fine eye and narrative skill in recounting key episodes—among them the Revolution, nativist riots, the bombardment of Fort Sumter, civil rights activism, and the New York City hard hat riot of 1970—Woden Teachout reminds us of how important the American flag has been as a symbol for a wide variety of patriotic causes.”

Wall Street Journal
“…[A] lively account of the flag’s polymorphous and evolving meanings. ‘Capture the Flag’ reads like a sort of historical Bildungsroman, a 200-year-long coming-of-age saga in which its innocent protagonist matures from a patched-together sailors’ standard to the uniquely ­potent symbol freighted with the hopes, dreams and expectations that it bears today.” “If the flag’s history offers any lessons, and Ms. Teachout ­argues convincingly in this provocative book that it does, the battle for the flag’s ­meaning is unlikely to end soon, if ever.”

Washington Times
“…Ms. Teachout's analysis will help people understand all kinds of patriotism in their broader context.”

Washington Post
“…a lively portrait of the mutable and multiple meanings of our most cherished and contested national emblem…Woden Teachout argues convincingly that patriotic symbols -- like patriotism itself – have always meant different things to different Americans.”

Boston Globe
“Smart…[Capture the Flag] follows the evolution of the star-spangled banner through eight instructive episodes… For the author, the flag is less about sewing and the 13 original colonies than the country’s rich history of political maneuvering and the huge, vexing issues that this simple arrangement of shapes can help unfurl.”