“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
That, Friends, is the original Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 as part of an essay by Francis Bellamy (1855 – 1931). The #1 family magazine of that day, Youth Companion, used the pledge on their cover, but gave no attribution to Bellamy. Later, the magazine’s editor (Bellamy’s cousin, Edward) as well as its publisher (James Upton) were sometimes given credit, even though neither claimed authorship. The magazine, in its commitment to encourage patriotism in children, had begun a marketing campaign to sell American flags to public schools a couple of years earlier.
Bellamy’s views led him to become an anti-capitalist Christian socialist and a member of a utopian movement to nationalize the country. He served as chairman of a committee of state school superintendents in the National Education Association. He said he had wanted to use the words “equality” and “fraternity” but felt the words were “too fanciful… many thousands of years off in terms of realization.” He knew that the school superintendents did not believe equality should apply to women and blacks, even though equality was a part of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.
Later that year, a word was added: “…and TO the republic….” Change #1.
President Benjamin Harrison decided to have public school children recite the pledge (15 seconds, by Bellamy’s design) that year as part of a large flag day ceremony on Columbus Day. It marked the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago had been planned to coincide with the Flag Day ceremony and the President felt it would help the children feel a part of the celebrations. The flag salute Bellamy had designed was arm out, toward the flag, with the palm facing down, then turned upward at the end of the pledge.
It was discontinued during WWII as being too Nazi-like.
In 1923, believing that immigrant children might misinterpret the words “my flag,” to mean the flag of their homeland, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion pushed the National Flag Conference to change it to “the flag of the United States.” “Of America” was added the next year. Bellamy protested both changes.
The American Legion pushed the NEA and the US Dept. of Education to see that “100% Americanism” was the cornerstone of public school education and they adopted the pledge for recitation at their own meetings. The Ku Klux Klan did, too. So strong was their movement, the Oregon legislature mandated that all Catholic children must attend public schools. Oregon’s law was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The pledge remained unofficial until Congress codified it in 1942, making the recitation of the pledge of allegiance a requirement in public schools. Jehovah’s Witness members protested, feeling they could not participate because it put nation ahead of God. The Supreme Court upheld the law, but after the ensuing backlash against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court reversed itself the next year, saying that “compulsory unification of opinion” was unconstitutional.
In 1951, the Knights of Columbus (the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization) added the words “under God” to their own recitations and asked their members to push Congress to do likewise. Other fraternal, veterans, religious organizations, and the DAR, pushed President Dwight Eisenhower to have it added nationwide. After hearing a sermon in his Presbyterian Church, Eisenhower, a former Jehovah’s Witness, decided he agreed. It was changed in 1954.
My generation will be the last to remember that change.
Patriotism was very strong when I was a child. Everybody knew someone who had fought in WWII or the Korean War. We were taught that they did so to keep us free and were also taught what those freedoms are. Each morning in elementary school, we gathered in the auditorium to recite the required Pledge of Allegiance to the flag–which had 48 stars then–and sing patriotic songs, making pride in our history and our country a daily ritual. We didn’t talk about communism or immigration or blacklists or Joseph McCarthy. We talked about how our country was a beacon of light for the rest of the world and how lucky we were to live here.
I still remember the morning assembly when the principal told us about the new words being added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Although she gave a short explanation, it didn’t ring true. As far as I knew, everyone in our small Southern town, including my own family, was Christian. Still, the words seemed a violation of people’s right to worship–or not–as they chose. It wasn’t that I was a deep thinker; it was simply a move at odds with what we had learned: America was such a special country that we were united, despite religious beliefs.
Dearly Beloved grew up in another town and remembers thinking “that’s not right” about the addition of the words. One of the arguments against it was that it changed it from a pledge to a prayer.
The 1954 act was stated to be necessary to “deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism.” President Eisenhower said that “millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”
Oddly, in a Supreme Court ruling 50 years later, Justice William Brennan’s argument, in 2002 said that “ceremonial deistic“ language is constitutionally permissible because it has become essentially meaningless.*
Might there be other changes in addition to the four I’ve mentioned?
Maybe. Here are a couple already out there:
‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn.’
A more liberal suggestion is a slightly revised version of Bellamy’s original Pledge: ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty and justice for all.’
I don’t remember ever discussing that 1954 decision beyond that day in assembly, but lately, with the ruling back in the news, I have wondered…does anyone else of my generation remember how they felt when the words were added?
How do you feel about it now?
Regardless of how you felt–how you feel– please share your thoughts. Like it or not, we’re history.
*Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press, 3/12/10