A Brief History of the US Pledge of Allegiance

Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

Francis Bellamy—Baptist Minister, Christian Socialist, American Patriot

Francis J. Bellamy was born on May 18, 1855, in New York State. He graduated from the University of Rochester at the age of 21 and entered the Rochester Theological Seminary that same year. Bellamy became an ordained American Baptist Minister when he graduated the Seminary in 1879. The following year he accepted a calling to serve the First Baptist Church in Little Falls, NY. While there, he joined the Brotherhood of Free and Accepted Masons as a member of Lodge # 181 in Little Falls. A few years later, in 1885, he became the pastor of the Dearborn Street Baptist Church in Boston, MA. After some years at the Dearborn Street Church, Bellamy changed pulpits again, this time for a short-lived tenure at Bethany Baptist Church of Boston, where he was pressured to leave the pulpit as a result of his refusal to stop promoting a theology he called “Christian Socialism.”

In 1891, Bellamy joined the editorial staff of the Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine more or less comparable to today’s Highlights. This is where he was inspired to write the Pledge of Allegiance.

One of the publishers of Youth’s Companion, James B. Upham, believed that the American flag ought to fly over every school in the United States. To make this a reality, he used the magazine to sponsor a plan for any school to buy an American flag at cost. He also conceived of a nationwide celebration on October 21st, 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus reaching the Western Hemisphere. The celebration, Upham thought, ought to include a flag-raising ceremony at our nation’s schools where teachers and students alike would dedicate themselves to serving their country. An outline for the celebration was to appear in the Youth’s Companion, and the dedication ceremony needed something for the students to say, something brief, but solemn, befitting the occasion. Enter Francis Bellamy.

Taking on the challenge, Bellamy considered American history, American ideals, and his own hopes for America’s future. He wrote the following:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

This is the original version of the Pledge of Allegiance, as it was published in the September 8th, 1892 issue of Youth’s Companion. The following month, Bellamy inserted the word “to” immediately before the phrase “the Republic for which it stands,” reportedly because he felt that it scanned better that way.

Americans Pledging Allegiance to their Flag

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A group of students starting to recite the original PledgeAnother group of students getting ready to say the Pledge in a classroomAfter the words "my flag." These are US students, not kids from Nazi Germany. This is the original citizens' salute. This is true.Another pre WWII photo of Americans saying the Pledge.And another.After the Nazis stole the original salute, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the citizens' salute shown here. I'm not sure why the Navy Captain in the photo is giving the citizen's salute instead of the military hand salute. (all images courtes
A group of students starting to recite the original Pledge
A group of students starting to recite the original Pledge
Another group of students getting ready to say the Pledge in a classroom
Another group of students getting ready to say the Pledge in a classroom
After the words "my flag." These are US students, not kids from Nazi Germany. This is the original citizens' salute. This is true.
After the words "my flag." These are US students, not kids from Nazi Germany. This is the original citizens' salute. This is true.
Another pre WWII photo of Americans saying the Pledge.
Another pre WWII photo of Americans saying the Pledge.
And another.
And another.
After the Nazis stole the original salute, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the citizens' salute shown here. I'm not sure why the Navy Captain in the photo is giving the citizen's salute instead of the military hand salute. (all images courtes
After the Nazis stole the original salute, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the citizens' salute shown here. I'm not sure why the Navy Captain in the photo is giving the citizen's salute instead of the military hand salute. (all images courtes

The Original Pledge Ceremony

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute -- right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

– The Youth’s Companion, 65 (1892): 446–447.

The First Two Changes to the Pledge

Interestingly, for more than 120 years, nobody in the United States had gotten around to formally codifying any procedures for the display, raising and lowering, or ceremonial use of the US flag. There were certain organic traditions used by the armed forces, but nothing existed to tell civilian organizations how to deal with the flag. This got to bothering some people, so in 1923, fittingly enough on Flag Day (June 14th), many patriotic civilian organizations, veterans organizations, and representatives from the Armed Forces gathered in Washington DC for the first Flag Conference. This conference gave us the National Flag Code, which at first had no more legal weight than Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.

It also gave us the first substantial change to the Pledge of Allegiance, which was already being repeated daily in schools across the Republic. Figuring that the phrase “my flag” was too ambiguous (homesick immigrants might think of the flag of the Old Country, wherever that might be, when pledging allegiance), the Flag Conference edited the original pledge by replacing the word “my” with the word “the,” and adding the phrase, “of the United States” after the word “flag.”

The revised pledge now read:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States,and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

The following year, the Flag Conference reconvened. Feeling that the phrase “United States,” full stop, was still not specific enough, they inserted the phrase “Of America.”

The 1924 version of the pledge read as follows:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

The pledge remained ‘unofficial’ until Congress enacted the flag code by joint resolution on June 22, 1942.

To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance
To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance

A less brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance.

 
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America
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The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in one volume. Note that they are two separate documents, written just over ten years apart.

 
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the U.S. Constitution (Idiot's Guides)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the U.S. Constitution (Idiot's Guides)

Because there seem to be a lot of complete idiots who think they understand the Constitution.

 
Miss Manners: A Citizen's Guide to Civility
Miss Manners: A Citizen's Guide to Civility

Read this before trying to argue politics.

 
Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette (For a Change)
Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette (For a Change)

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Let’s Pause to Reflect

Take a moment to review the text of the first Pledge of Allegiance to have official status under the Flag Code. Look at each word, and also pay attention to what words are absent. I call attention to the fact that the phrase “under God” does not appear in the first three versions of the Pledge of Allegiance not in an attempt to disparage God or those who believe in God (I proudly count myself as one of them) but to debunk the assertions of overzealous ideologues who would have us believe (either through an honest mistake or through deliberate deception) that the phrase “under God” has always been an integral part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Some have even invoked the founders, implying that they intended for there to be a Pledge of Allegiance and that it should include an acknowledgment of God.

This is ludicrous.

The Pledge itself didn’t even exist until 1892, over a hundred years after the Constitution (which also does not mention God, except in the date stamp) was ratified. The writer of the pledge, himself a Baptist minister, chose to omit mentioning any supreme being. Even the first two Flag Conferences, which deliberately scrutinized and edited the pledge, didn’t put God in there. Congress itself, when it adopted the Flag Code in 1942, while the US was battling aggressive European Fascist and Japanese Imperial expansionism (and could have used some divine help), did not choose to invoke God in the Pledge of Allegiance. These are facts, they are matters of public record, and they are irrefutable.

The Final (so far) Change

On another Flag Day, this time in 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance received its third substantive alteration. America was in the grip of the Red Scare, and standing up to the majority was just asking for an end to one’s career. In this atmosphere of paranoia, conservative Christian groups seized the opportunity to put God in places He’d never been mentioned before, in the name of differentiating God-fearing Americans(TM) from the Loathsome Godless Communist Oppressors(TM). The phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the United States’ official motto (replacing the Founders’ original motto, E Pluribus Unum) and was made mandatory on all US legal tender. It was also at this time that the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, again on a Flag Day, in 1954.

The Pledge of Allegience, Mark III, which we currently use, reads as follows:

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.

And for the Future?

Well, if history repeats itself, we’re due for another edit to the pledge any time now. In fact, the Pledge Mark III has already lasted for 56 years, longer than any other version of the Pledge has lasted, and almost as long as the other versions of the Pledge combined. Changes to the Pledge are far from unprecedented, and have happened every generation or so, give or take a few years, since the pledge was first written.

In spite of what some would have us believe, the Pledge of Allegiance is not as old as the Republic, and has only included a mention of God for a little less than half of its existence. I wonder what the next group of folks who edit the Pledge of Allegiance will add?

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Comments 17 comments

tinnyray 6 years ago

The Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the Nazi salute (and the swastika -although an ancient symbol- was used to represent crossed S-shapes for “socialism” under the National Socialist German Workers Party).

See the video at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvDwL553pVM

Francis Bellamy (cousin of author Edward Bellamy) was a socialist in the Nationalism movement and authored the Pledge of Allegiance (1892), the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted much later by the National Socialist German Workers Party. See the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry.

The early American stiff-armed salute was not an ancient Roman salute. That is a myth debunked by Dr. Curry, who showed that the myth came from the Pledge and from various facts including that Francis Bellamy grew up in Rome, N.Y., not Rome, Italy, and thereafter the Pledge salute was repeated in early films (some showing fictional scenes of ancient Rome). The reasons above and more led to the American stiff-armed salute being picked up later by German socialists and the National Socialist German Workers Party (under the influence of Adolf Hitler and the U.S. citizen and Harvard grad Ernst Hanfstaengl, a confidant of Hitler) and by Italian socialists under Benito Mussolini (who discovered the salute while he gained power as a socialist journalist writing for socialist newspapers, and later became an ally of the National Socialist German Workers Party).

Francis Bellamy never used the term “Roman salute” when describing his pledge’s salute and he was not influenced by Jacques-Louis David’s painting “Oath of the Horatii.” One reason why Francis Bellamy never used the term “Roman salute” in any way is because the concept of the “Roman salute” did not exist when Bellamy wrote his pledge and for decades thereafter.

Francis Bellamy clearly explained that his pledge began with a military salute that was then extended out toward the flag. In practice, the second gesture was performed palm-down with a stiff-arm when the military salute was merely pointed out at the flag by disinterested children forced to do Bellamy’s programmed chanting daily in government schools. That is how the straight-arm salute developed from Francis Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance and its use of the military salute (and how the USA’s Pledge salute led to the Nazi salute).

That the concept of the “Roman salute” did not exist when Bellamy wrote his pledge (and for decades thereafter) also means that the concept of the “Roman salute” did not even exist when Jacques-Louis David lived and painted “Oath of the Horatii” and thus David was NOT thinking of a real or imagined “Roman salute” when he painted the Horatii, nor did David ever use the term “Roman salute.” The Horatii lie (that the painting was the origin of the “Roman salute” myth) first appeared on Wikipedia, deliberately fabricated by a liar to cover-up Dr. Curry’s discovery that the Pledge was the origin of the Nazi salute. In the painting, 3 brothers are reaching for weapons (and the two figures in back are reaching with their left hands). The same liar who created the Horatii lie had, until he was debunked, previously claimed that the stiff-armed salute was an actual ancient Roman salute, and he posted the lie that Roman statues displaying “adlocutio” (a gesture made by a person speaking) showed “ancient Roman salutes.” The newly substituted Horatii lie has been mindlessly repeated by many people (as the adlocutio lie was repeated and still is) because wakipedia glorifies itself as an encyclopedia, even though it is merely an anonymous bulletin board where anyone can post anything.

American national socialists (including Edward Bellamy), in cooperation with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, popularized the use of the Swastika (an ancient symbol) as a modern symbol for socialism long before the symbol was adopted by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) and used on its flag.

The Bellamys influenced the National Socialist German Workers Party and its dogma, rituals and symbols (e.g. robotic collective chanting to flags; and the modern use of the swastika as crossed S-letters for “Socialism” under German National Socialism). Similar alphabetical symbolism was used under the NSDAP for the “SS” division, the “SA,” the “NSV,” et cetera and similar symbolism is visible today as the VW logo (the letters “V” and “W” joined for “Volkswagen”).

The Bellamys wanted the government to take over all food, clothing, shelter, goods and services and create an “industrial army” to impose their “military socialism.”

It is the same dogma that led to the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part): ~60 million killed under the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; ~50 million under the Peoples’ Republic of China; ~20 million under the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Today, the flag symbolizes authoritarianism in the USA. The historical facts above explain the enormous size and scope of government today, and the USA’s police state, and why it is growing so rapidly. They are reasons for minarchy: massive reductions in government, taxation, spending and socialism.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Tinnyray,

Thanks for the comment; I'd come across some mentions of the "Horatii" painting in my research, but couldn't really find enough data to decide whether Bellamy was thinking about this painting or not. I'm glad you stopped by.

Also, thanks for expanding on the reason the citizen salute was changed. The caption under the last photo in the slideshow (the one about the Nazis stealing it) is a necessary oversimplification. You could probably write a hub of your own about the Nazi appropriation of the original citizen salute and the origins of other Nazi ritual. A lot of WWII history buffs would be interested, I'm sure.

As for your editorial ideas about minarchy and the USA's 'police state,' well, I agree that limiting governmental power is a Good Thing, but mate, the USA is hardly a 'police state.'


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Jeff - Your article is incredibly detailed and informative. You've lifted me up with this history. For some time, I've been miffed that someone was trying to take God out of our pledge. Now I see that we injected it in there. Not a problem for me, I like it that way. What disturbs me most is that a few nay-sayers and non believers can rob us of the freedom to join in affirming our allegiance to this great country if we so choose. Picture 3 of the pledging children looks just like a classroom I had in the 6th grade, same desks, same flag. Thoroughly enjoyable read.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Peg,

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I like the pledge, too. I get annoyed, though, when folks try to pretend that the "under God" phrase has "always" been in the Pledge, and even try to convince people that the pledge was written during the founding era. Defend "under God," sure, but let's defend it honestly, with true facts.

I'll be writing about other obscure bits of American history in the near future, if you're interested.

All the best,

JB


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US

Oddly, I've never been one for prayer in schools, nor have I really thought that "under God" is a good idea in the Pledge of Allegiance. Unity and allegiance are not necessarily dependent on God, they're really more about like-mindedness. The like-mindedness of the U.S. is really based on freedom. Sharing ideas and values of freedom isn't exclusive to people who believe in God.

Many songwriters through the years have set the Pledge to music. I am one of them. I left "under God" in because I felt that more people wanted it that way than without. But I think it's also fair to say that may change, and there's plenty of evidence to support additional changes, as you have pointed out. With or without the phrase "under God", it won't exclude like-minded people, whether they believe in God or not, it seems to me.

A very, very informative hub. Thanks.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Daniel,

"Sharing ideas and values of freedom isn't exclusive to people who believe in God." You never said a truer thing. I wish more folks who do believe in God would realize that.

As for another change to the Pledge, well, it's be far from unprecedented. I wonder what it will be, and whether something will be added, or something will be removed.

Thanks for the kind words!


GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

GojiJuiceGoodness 6 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

Awhile back California wanted to take out this phrase "one Nation under God". Thankfully it never happened, but I'm afraid it's just a matter of time.


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago

Thanks for this article. It is one more piece of accurate information that can debunk some of the myths about the founding fathers and their supposed love for patriotic ceremonies and religious references. It's funny how bent out of shape some people get about the importance of ceremonies. Sometimes, it seems that people care more about words and symbols than the principles behind the imagery.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Freeway, here's hoping, but little things like facts don't seem to bother ideologues very much.


Tim_511 profile image

Tim_511 6 years ago from Huntington, WV

Agreed, Jeff, I want to defend the phrase "under God" in the pledge, but we (speaking editorially) need to do so carefully and honestly. I've also heard many people who honestly think that the modern pledge was intended by the founders, and its so hard to believe.


uncorrectedvision profile image

uncorrectedvision 6 years ago from Indiana

Well written, great research work and it shows. The phrase "under God" would probably have been welcomed by the likes of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. All three men of deep faith, especially Washington who spoke often of Providence's hand in the founding of the nation.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for the kind words, UV.

I agree that if the pledge had existed in its current form, Lincoln would probably have loved it.

As for Washington, possibly. He spoke and wrote of Providence, and the Great Architect, and so on, but did not, by all contemporary reports, go in for ostentatious public prayers. Even after extensive reading of his published papers, I can't make up my mind how he would have felt about it.

Jefferson? I seriously doubt it. Of the Founders, he was one of the most pro-freedom of religion (and anti-indoctrination), and wrote often about how freedom of religion must include not only the various Christian denominations, but also the "Jew, the Mahommedan, and the Hindoo."

Really, based on his writings, I don't see Jefferson supporting the state-sanctioned daily recitation of what he would probably see as public prayer-slash-indoctrination. I think he would have opposed it as a "form of tyranny over the mind of man."

But, unfortunately, we can't ask any of them, and have to make do with what we ourselves think is best.


uncorrectedvision profile image

uncorrectedvision 6 years ago from Indiana

I will yield on Jefferson in that your points are well taken and Jefferson would have appreciated a personal prayer far more than a public one. Washington, although private and circumspect in his faith, valued the symbols of the Republic.


sjwalsh profile image

sjwalsh 4 years ago from Brookline, MA

I enjoyed this article immensely! As an avid history buff, I am always seeking to learn new facts and points of view. You have definitely succeeded in teaching me a good lesson.


wilderness profile image

wilderness 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

Interesting, and thank you for the information. I had no idea it took that long to come up a pledge in the first place or that there had been changes prior to the insertion of "under God" in 1954.

A well researched and presented hub.


denisevirostek profile image

denisevirostek 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

I just recently wrote a brief article on the Pledge of Allegiance. Take a look at it. I would love to provide a link to your article at the end of mine if you would be so kind as to do the same. Check it out. Let me know what you think. It would be very interesting to see an array of perspectives on the whole 'pledge in school' debate added to your page.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 3 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Wilderness, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I only learned some of this stuff when researching this article. We studie the Pledge when I was in grade school--the meaning of the words, why we say it every day, etc. But none of those lessons included the history of the Pledge and its evolution over the years.

Hey there, Denise,

I just took a look at your article. I haven't time to say anything very useful about it just now, but I'll drop by and comment on it soon.

You suggestion of a list of different perspectives on the pledge is a good one...I may have to do that.

Cheers,

JB

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