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A Brief History of the US Pledge of Allegiance
Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?view quiz statistics
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 FlagClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
A less brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance.
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?