"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
[Original Pledge of Allegiance (1892)]
The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance
By John W. Baer
Every class day over 60 million public and parochial school teachers and students in the U.S. recite the Pledge of Allegiance along with thousands of Americans at official meetings of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Elks, Masons, American Legion, and others. During the televised bicentennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution for the school children on September 17, 1987, the children as a group did not recite any part of the Constitution. However, President Reagan did lead the nation's school children in reciting the Pledge. Yet probably not one of them knows the history or original meaning of the Pledge.
In the presidential campaign of 1988, George Bush successfully used the Pledge in his campaign against Mike Dukakis. Ironically, Bush did not seem to know the words of the Pledge until his campaign manager told him to memorize it. The teachers and students in the New England private schools he attended, Greenwich Country Day School and Phillips Andover Academy, did not recite the pledge. By contrast, Dukakis and his mother, a public school teacher, recited the Pledge in the public schools. Yet Bush criticized Dukakis for vetoing a bill in Massachusetts requiring public school teachers but not private school teachers to recite the Pledge. Dukakis vetoed the bill on grounds that it violated the constitutional right of free speech.
How did this Pledge of Allegiance to a flag replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in the affections of many Americans? Among the nations in the world, only the USA and the Philippines, imitating the USA, have a pledge to their flag. Who institutionalized the Pledge as the cornerstone of American patriotic programs and
indoctrination in the public and parochial schools?
In 1892, a socialist named Francis Bellamy created the Pledge of Allegiance for Youths' Companion, a national family magazine for youth published in Boston. The magazine had the largest national circulation of its day with a circulation around 500,000. Two liberal businessmen, Daniel Ford and James Upham, his nephew, owned Youths' Companion.
One hundred years ago the American flag was rarely seen in the classroom or in front of the school Upham changed that. In 1888, the magazine began a campaign to sell American flags to the public schools. By 1892, his magazine had sold American flags to about 26 thousands schools1.
In 1891, Upham had the idea of using the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America to promote the use of the flag in the public schools. The same year, the magazine hired Daniel Ford's radical young friend, Baptist minister, Nationalist, and Christian Socialist leader, Francis Bellamy, to help Upham in his public relations work. Bellamy was the first cousin of the famous American socialist, Edward Bellamy. Edward Bellamy's futuristic novel, "Looking Backward", published in 1888, described a utopian Boston in the year 2000. The book spawned an elitist socialist movement in Boston known as "Nationalism," whose members wanted the federal government to national most of the American economy. Francis Bellamy was a member of this movement and a vice president of its auxiliary group, the Society of Christian Socialists 2. He was a baptist minister and he lectured and preached on the virtues of socialism and the evils of capitalism. He gave a speech on "Jesus the Socialist" and a series of sermons on "The Socialism of the Primitive Church." In 1891, he was forced to resign from his Boston church, the Bethany Baptist church, because of his socialist activities. He then joined the staff of the Youths' Companion3.
By February 1892, Francis Bellamy and Upham had lined up the National Education Association to support the Youths' Companion as a sponsor of the national public schools' observance of Columbus Day along with the use of the American flag. By June 29, Bellamy and Upham had arranged for Congress and President Benjamin Harrison to announce a national proclamation making the public school flag ceremony the center of the national Columbus Day celebrations for 18924.
Bellamy, under the supervision of Upham, wrote the program for this celebration, including its flag salute, the Pledge of Allegiance. His version was,
"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands -- one nation indivisible -- with liberty and justice for all."
This program and its pledge appeared in the September 8 issue of Youths' Companion5. He considered putting the words "fraternity" and "equality" in the Pledge but decided they were too radical and controversial for public schools6.
The original Pledge was recited while giving a stiff, uplifted right hand salute, criticized and discontinued during WWII. The words "my flag" were changed to "the flag of the United States of America" because it was feared that the children of immigrants might confuse "my flag" for the flag of their homeland. The phrase, "Under God," was added by Congress and President Eisenhower in 1954 at the urging of the Knights of Columbus7.
The American Legion's constitution includes the following goal: "To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism." One of its major standing committees was the "Americanism Commission" and its subsidiary, the "Counter Subversive Activities Committee." To the fear of immigrants, it added the fear of communism8.
Over the years the Legion has worked closely with the NEA and with the U.S. Office of Education. The Legion insisted on "one hundred percent" Americanism in public school courses in American history, civics, geography and English. The Pledge was a part of this Americanism campaign9 and, in 1950, the Legion adopted the Pledge as an official part of its own ritual10.
In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan, which also had adopted the "one hundred percent Americanism" theme along with the flag ceremonies and the Pledge, became a political power in the state of Oregon and arranged for legislation to be passes requiring all Catholic children to attend public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned this legislation11.
Perhaps a team of social scientists and historians could explain why over the last century the Pledge of Allegiance has become a major centerpiece in American patriotism programs. A pledge or loyalty oath for children was not built around the Declaration of Independence -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." Or the Gettysburg address -- "a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal..."
Apparently, over the last century, Americans have been uncomfortable with the word "equality" as a patriotic theme. In 1992 the nation will begin its second century with the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps the time has come to see that this allegiance should be to the U.S. constitution and not to a piece of cloth.
John W. Baer is a professor of economics at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. This article was orginally published in the Summer 1989 issue of Propoganda Review.
1. Harris, Louise. "The Flag Over the Schoolhouse," C.A. Stephens Collection, Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1971, p. 69.
2. Miller, Margarette S. "Twenty-three Words," Printcraft Press, Portsmouth, VA, 1976, pp 63-65.
3. Ibid, pp. 55-65.
4. Ibid, pp. 105-111.
5. Ibid, p. 123.
6. Ibid, p. 122.
7. Kaufmann, Christopher J. "Knights of Columbus", Harper & Row, NY, 1982, pp. 385-386.
8. Moley, Raymond. "The American Legion Story," Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, NY, 1966, p. 7.
9. Ibid, p. 371.
10. Miller, p. 344.
11. *New Catholic Encyclopedia,* Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America, 1967, Vol. 10, p. 738-740.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
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- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
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- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)