The Origin of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

Kathy Padden 9
pledge-of-allegianceThe U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy in 1892. It was published in a popular children’s magazine of the time called The Youth’s Companion as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World.

The celebration itself was the brainchild of James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine who made it his business to foster a sense of patriotism in the youth of America. Upham’s goal was to, “instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into the Constitution…”

Francis Bellamy intended for the Pledge to be brief and to the point. He also was leaning towards using the words “equality” and “fraternity”, but realized that probably wouldn’t fly, knowing the committee members he’d have to get the approval of were against equal rights for all.

Bellamy recalled that when he wrote the Pledge, feelings of patriotism were at an all-time low. He, Upham and their cohorts felt that the place to rekindle feelings of national pride was in the classrooms, so Youth’s Companion came up with a plan to sell flags at cost to public schools through their students. This ploy was so effective that 25,000 schools acquired flags in just one year.

Bellamy and Upham managed to secure the Nation Education Association’s support as a sponsor for the Columbus Day event, and by June 1892 they had convinced Congress and President Harrison to make the public school flag ceremony the highlight of the Columbus Day festivities.

The Pledge was then used in public schools starting on October 12, 1892 to sync with the opening of the World Columbian Exposition going on in Chicago, Illinois.

Here is the original version of the Pledge, which was to undergo four changes over the years:

I pledge allegiance, to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1923, the first changes to the text of the Pledge of Allegiance were made, much to the consternation of Francis Bellamy, who thought the new wording completely ruined the flow of his original work. The National Flag conference insisted that the two words “my flag” be replaced with “to the flag of the United States.” This was to prevent any confusion among new immigrants between loyalties to their countries of origin and their new home. The addition of the words “of America” would be tacked on a year later.

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the United States Congress first officially recognized The Pledge of Allegiance on June 22, 1942 in the following form:

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.

Starting as early as 1948, efforts were being made to add the words “under God” to the Pledge with one of the first to add it being the chaplain of the Board of Governors of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Louis Bowman. For this,The Daughters of the American Revolution saw fit to present him with an Award of Merit for originating the idea of adding “under God” to the Pledge.

The “under God” movement gathered steam with a resolution drafted by the Knights of Columbus during the Korean War in April of 1951, calling on all members to add “under God” to the Pledge when recited at the opening and close of meetings.

Finally, with the “red scare” at its zenith, legislators were lobbied by religious leaders, the American Legion, and the Hearst newspapers, voicing concern that Communist rhetoric is uncomfortably similar to the Pledge of Allegiance as it was then worded. A bill to add the words “under God” to the Pledge was then introduced to the House and was supported by President Eisenhower, who signed it into law.

After signing it into law, President Eisenhower stated:

In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.

This latest version then 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.”

Since then, quite a bit of controversy has been stirred with the addition of those two little words. On top of that, over the past decade or two particularly there has been a huge upsurge in the amount of legal action taken pertaining to the appropriateness of children being “encouraged”- read made to- recite the Pledge in school, particularly as most of the kids don’t really understand what they’re saying anyways.  Further, some children that have refused to participate in saying the Pledge, whether because their parents told them not to or they simply chose not to, occasionally have been ridiculed in class by their teachers for their choice- slightly ironical given said teachers are wanting them to recite something that says “liberty… for all” and yet they are trying to take away a piece of the child’s liberty- the right to not say the Pledge. ;-)

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9 Comments »

  1. Lois May 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    i did not know just how many versions it had gone through!

  2. Phil Sheridan May 31, 2013 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Slight correction. According to “4 USC § 4 – Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery”, there is no comma between the words “one Nation” and “under God”, it is a single phrase, “one Nation under God”. Changes the meaning.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey May 31, 2013 at 11:36 am - Reply

      @Phil Sheridan: That’s interesting because in the schools I attended (Washington State and in Oklahoma), there was always a pause between “One Nation” and “under God”. Is it like that elsewhere?

  3. Sean November 12, 2013 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Upham’s other contribution was the gesture that became known as the ‘Bellamy salute’ — the original salute to the flag: “every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it.” Italian fascists adopted the Roman salute, with the Nazis following soon after, a gesture almost identical to the Bellamy salute. Between 1939 and 1941, propagandists began using cropped photos of Americans who argued against intervention to remove the American flag they were saluting, presenting the doctored photos as evidence of their support of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. In 1941, Congress passed a law changing the salute to the hand over the heart to remove controversy and confusion.

  4. Ron Helton January 13, 2014 at 4:42 am - Reply

    I never questioned saying this “pledge” when I was in school and in the military. But now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I find the concept that a country that believes in liberty and the “rule of law”; still has neither.

    How pretentious of those who call themselves “christians” to think that it is their way or the highway.

    I don’t even bother to attend public events anymore. There are just too many brainwashed sheep out there. If you want to get a lot of rude stares from simple minded people, just remain seated during the pledge at a public event.

    If you are forcing children to recite this pledge, then you can’t really expect them to believe that we truly are a nation of laws and of freedom. Loyalty to a country is earned when that country serves all of its people equally and doesn’t demand anything.

    The US has not succeeded in any of these endeavors. Instead, there seems to be a pushed by many closed minded personages to impose their beliefs on others whether they like them or not. Not only here but across the world.

  5. Zing October 8, 2014 at 5:32 am - Reply

    “Under God” in the pledge, besides being unconstitutional, owes its presence in the flag to the hysterical fascist vein of patriotism personified by Senator McCarthy. It should be excised.

  6. Zing October 8, 2014 at 5:33 am - Reply

    flag = pledge

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