Tag Archives: History

A little Pledge of Allegiance history

On December 28, 1945, the Congress of the United States of America officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance, in this 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.

The original text was penned by Francis Bellamy, an American Baptist minister, in 1892. Published in the Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892, the Pledge was intended to help Bellamy and James Upham (Companion coworker) further a goal of putting a flag above every school in the nation. Not altruistic, those flags were sold by the magazine and when business slowed, the Pledge was a way to boost sales. Bellamy’s original text read slightly different than that adopted by Congress:

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

In the publicity campaign, the salute described by Bellamy (but originated by Upham) to accompany the Pledge was an extension of the right arm toward the flag. This civilian salute was used until 1942 when President Roosevelt changed it to the now familiar right hand over the heart salute to be different than the Italian fascist , and later Nazi salute.

In 1940, a Supreme Court decision upheld a school district’s decision to compel students to recite the pledge, even if such a recitation violated personal beliefs. In that case, it was a Jehovah’s Witness family that brought suit and lost. But in 1943, the Court reversed its position on a different case, forbidding a school from requiring students to say the Pledge. The Court ruled against “compulsory unification of opinion.” Hmmm.

Louis Bowman, Chaplain for the Illinois Society of the Sons of the Revolution, is credited with introducing the words “under God” in 1948. Taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, those words gained traction, particularly with the Knights of Columbus. In those 269 words, Lincoln may have included “under God”. I say may because the four earliest transcriptions in Lincoln’s hand did not include the words. To be fair, at least three reports from the dedication quoted the President as having used the words “under God.” Not known is how many reports didn’t include them. It may be that he deviated from his prepared speech and added the words at the time. By his own hand, the fifth transcription did include them. Now, Lincoln also said, “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” Does that mean he was an atheist? No. But that statement, coupled with many others and Mary Todd’s own admission after his death, means he wasn’t a Christian. As that has no bearing on a belief in God and a national statement defining such, I leave it only to caution those that would appropriate and misconstrue Lincoln and his cited fore-(founding-) fathers as having founded this nation on Christian principles to think again, and read their history. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I firmly believe that said founding fathers would be appalled at the involvement of religion in public policy today. There are a great many quotes supporting my supposition, but I’ll save that discussion for another day

So, in response to the Red Scare and McCarthy’s fanaticism, Congress altered the text to introduce a “coercive requirement to affirm God” and on June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the bill into law. That phrase in quotes is from a US District Judge ruling in 2005 that a California requirement to recite the pledge in public schools violated the Establishment Clause.

I attend many functions and meetings where the Pledge is recited. While I still have not decided whether swearing to a flag makes sense, I am a patriot regardless and I support the republic for which it stands. I also believe that “liberty and justice” have not yet been afforded to “all”. More’s the pity.