The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance
Everyday, public and parochial school teachers and students in the US recite the Pledge of Allegiance, along with thousands of Americans at official meetings.5 min read
Every class day, over 60 million public and parochial school teachers and students in the United States 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 Sept. 17, 1987, the children as a group did not recite any part of the Constitution, but President Ronald Reagan did lead the nation's school children in reciting the Pledge. However, probably not one of them knew 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. 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.
The case Dukakis cited — and for which he was subsequently attacked by Bush — was a religious freedom case. ACLU director Ira Glasser delivered a speech which, like this article, contains a lot of information you don't hear much about in the mainstream press. It also happens to be among the best speeches I've ever heard, and it demonstrates devastatingly what many of us already knew: what a bad job Dukakis did in responding to Bush's attacks about being "liberal" and and being a member of the ACLU.
Origin of the Pledge
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 United States and the Philippines, imitating the U.S., have a pledge to their flag. Who institutionalized the Pledge as the cornerstone of American patriotic programs and introduced its indoctrination in the public and parochial schools?
In 1892, a socialist named Francis Bellamy created the Pledge of Allegiance for Youth's Companion, a national family magazine for youth published in Boston. The magazine had a circulation of around 500,000, the largest national circulation of its day. Two liberal businessmen, Daniel Ford and his nephew, James Upham, owned Youth's Companion.
One hundred years ago, the American flag was rarely seen in the classroom or in front of the school, but 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 26,000 schools (1).
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 Bellamy, who was also Ford's radical young friend, a Baptist minister, nationalist, and a Christian socialist leader, to help Upham in his public relations work.
Bellamy was the first cousin of 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 nationalize 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).
In his capacity as a minister, 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, Bethany Baptist Church, because of his socialist activities. He then joined the staff of the Youth's Companion (3).
By February 1892, Francis Bellamy and Upham had lined up the National Education Association (NEA) to support the Youth's Companion as a sponsor of the national public schools' observance of Columbus Day along with the use of the American flag. By June 29, the pair 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 1892 (4).
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 Sept. 8 issue of Youth's Companion (5). He considered putting the words "fraternity" and "equality" in the Pledge, but he decided they were too radical and controversial for public schools (6).
The original Pledge was recited while giving a stiff, uplifted right hand salute, which was criticized and discontinued during World War II. 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 Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 at the urging of the Knights of Columbus (7).
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 communism (8).
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 campaign (9) and, in 1950, the Legion adopted the Pledge as an official part of its own ritual (10).
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. The group arranged for legislation to be passed requiring all Catholic children to attend public schools, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned this legislation (11).
Equality in Patriotism
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 idea of equality found in 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.
1. Louise Harris. *The Flag Over the Schoolhouse,* C.A. Stephens Collection, Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1971, p. 69.
2. Margarette S. Miller, *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. Christopher J. Kaufmann, *Knights of Columbus*, Harper & Row, NY, 1982, pp. 385-386.
8. Raymond Moley, *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.