The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance

The author of the following article makes some excellent observations although he needs to read Lysander Spooner’s “No Treason VI:  The Constitution of No Authority” to see that any allegiance to the Constitution is equally absurd.

The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance
By John W. Baer, professor of economics, Anne Arundel Community College

Every class day over 60 million public and parochial school teachers and students in the US 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 US 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.

[[Actually, the case Dukakis cited (and was subsequently attacked by Bush for it) was a religious freedom case (!); see the file with the speech by ACLU director Ira Glasser 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 demonstrates devastatingly what many of us already knew; what a bad job Dukakis did responding to Bush’s attacks about being “liberal” and (God forbid) and being a member of the ACLU. — HB]]

How did this Pledge of Allegiance to a flag replace the US 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 *Youth’s* *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 thousand. Two liberal businessmen, Daniel Ford and James Upham, his nephew, owned *Youth’s* *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 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 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 *Youth’s* *Companion*(3).

By February 1892, Francis Bellamy and Upham had lined up the National Education Association 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, 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 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 September 8 issue of *Youth’s* *Companion*(5). He considered putting the words “fraternity” and “equality” in the Pledge but decided they were too radical and controversial for public schools(6).

(click on image)

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 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 US 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 and arranged for legislation to be passes requiring all Catholic children to attend public schools. The US Supreme Court later overturned this legislation(11).

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 US constitution and not to a piece of cloth.

Notes: 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.
from Propaganda Review, Summer 89


6 responses to “The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance

  1. Scottinalaska

    For the last 5 years now I will stand when people “do” the pledge. But I do not put my hand on my heart nor do I say anything. The first few times, it was nerve wracking. I am 40 and the peer pressure was intense. Now I am proud to live my convictions and have some compassion for the sheeple all around me.

  2. Scott,

    I know how you feel – I’ve done the same many times. I have often thought of writing my own pledge to recite. Here’s a couple of versions I’ve come up with:

    “I pledge allegiance to the freedom lovers of America, and to all who understand, that no nation shall take precedence over liberty and justice for all.”

    “I pledge allegiance to myself and to seeking freedom in America, and to all who understand, that no nation shall take precedence over liberty and justice for all.”

  3. Pingback: How about a New Pledge of Allegiance? « The Freedom School

  4. Scottinalaska

    I like the second one best. But now you got me thinking. I’ll put one together too.
    Here’s my first version:

    I pledge allegiance,
    To the only One it is due.
    To the Giver of life, liberty, and freedom,
    For a people not given to follow man.

  5. “I pledge allegiance to the profits of the Corporate States of America and to the monopoly for which they stand. One spreadsheet, under Wall Street, untaxable, with oppression and injustice for most.” –Kana de Saga

  6. I think the original pledge was better, if you have to have a pledge, though it seems to be a means to show off false patriotism to too many people. Let’s put our efforts into making our country a better country instead.