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Surprising Socialist, Capitalist, and Masonic Roots of the Pledge of Allegiance

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American Children Pledge Allegiance. 1942. by Collage from public domain images, photo by Dorothea Lange

SEPT. 8, 2012:

120 years ago today, on Sept. 8, 1892, The Pledge of Allegiance was first published in Youth's Companion, a family magazine that has been called, "the Reader's Digest of its day." The pledge was writtien by a Socialist Christian minister, Francis Bellamy, and James Upham, a Mason, for schoolchildren to recite on on Oct. 12 of that year,  the quadricentennial of Columbus' arrival.
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Earlier, the magazine had mounted a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions.  They sold American flags to approximately 26,000 schools, but by 1892, sales were getting sluggish.

Vintage postcard by Public domain image

Bellamy and Upham worked in the premium department, developing ideas to enhance sales. They were inspired by the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, which would be celebrated by the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Upham came up with a clever idea that would center around his magazine: a national Columbian Public School Celebration to be held in schools all over America, with a flag raising ceremony and a special flag salute. 

World's Columbian Exposition, Court and Grand Basin. Chicago, 1893. by Public Domain
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Bellamy, with Upham's support, and likely his assistance, developed the Pledge of Allegiance as an integral part of this nationwide celebration.  The words were published in the September issue of the magazine, in enough time for schools to order their flags so that they could be included in the celebration.

Bellamy's pledge, as published in the magazine, originally read:

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

(Within the month the word "to" was added.)

Originally, Bellamy's pledge had included the phrase "one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty, and justice for all." But several state school superintendents objected to the word "equality," since they were afraid it might be "misconstrued" to seem applicable to women and people of color. So Bellamy removed it.

It's been recorded that 12 million American school children recited the new Pledge, to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of Columbus' voyage.  I was unable to locate data on how many flag sales this initiated.

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Schoolchildren pledging using the Bellamy Salute, 1941. by Public domain image

Bellamy devised a salute to accompany his pledge. The Nazis developed an eerily similar salute in the 1930s, and there is some speculation that it was influenced by the Bellamy Salute. Due to the resemblence,  the Bellamy Salute was abandoned during WW2, and replaced by the familiar hand-over-heart.

Children saluting (circa 1940). Which are German and which are American? by Collage of two public domain images

In The Pledge of Allegiance A Revised History and Analysis,  John W. Baer notes that "In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference, under the 'leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge's words, 'my Flag,' to 'the Flag of the United States of America.' Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored..."

American children reciting the pledge of allegiance, 1942. by Public domain image by Dorothea Lange (detail)

Congress did not officially recognize the Pledge for 50 years, until 1942.

In 1954, after a campaign by the  conservative, all male, Catholic,  Knights of Columbus,   Congress, with Eisenhower's participation,  added the words, "under God." Bellamy died in 1931, but his grand daughter was resistant to this change, saying that her grandfather  would have been opposed to it.

Recently, groups have lobbied to go back to the original version. Restore the Pledge says "The Pledge of Allegiance is a national symbol, and as such all Americans should be able to freely participate in reciting it, especially students in public schools.  However, the words "under God" are clearly a promotion of a specific religious belief.  These words ... are in violation of the First Amendment."

Other groups have developed new and different versions. One that I often shared with my daughter as she was growing up, was developed by a musical group, the Lester Family. Like the Declaration of Independence, it references a divine creator without narrowing it down to one that only fits into a particular religion:

New pledge by Lester Family Music by Lester Family Music

New pledge by Lester Family Music by Lester Family Music

(Of interest: a recent article also about the flag, Walk Softly and Carry a Big Flag: MD Follows His Heart on 900-Mile Trek , by the same author, is at: click here)

by Lester Family Music

Lester Family Music ( offer prints of the Pledge of Allegiance shown in this article as an 11"x17" poster,  as well as a 16" x 22"  limited edition, signed and numbered serigraph. (And they offer lots of great music, too!) Link to the poster: Accessed Sept 5, 2012.

The Original Pledge of Allegiance. Accessed Sept 5, 2012.

Brief History of the Pledge of Allegiance. click here Accessed Sept 5, 2012.

The Pledge of Allegiance A Revised History and Analysis,  by John W. Baer. 2007, ; (Accessed Aug. 30, 2012)

Just Say No to God by Annalee Newitz. Accessed Sept 5, 2012.

The Pledge of Allegiance click here; Accessed Sept 5, 2012.

The Nazi Salute. Accessed Sept 7, 2012.


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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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