The story

The Pledge of Allegiance

The History of the Pledge: How It Changed from a Socialist Peace Pledge to a Patriotic Tool to Root Out Communists in the McCarthy Era

After a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, saying the phrase “under God” violates the separation of church and state, we examine the history of the Pledge of Allegiance with Dr. John Baer, author of The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History, and Ellen Schrecker, author of several books on McCarthyism, including Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, and professor of history at Yeshiva University. [includes rush transcript]

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AMY GOODMAN : As we go now to the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, we are joined by the author of The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History, Dr. John Baer, speaking to us from Maryland.

Dr. Baer, welcome to Democracy Now! I think people might be very surprised—certainly all of the pundits and politicians and so-called journalists on television I saw last night—when you describe the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, going back to its beginnings at the turn of the century. When was it? 1892?

DR. JOHN BAER : It was published in The Youth’s Companion magazine, their September 8th, 1892, issue. So the—well, actually, the confusion is understandable. The magazine had a policy of anonymity, so it wasn’t signed. And, in fact, the owner of the firm who had hired the author, Francis Bellamy, he had a policy of anonymity for himself: instead of calling himself the Youth Companion Company, he called himself the Perry Mason Company.

AMY GOODMAN : Well, tell us about who Francis Bellamy was.

DR. JOHN BAER : Well, Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister, and he believed strongly in the social gospel. And his new boss, Daniel Sharp Ford, also believed strongly in the social gospel. And you can read the Bible where Jesus is quoted as saying, “A rich man can no more get into heaven than a camel can get through the eye of a needle.” So Francis Bellamy used that as the basis of his argument that Jesus was a socialist. His boss, Mr. Ford, was not—did not come to that conclusion, but he believed in being very generous, so his money’s still alive and well and doing good in Boston financing the Ford Hall Forum at Northeastern University, which has been a leader in the public discussion, in public forums, and also the Baptist Social Union, doing social work at the Baptist—well, the Baptist Social Union is in the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in downtown Boston. So, they were strong for reform, and—but they had this policy of anonymity, so it was not until 1976, when Margaret Miller wrote her book on the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, that it was pretty much nailed down for good that Francis Bellamy had written the pledge. Today you still get some challenges. There was a student out in Kansas, Frank Bellamy, who claimed to have written the pledge in 1895 as a high school student, so he’s suspected of plagiarism.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you say in your short history of the pledge that the—that Francis Bellamy, who was—I mean, I’m sorry, Edward Bellamy, who was an author of several socialist utopian novels, as well as Francis Bellamy in his sermons and lectures, both espoused the ideas that the middle class could create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all, and that the government would run a peacetime economy similar to our present military-industrial complex.

DR. JOHN BAER : Right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So I’m sure that those in Congress now who are right this minute reciting the pledge have very little idea of the ideas of the people who wrote it.

DR. JOHN BAER : Yeah, I doubt if many of them even know who Francis Bellamy is. So, that’s a fact. The ignorance on the topic is overwhelming. Now, Congress started reciting the pledge—I should say, the House of Representatives started reciting the pledge in 1988, and the Senate, I believe, in the year 2000. So the Senate’s only been reciting it a couple years. It was part of the political campaign of 1988, when the older George Bush was running against Dukakis, and Dukakis had vetoed a bill requiring teachers to recite the pledge, and he vetoed it. And so, President Ford said, no, he wouldn’t have vetoed this bill. He thinks teachers should be required to recite the pledge. Of course, ironically, he went to public school, and he and his teachers did not recite the pledge. Well, Dukakis and his mother, who was a public school teacher, they had been reciting the pledge for years. So you have lots of confusion out there, and as far as lack of knowledge on the history of pledge, it’s pretty overwhelming.

AMY GOODMAN : Well, Dr. John Baer, we have to break for 60 seconds, but when we come back, we want to talk about what the original pledge actually said, the fact that the words at issue here were not included in the pledge, he didn’t approve of the change, and also it wasn’t only “under God” that wasn’t in the pledge, but another phrase. We’d like you to tell us about that when you come back. And then we’re going to look at the McCarthy era, 1954, and why those words “under God” were put in. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN : “I Smell Smoke,” Kenny Neal, here on Democracy Now!, as we talk about the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance. Dr. John Baer, can you tell us the original pledge?

DR. JOHN BAER : The original pledge was a national school program, so it was a two-page program for the public schools to use for their Columbus Day celebration of 1892 in honor of Columbus discovering America, 1492. So it was published in that magazine, which had a circulation of half a million. So Bellamy wrote the whole program, and he built the celebration around a flag ceremony, and the flag ceremony was built around a verbal flag salute, which went as follows: “I” —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, excuse me.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he wrote the program because he was at that time the chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education, right, in the NEA ?

DR. JOHN BAER : Right. The Youth’s Companion was a leading magazine of its day, and it offered to help the National Education Association to set up this Columbus Day program, and they accepted it, so officially they made Francis Bellamy chairman of their Columbus Day celebration.

AMY GOODMAN : And the pledge was?

DR. JOHN BAER : And the pledge was: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

AMY GOODMAN : So, two differences there.

DR. JOHN BAER : Right. So, as far as we know, he never considered putting “under God” in the pledge. And the first change, which dropped “my flag” for “the flag of the United States of America,” he resented that, and he opposed it, but because of the policy of anonymity, nobody really listened to him, because—

AMY GOODMAN : Well, let’s just clarify that.


AMY GOODMAN : “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America” is the way it is said now, but he wrote, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic.” Why the difference?

DR. JOHN BAER : I’m not sure what’s going through his mind. But anyway, in 1893, he and other people at The Youth’s Companion joined with the Human Freedom League to use this pledge as an international peace pledge. So, in any case, it—since it didn’t have any country listed, it just did “the flag and to the republic for which it stands,” any republic in the world could recite his pledge. And they—his little group, the Human Freedom League, hoped that Switzerland, France and the United States, plus Latin republics, would have peace days during the year, in which you’d take your flag, put a white border around it, and you’d recite this pledge on a peace day—not a war day, but a peace day. So that’s what they hoped would happen, and, of course, it didn’t. But anyway—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And then, of course, we had the second change, with the mention of God in it. And we’d like to bring in now Ellen Schrecker, who is an assistant professor of history at Yeshiva University and the author of several books on McCarthyism. Could you tell us what happened in 1954 to cause Congress to want to add these words in?

ELLEN SCHRECKER : Well, people were really worried about communism during this period, and a Presbyterian minister in Washington, D.C., gave a sermon talking about his concerns about communism and mentioned the Pledge of Allegiance, which he said was just too generic. It was—anybody could recite that pledge probably it could be recited even in Moscow. And he wanted something really American, something that was distinctively American, and, of course, religion, quote-unquote, is very American, so he suggested having the phrase “one nation under God,” and the “under God” actually came from the Gettysburg Address. He hadn’t made it up himself. And sitting in the congregation as he made this suggestion was President Eisenhower. And so, within a very short time, there were 17 proposed laws in Congress adding the language “one nation under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

And many people at that time were very—believed that communism was not just a political or economic theory, but also a massive atheism and that—they used to say—when they talked about communism, they would say “atheistic communism.” That was always the adjective of choice. And so, it was believed one of the advantages of this Pledge of Allegiance was simply that since communists were atheists and they couldn’t say the word “God,” this would sort of separate them out, and you would be able to identify them a lot more easily by forcing them to say the dreaded words or not.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in essence, it became a loyalty test to the system of the United States and to the religious beliefs of those who were in power in the country at the time and are still in power.

ELLEN SCHRECKER : Right, it’s—and this was a period in the 1950s of a lot of loyalty tests and loyalty oaths. They were very common at the national level, at the state level, at the local level. Even private companies had loyalty tests. One of the reasons they were so common was, certainly for politicians, they were easy, and they didn’t cost anything. It was a very inexpensive way to show your patriotism. It was a symbol, and at times like this, there are always sort of symbolic actions, often involving the flag, often involving some kind of language like this.

AMY GOODMAN : I thought it was very interesting yesterday watching all of the politicians’ repeated—and their words were repeated by all of the journalists—saying, you know, “We’re not going to change what we say we’ve been saying this for a hundred years.” Well, the fact is they weren’t saying it for a hundred years they were only—this was added in 1954. But the unanimity—you had a lot of the politicians going out and saying the Pledge of Allegiance outside the Capitol yesterday. You had in the Senate a 99-to-zero vote to support the Pledge of Allegiance. Only Jesse Helms—no, don’t worry, folks, he didn’t abstain, but he was having an operation, I think. Professor Schrecker, on that issue of unanimity, during the McCarthy era, did you see anything like that then?

ELLEN SCHRECKER : Yes, whenever some kind of anti-communist legislation came up, any kind of anti-communist program, it was widespread. There was very little dissent within the mainstream. For example, the most egregious, the most powerful anti-communist law that was passed by Congress during the McCarthy period was the Internal Security Act, known as the [McCarran] Act, which was passed in 1950 right after the Korean War, in a period of crisis that felt very much like the post-9/11 period. And as this legislation, which had originally been designed by Richard Nixon, came up before the Senate, there were a number of liberals who were very concerned. They didn’t like it. It called for the registration of members of the Communist Party. You had to go down and register, the Communist Party had to register, and if you didn’t—and organizations that were connected to the Communist Party had to register otherwise, you would be—you know, you could go to jail. So the Senate liberals, under people liker Herbert Lehman of New York and Hubert Humphrey, who was considered the most liberal senator in Washington, decided that the way—you couldn’t defeat a measure like this without your own measure. So they brought up their own measure, which came to be called the concentration camp measure, in which they said that in the case of an emergency, members of—subversives, i.e., communists, would have to be rounded up and put in detention camps within an hour of the declaration of emergency. And—

AMY GOODMAN : The reason for that?

ELLEN SCHRECKER : The reason for that was internal security. What else?

AMY GOODMAN : But was it to make it so ridiculous that people would vote against it?

ELLEN SCHRECKER : I think so I’m not sure. They had the support. What’s interesting is, as they were drafting this legislation, which they wanted to make look even tougher than the original Nixon bill, which Humphrey called “the cream puff special” — he didn’t think it had enough teeth — they had the advice of the ACLU . I mean, this was the entire liberal establishment backing this concentration camp bill.

AMY GOODMAN : It’s why the National Lawyers Guild was founded, because of the ACLU’s position, right, on loyalty oaths and communism?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Dr. John Baer again. The words “liberty and justice for all” — there was—you’ve indicated that there was some debate even in Bellamy’s mind when he was penning these words as to whether—to whether include the word “equality.” Could you talk to us about that?

DR. JOHN BAER : Right. He was writing it for the National Education Association of 1892 for their Department of School Superintendents, and of course most of them were segregationists, and they did not like the idea of equality for African Americans or even women. Women weren’t permitted to vote then. So that—he went on to be a very successful advertising man. I might mention, by the way, another twist on 1954—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in other words—in other words, what you’re saying is that even the socialist minister decided that it was the better part of valor to not have a battle over the word “equality” and just say—

DR. JOHN BAER : Exactly. He became a very successful advertising man in New York City in around 1900, 1920, so he knew what the Americans wanted, and they did not want the word “equality” in the pledge, and certainly the superintendents of education didn’t want the word in there, so he purposely kept it out. He hoped that somewhere along the way it would be added. But, by the way, on the 1954, the—many people claim credit for it, but in 1952 the Knights of Columbus were pushing—the first big organization that pushed to put it in the pledge. Now, in 1892—

AMY GOODMAN : Put “under God” in the pledge.

DR. JOHN BAER : Put “under God” in the pledge. In 1892, The Youth’s Companion is pushing public schools, so this is a secular holiday, and they’re pushing the separation of schools and state and church. So, I’ve never checked out the history of the parochial schools, but I suspect they did not start reciting the pledge until that was added, but I haven’t checked that one out. So, anyway, you have the conflict between parochial schools and public schools as part of the 1892 pledge, and the 1954 addition of “under God” took the religious overtone—put the religious overtone into the pledge, which Francis Bellamy, as a Baptist minister, apparently had no intention of putting in there.

AMY GOODMAN : Dr. Baer, you talk about how Francis Bellamy, the socialist minister, expresses the ideas of his first cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the American socialist utopian novel, Looking Backward

DR. JOHN BAER : Right.

AMY GOODMAN : —which itself comes out of the climate of the 1870s and 󈨔s, culminating in the bloody Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago in 1886, which deeply disturbed Edward Bellamy, and the trial of the five Chicago anarchists—

DR. JOHN BAER : Right.

AMY GOODMAN : —that involved the hanging, the famous hanging, of Haymarket. I don’t think people realize the socialist underpinnings of this pledge.

DR. JOHN BAER : Probably not. But, I mean, your nation is an entity, so as far as, quote, “socialism,” our economy has a large element of socialism. We have a national highway system. We have a national airport system. We have a national waterway system. We have a national home security system. So the role of government in our economy is very extensive, and that’s what Mr. Ford would have been happy with, what we already have.


DR. JOHN BAER : Francis Bellamy would have pushed it a little further, so you have national planning, which—

AMY GOODMAN : Wasn’t Francis Bellamy also pushed out of his church?

DR. JOHN BAER : Yeah, the—pushing his Christian socialism put pressure on—he was in a poor church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, so they had no funding unless the business community gave it to them. And so, the business community withdrew funding from his church in Roxbury. But as I said, Mr. Ford was a fellow Baptist, and he was happy to pick up his friend Francis Bellamy.


DR. JOHN BAER : They both saw it from a social gospel point of view. They weren’t looking at Marx. They were looking at the social gospel as shown in Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. James.

AMY GOODMAN : Well, Dr. John Baer, I want to thank you for being with us. Dr. Baer, an officer in the Navy in the Korean War with the National Security Agency, and author of a brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance called The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History. And we also want to thank Ellen Schrecker, assistant professor of history at Yeshiva University, for joining us.

Juan, I look forward to seeing you tonight at 6:00 for the book party for your new book, Fallout. It will be at the Knitting Factory on Leonard Street in New York, for anyone who wants to come. Hope to see you all there.

Also, we have some job openings at Democracy Now!, producer positions. Send your résumé to job(at) That’s job(at)

Tomorrow, Skins, with Leonard Peltier’s daughter. We’ll be talking about the new movie.

Democracy Now! produced by Kris Abrams, Miranda Kennedy, Lizzy Ratner, Michael Yeh Anthony Sloan, our engineer. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we go out with John Kenopa’s [phon.] “Alternative Pledge of the Allegiance.”

JOHN KENOPA : I pledge allegiance to the dollar of the United States of Amnesia and to the repression for which it stands, one nation, uninformed, irresponsible, with intolerance and disdain for all.

[singing] As Johnny goes marching off again to war, to war,
He ought to be told just what the hell he’s fighting for
'Cause it isn't for security
Or liberty or democracy.
Let me tell you who Johnny’s killing for.

He’s killing for DuPont and Shell and IBM
And Chevron in Somalia and Afghanistan
To make the world a better place
For investors to get higher rates
On their money, that’s what Johnny’s killing for.

Oil, oil, oil for the U.S.A.
The more we get, the more want is the American way
We need the oil to make that buck
If thousands die, that’s their tough luck
We’re number one, that’s what Johnny’s killing for.

The bad guys used to be those commie atheists
But now

Francis Julius Bellamy was born on May 18, 1855, in Mount Morris, New York to Rev. David Bellamy (1806-1864) and Lucy Clark. [2] His family was deeply involved in the Baptist church and they moved to Rome, New York, when Bellamy was only 5. Here, Bellamy became an active member of the First Baptist Church which his father was minister of until his death in 1864. He attended college at the University of Rochester, in Rochester, New York, and studied theology and belonged to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.

As a young man, he became a Baptist minister and, influenced by the vestiges of the Second Great Awakening, began to travel to promote his faith and help his community. Bellamy's travels brought him to Massachusetts, where he penned the "Pledge of Allegiance" for a campaign by the Youth's Companion, a patriotic circular and magazine. Bellamy "believed in the absolute separation of church and state" [3] and purposefully did not include the phrase "under God" in his pledge.

Bellamy married Harriet Benton in Newark, New York, in 1881. They had three sons: John, who lived in California David, who lived in Rochester, New York and Brewster, [4] [5] who died as an infant. His first wife died in 1918, and he married Marie Morin (1920). His daughter-in-law Rachael (David's wife) lived in Rochester until February/March 1989 when she died at the age of 93. David and Rachael had two children, David Jr. and Peter. His son, John Benton Bellamy, married Ruth "Polly" (née Edwards). They had three children, Harriet (1911–1999), Barbara (1913–2005) and John Benton Bellamy, Jr. (1921–2015).

Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy most famous for the utopian novel Looking Backward, which inspired the formation of Nationalist Clubs that similarly advocated a certain kind of Christian Socialism.

Bellamy spent most of the last years of his life living and working in Tampa, Florida. He died there on August 28, 1931, at the age of 76. His cremated remains were brought back to New York and buried in a family plot in a cemetery in Rome. [6] [7]

In 1891, Daniel Sharp Ford, the owner of the Youth's Companion, hired Bellamy to work with Ford's nephew James B. Upham in the magazine's premium department. In 1888, the Youth's Companion had begun a campaign to sell US flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions. For Upham and Bellamy, the flag promotion was more than merely a business move under their influence, the Youth's Companion became a fervent supporter of the schoolhouse flag movement, which aimed to place a flag above every school in the nation. Four years later, by 1892, the magazine had sold US flags to approximately 26,000 schools. By this time the market was slowing for flags, but was not yet saturated.

In 1892, Upham had the idea of using the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas / Western Hemisphere in 1492 to further bolster the schoolhouse flag movement. The magazine called for a national Columbian Public School Celebration to coincide with the World's Columbian Exposition, then scheduled to be held in Chicago, Illinois, during 1893. A flag salute was to be part of the official program for the Columbus Day celebration on October 12 to be held in schools all over the US.

The pledge was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of the magazine, and immediately put to use in the campaign. Bellamy went to speak to a national meeting of school superintendents to promote the celebration the convention liked the idea and selected a committee of leading educators to implement the program, including the immediate past president of the National Education Association. Bellamy was selected as the chair. Having received the official blessing of educators, Bellamy's committee now had the task of spreading the word across the nation and of designing an official program for schools to follow on the day of national celebration. He structured the program around a flag-raising ceremony and his pledge.

His original Pledge read as follows:

I pledge Allegiance to my Flag and to [a] the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, [b] with Liberty and Justice for all

The recital was accompanied with a salute to the flag known as the Bellamy salute, described in detail by Bellamy. During World War II, the salute was replaced with a hand-over-heart gesture because the original form involved stretching the arm out towards the flag in a manner that resembled the later Nazi salute. (For a history of the pledge, see Pledge of Allegiance).

In 1954, in response to the perceived threat of secular Communism, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," creating the 31-word pledge that is recited today. [8]

Bellamy described his thoughts as crafted the language of the pledge:

It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards with the makings of the Constitution. with the meaning of the Civil War with the aspiration of the people.

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the 'republic for which it stands'. . And what does that last thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?

Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, 'Liberty, equality, fraternity'. No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all.

Bellamy "viewed his Pledge as an 'inoculation' that would protect immigrants and native-born but insufficiently patriotic Americans from the 'virus' of radicalism and subversion." [9]

Bellamy was a Christian socialist [1] who "championed 'the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.'" [9] In 1891, Bellamy was "forced from his Boston pulpit for preaching against the evils of capitalism", [3] and eventually stopped attending church altogether after moving to Florida, reportedly because of the racism he witnessed there. [10] Francis's career as a preacher ended because of his tendency to describe Jesus as a socialist. In the 21st century, Bellamy is considered an early American Democratic socialist. [11]

Francis Bellamy was a leader in the public education movement, the nationalization movement, and the Christian socialist movement. He united his grassroots network to start a collective memory activism in 1892. [12]

French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon's "new Christianity", which stressed using science to tackle poverty, influenced Bellamy and many of the "new St. Simonians." They saw nationalization (de-privatization) and public education as the policy solutions. [12]

In 1889, Francis Bellamy served as founding vice president and wrote several articles for the Society of Christian Socialists, a grassroots organization founded in Boston. The newspaper Dawn was run by his cousin Edward and Frances Willard. Francis Bellamy wrote about the Golden Rule and quoted Bible passages that denounced greed and lust for money. He was also chairman of the education committee. [12]

Bellamy offered public education classes with topics such as "Jesus the socialist", "What is Christian Socialism?", and "Socialism versus anarchy". In 1891, Bellamy was asked to write down this last lecture, which called for a strong government and argued that only the socialist economy could allow both the worker and the owner to practice the golden rule. This essay, along with public relations experience, allowed him to coordinate a massive Columbus Day campaign. [12]

On immigration and universal suffrage, Bellamy wrote in the editorial of The Illustrated American, Vol. XXII, No. 394, p. 258: "[a] democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth.” [9] And further: "Where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another every alien immigrant of inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. There are races more or less akin to our own whom we may admit freely and get nothing but advantage by the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races, which we cannot assimilate without lowering our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes." [13]

Jenn: Time Traveler Extraordinaire

Most of us have stood in an elementary school classroom, right hand over our hearts, staring at a flag and uttering these words before our school day started.

If, for various reasons, you did not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance as a child, you likely still know the words.

What you might not know is where the Pledge of Allegiance came from. Where did it start? Who wrote it? How long have we been saying it? Did our founding fathers stand up and pledge allegiance to a flag?

The short answer is no, our founding fathers did not pledge allegiance to a flag. The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy in 1892. Bellamy wanted to do something special for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival to America, and our nation's first ever celebration of Columbus Day, so he devised the Pledge of Allegiance for a popular children's magazine, Youth's Companion.

The original Pledge of Allegiance was wholly patriotic in nature and it read:

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

You'll notice the first ever Pledge of Allegiance is a little bit different from the one we say now. For Bellamy, the words to focus on were surely 'one nation, indivisible.' Our nation had just come through a horrific Civil War and Bellamy wanted to emphasize the unity of our states.

It wasn't until 1924 that our Pledge of Allegiance was first altered. A National Flag Conference held that year determined that the words 'my flag' should be replaced with the words 'to the flag of the United States of America."

It wasn't until 1954, after the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus took up the fight to add the words 'under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance that the Pledge as we know it came to exist. The senate also instituted changes to our currency at this time, including the words 'In God we Trust' on all American paper money.

Why did the senate of a famously secular nation decide to add seemingly religious subtext to our Pledge of Allegiance and even our money? Well, the 1950s were during a period of U.S. History commonly referred to as The Red Scare.

We were at odds with the USSR and many people feared a communist takeover of the United States. The legislative act of 1954 that moved to add 'under God' to our Pledge of Allegiance explained that adding these words was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government. upon the Creator. [and to] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of Communism."

As you can see, the new diction of the Pledge of Allegiance was intrinsically tied to a fear of Communist leanings. The words 'under God' were added to signify that the United States was not a Communist nation and we were setting our country apart from Communist nations by emphasizing a belief in a Creator (though our senate was careful not to emphasize any particular religion over another and it should be noted that atheism was not as readily accepted or tolerated in the 1950s as it is today--though the level of toleration today could certainly be debated).

So on this Fourth of July, our great nation's Independence Day, you can stand proud as you say the Pledge of Allegiance and know that you know the history of those words as you utter them.

Meaning of Pledge of Allegiance

Today, the words of the Pledge of Allegiance reads: 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.

➢ I pledge allegiance – I promise to be true

➢ to the flag – to the symbol of our country

➢ of the United States of America – each state that has joined to make our country

➢ and to the Republic – a republic is a country where the people choose their representatives, to make laws for them, that is the government is for the people

➢ for which it stands – the flag, meaning the country

➢one nation – a single nation

➢ under God – the people believe in a supreme being

➢ indivisible – the country cannot be split into parts

➢ with liberty and justice – with freedom and fairness

➢ for all – for each person in the country, you and me!

By reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, every American promises to be true to the United States of America. The freedom available will not be taken for granted and each American will remember the countless men, women and children who have given their lives through the centuries, so that they can live peacefully today.

The Pledge of Allegiance - HISTORY

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Public schools all around the country were preparing a celebration in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. Bellamy wanted a special celebration, and he wanted to center it around a flag-raising ceremony and salute. With this in mind, he wrote his pledge:

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

Notice the words "my flag." They stayed this way in the Pledge until 1924, when a National Flag Conference announced that the words "my flag" would be changed to "the flag of the United States of America."

"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 Pledge stayed this way until 1954, when Congress added the words "under God." This was the final change, giving the Pledge its current wording:

"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."

Schoolkids all across the United States recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school, usually in the morning. But they don't have to.

Way back in 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that schools couldn't require students to recite the Pledge. Today, only half of the 50 states have laws that require kids to recite the Pledge.

The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance

I first struggled with "under God" in my fourth-grade class in Westport, Connecticut. It was the spring of 1954, and Congress had voted, after some controversy, to insert the phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance, partly as a cold war rejoinder to "godless" communism. We kept stumbling on the words—it's not easy to unlearn something as ingrained and metrical as the Pledge of Allegiance—while we rehearsed for Flag Day, June 14, when the revision would take effect.

Now, nearly five decades later, "under God" is at the center of a legal wrangle that has stirred passions and landed at the door of the U.S. Supreme Court. The case follows a U.S. appeals court ruling in June 2002 that "under God" turns the pledge into an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion when recited in public schools. Outraged by the ruling, Washington, D.C. lawmakers of both parties recited the pledge on the Capitol steps.

Amid the furor, the judge who wrote the ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court, based in San Francisco, stayed it from being put into effect. In April 2003, after the Ninth Circuit declined to review its decision, the federal government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it. (Editor's Note: In June 2004, the Court ruled unanimously to keep "under God" in the Pledge.) At the core of the issue, scholars say, is a debate over the separation of church and state.

I wonder what the man who composed the original pledge 111 years ago would make of the hubbub.

Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister's son from upstate New York. Educated in public schools, he distinguished himself in oratory at the University of Rochester before following his father to the pulpit, preaching at churches in New York and Boston. But he was restive in the ministry and, in 1891, accepted a job from one of his Boston congregants, Daniel S. Ford, principal owner and editor of the Youth's Companion, a family magazine with half a million subscribers.

Assigned to the magazine's promotions department, the 37-year-old Bellamy set to work arranging a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. Bellamy successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.

A key element of the commemorative program was to be a new salute to the flag for schoolchildren to recite in unison. But as the deadline for writing the salute approached, it remained undone. "You write it," Bellamy recalled his boss saying. "You have a knack at words." In Bellamy's later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—"I pledge allegiance to my flag"—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of "arduous mental labor," as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the "to" before "the Republic" for better cadence.)

Millions of schoolchildren nationwide took part in the 1892 Columbus Day ceremony, according to the Youth's Companion. Bellamy said he heard the pledge for the first time that day, October 21, when "4,000 high school boys in Boston roared it out together."

But no sooner had the pledge taken root in schools than the fiddling with it began. In 1923, a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, ordained that "my flag" should be changed to "the flag of the United States," lest immigrant children be unclear just which flag they were saluting. The following year, the Flag Conference refined the phrase further, adding "of America."

In 1942, the pledge's 50th anniversary, Congress adopted it as part of a national flag code. By then, the salute had already acquired a powerful institutional role, with some state legislatures obligating public school students to recite it each school day. But individuals and groups challenged the laws. Notably, Jehovah's Witnesses maintained that reciting the pledge violated their prohibition against venerating a graven image. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in the Witnesses' favor, undergirding the free-speech principle that no schoolchild should be compelled to recite the pledge.

A decade later, following a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus—a Catholic fraternal organization—and others, Congress approved the addition of the words "under God" within the phrase "one nation indivisible." On June 14, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law.

The bill's sponsors, anticipating that the reference to God would be challenged as a breach of the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, had argued that the new language wasn't really religious. "A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," they wrote. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs." The disclaimer did not deter a succession of litigants in several state courts from contesting the new wording over the years, but complainants never got very far—until last year’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit.

The case originated when Michael Newdow, an atheist, claimed that his daughter (a minor whose name has not been released) was harmed by reciting the pledge at her public school in Elk Grove, California. If she refused to join in because of the "under God" phrase, the suit argued, she was liable to be branded an outsider and thereby harmed. The appellate court agreed. Complicating the picture, the girl's mother, who has custody of the child, has said she does not oppose her daughter's reciting the pledge the youngster does so every school day along with her classmates, according to the superintendent of the school district where the child is enrolled.

Proponents of the idea that the pledge's mention of God reflects historical tradition and not religious doctrine include Supreme Court justices past and present. "They see that kind of language—'under God' and 'in God we trust'—with no special religious significance," says political scientist Gary Jacobsohn, who teaches Constitutional law at WilliamsCollege.

Atheists are not the only ones to take issue with that line of thought. Advocates of religious tolerance point out that the reference to a single deity might not sit well with followers of some established religions. After all, Buddhists don't conceive of God as a single discrete entity, Zoroastrians believe in two deities and Hindus believe in many. Both the Ninth Circuit ruling and a number of Supreme Court decisions acknowledge this. But Jacobsohn predicts that a majority of the justices will hold that government may support religion in general as long as public policy does not pursue an obviously sectarian, specific religious purpose.

Bellamy, who went on to become an advertising executive, wrote extensively about the pledge in later years. I haven't found any evidence in the historical record—including Bellamy's papers at the University of Rochester—to indicate whether he ever considered adding a divine reference to the pledge. So we can't know where he would stand in today's dispute. But it's ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.

Pledging Allegiance

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When German president Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler combined the positions of chancellor and president. He was now the Führer and Reich chancellor, the head of state, and the chief of the armed forces. In the past, German soldiers had taken this oath:

I swear loyalty to the Constitution and vow that I will protect the German nation and its lawful establishments as a brave soldier at any time and will be obedient to the President and my superiors.

Now Hitler created a new oath.

I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.

German military recruits swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

In his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer, an American journalist, writes that the new oath “enabled an even greater number of officers to excuse themselves from any personal responsibility for the unspeakable crimes which they carried out on the orders of the Supreme Commander whose true nature they had seen for themselves. . . . One of the appalling aberrations of the German officer corps from this point on rose out of this conflict of ‘honor’—a word . . . often on their lips. . . . Later and often, by honoring their oath they dishonored themselves as human beings and trod in the mud the moral code of their corps.” 1


  • 1 : William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960), 227.

Jurando Lealtad

Cuando el presidente alemán Paul von Hindenburg murió, el 2 de agosto de 1934, Hitler unió los cargos de canciller y presidente. Ahora era el Führer y el canciller del Reich, la cabeza del estado y el jefe de las fuerzas armadas. En el pasado, los soldados alemanes habían prestado este juramento:

Juro lealtad a la Constitución y prometo que en todo momento protegeré la nación alemana y a sus instituciones legales como un valiente soldado y obedeceré al presidente y a mis superiores.

Luego Hitler creó un nuevo juramento:

Juro por Dios este sagrado juramento, que yo debo obediencia incondicional al Führer del Imperio y del pueblo alemán, Adolf Hitler, comandante supremo de las Fuerzas Armadas, y que como un valiente soldado, estaré preparado en todo momento para defender este juramento con mi vida.

Los militares alemanes le juran lealtad a Adolf Hitler.

En su libro Auge y caída del Tercer Reich, William Shirer, periodista estadounidense, escribe que el nuevo juramento “permitía que un número aún mayor de oficiales se excusaran ante cualquier responsabilidad personal por los crímenes atroces que cometieron bajo las órdenes del comandante supremo cuya verdadera naturaleza habían presenciado por sí mismos. . . . A partir de este punto, surgió una de las aberraciones más espantosas por parte de los cuerpos oficiales alemanes como consecuencia de este conflicto de ‘honor’, palabra que . . . con frecuencia pronunciaban sus labios. . . . Después y con frecuencia, el hacer honor a su juramento era una afrenta hacia ellos mismos como seres humanos y enterró en el barro el código moral de sus cuerpos de las fuerzas armadas.” 1

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From Publishers Weekly


“A concise and often entertaining history.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“A lively, highly readable account that documents not just the beginning of the Pledge but some of the controversies it triggered.” ―Tucson Citizen

“A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the evolution of the American system and American popular culture.” ―NYMAS Review

“The story of the pledge is a part of American history that is often overlooked. Thanks to Jones and Meyer, that story is now told.” ―Roll Call

“Jones (who died before he finished the book) and Meyer do a thorough job tracing the Pledge's history from the germ in Bellamy's brain to the cultural icon it has become.” ―Richmond Times-Dispatch

About the Author

JEFFREY OWEN JONES worked as an editor, television and film producer, journalist, and teacher. A graduate of Williams College and Middlebury College, he received an Emmy Award for his work in New York local public television and had been published in Smithsonian magazine. He died in 2007.

PETER MEYER is a former news editor of Life magazine and the author of numerous nonfiction books, including the critically acclaimed The Yale Murder, Death of Innocence, and Dark Obsession. Meyer has also won journalism awards from the University of Missouri and the Robert Kennedy Foundation for his reporting and writing for such national publications as Harper's Magazine, Vanity Fair, New York, Life, Time, and People. He is currently Contributing Editor at Education Next magazine and the Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

On a sultry summer evening in Boston in the year 1892, a thirty-seven-year-old former clergyman named Francis Bellamy sat down at his desk in the offices of a popular family magazine where he worked and began to write:

I Pledge allegiance to my flag.

Neither Bellamy nor anyone else could have imagined that the single twenty-three-word sentence that emerged would evolve into one of the most familiar of patriotic texts and, based on student recitations alone, perhaps the most often repeated piece of writing in the history of the English language.

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