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Front Page » July 2, 2002 » Opinion » Pledges past complex, ever changing
Published 4,845 days ago

Pledges past complex, ever changing

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Staff reporter

The pledge of allegiance was originally written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, in 1892. A confirmed socialist, whose brother, Edward, wrote two very important books in the socialist movement of the time (Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897), he pointed out the virtues of an equal society where the middle class could create a planned economy with social, political and economic equality for all.

The pledge itself was first published in the Sept. 8 issue of a magazine called The Youths Companion. The publisher of the magazine, Daniel Ford, hired Bellamy as his assistant when the Baptist church forced him out of the pulpit because of his extreme socialist views.

Bellamy was also the chairman of the state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. The pledge came about because of a Columbus Day celebration he planned. The pledge went along with a flag raising ceremony and the pledge was recited afterwards.

That original pledge was slightly different from the one that every American has recited in the last 48 years. It went like this.

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

Apparently Bellamy wanted to place the word "equality" in the pledge, but didn't do so because he knew the state superintendents would not support it because of their opposition to equal rights for African-Americans and women.

Times certainly do change, don't they. And the pledge, that few people know the history about, and almost all of us have recited time and time again, has changed too.

In 1923, the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, headed a campaign to change "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America." Bellamy disliked the change and voiced his opinion, but he was ignored.

The pledge remained the same until 1954, when congress decided to add the words that are under siege today, "under God." The campaign to have those words added came from many religious groups, almost all Christian, and from many conservative politicians, including President Dwight Eisenhower.

The impetus to add these words about a deity to what had been a nationalistic and humanistic pledge came about to some extent because of the strong communist scare at the time. The early 50's were a time of the McCarthy hearings, a time that was shortly after the Korean War had ceased (ceased, not ended, because it never really has) and the fear of the Soviet Union and their nuclear bombs. People wanted to show that the citizens of the United States were different than the godless communist states, therefore putting god in the pledge was something many people wanted to do. So for just about fifty years, just a little less than half the time the pledge has existed, the words "under God" have remained in a verse every school child has said almost every school day of his or her life.

That is a large part of the rub of the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court last week. The pledge, as it stands, is a part of an American tradition we have all learned . Almost no one can remember it ever being any different. And suddenly this tradition is under attack, seemingly by a branch of the government itself, the court system.

When President Eisenhower signed the bill to change the pledge, he made the following statement.

"From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, and even village, and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the almighty."

In the legislative history of the change at the time, Congress set forth the following language.

"At this moment of our history the principles underlying our American government and the American way of life are under attack by a system whose philosophy is at direct odds with our own. Our American government is founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being. Underlying this concept is the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by him with certain in inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp. The inclusion of God in our pledge therefore would further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our government upon the moral directions of the creator. At the same time it would serve to deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of communism with its attendant subservience of the individual."

At the time of the change in 1954, Francis Bellamy's granddaughter said he would have also resented and resisted this second change to the verse he authored, just as he had the first change in 1923.. But in the end, after moving to Florida and working for years in media and advertising he died at the age of 76 on August 28, 1931. According to her, in his final years, partially because of his conflict with the Baptist church, he stopped going to services altogether.

The pledge, in modified form from it's 1891 remains an American institution. And because of last weeks decision, it is, once again in the limelight.

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July 2, 2002
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