– The original Pledge of Allegiance by Francis Bellamy.
When Francis Bellamy first wrote the pledge of allegiance, he wasn’t required to put any serious thought into it. He worked for the magazine Youth’s Companion, owned by Daniel Ford. His job was to help figure out ways to promote the magazine by giving away goods or services, called premiums, to magazine subscribers. If Bellamy were a lesser man he may have offered a toy or tool that was valued by magazine subscribers, and America may have never had his wonderful words.
Before Bellamy was hired, Youth’s Companion magazine had started a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions. By the time Bellamy came onboard that market was flooded, sales of flags started to tank and new subscriptions started to level off.
Bellamy, along with his boss, James Upham, (who was also the nephew of the owner of the magazine) didn’t let market saturation get to them. Getting American flags to schools was no longer about boosting profits for the magazine. They became passionate about this, and started doing this out of pride and patriotism. They turned a subscription campaign into a true movement.
Upham had the idea of using the Columbus Day celebration at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 to boost the schoolhouse flag movement. The official celebration included a flag salute that would be held in schools across America. Bellamy wrote the original pledge to be used, which was published in Youth’s Companion on 8 September of 1892.
Bellamy, Upham, and Youth’s Companion immediately started campaigning for the Pledge’s use in the Columbus Day flag salute. Bellamy, who conveniently held the position of chairman of the state superintendents of education committee of the National Education Association, used his influence to promote the use of the Pledge. As education committee chairmen, Bellamy was actually responsible for arranging the program to celebrate Columbus Day that year. He created a program that included a flag raising ceremony, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Until his death, Bellamy insisted that he was the sole author of the Pledge of Allegiance. While true, it broke with the magazine’s practice of using anonymous authors. Youth’s Companion disputed Bellamy’s claim, saying that the pledge was written under Upham’s leadership. Bellamy’s notes do show him to be the true author (although I would assume he had input from his boss). But without Ford or Upham, the Pledge would have never been written. Without Youth’s Companion, it would not have had the distribution that successfully promoted it.
Bellamy’s notes showed that he chose each word of the pledge very carefully. In Bellamy’s words:
The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that vast 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.
Bellamy carefully crafted the pledge to help unite a country that was still healing from the civil war, to pull us all together as a nation that is undivided, a nation that is one, that includes all of us together. For that, I hold myself in debt to Mr. Bellamy, and feel humbled.
Bellamy wanted to include another word, first used in the slogan of the French Revolution, and repeated by Thomas Jefferson who Bellamy admired. The slogan was, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Bellamy replaced the word Fraternity with the word Justice. He left out the word Equality because it was too controversial. Equality was controversial because in 1892 neither women, nor blacks were equal.
I understand why Bellamy left Equality out of the Pledge, and I can’t blame him for it. The Pledge could have failed in that era due to that word. Failure of the Pledge could have meant failure of the Schoolhouse Flag Movement, to which Bellamy and Upham were devoted.
But I wish Equality were allowed to live in the Pledge.
What would the Pledge of Allegiance been with Equality in it?
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, equality and justice for all.
What about if we include the part about 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, equality and justice for all.
I like that pledge. Equality. Equality for all. That’s something that America has sorely lacked, and still lacks even now.
In 1954 Congress thought it was necessary to include the words, “Under God” in the pledge to distinguish Americans from the godless Soviets. Although the Soviet Union’s government divorced itself from religion, the people did not. Profession of Atheism was a requirement to advance in Soviet politics – in the same way a godless politician in America today would have to profess belief in God. A little over a third of the Soviet Union was religious. There were godless Soviets, and there were religious Soviets – and America condemned them all as ‘godless’.
Worse, there were people in America of various beliefs – people who didn’t subscribe to one single god, or believed in no god. There were also Christians who opposed adding ‘God’ to the pledge and worked against it. But they were in the minority, and the cold war was scaring people – so “Under God” was easily added.
And so the Pledge went from being inclusive, to exclusive. The cold war mentality of “Us verses Them” was transferred from the Soviets to the Unbelievers, who are even now still ridiculed as ‘Commies’ by America’s more stupid citizens.
America’s Pledge changed from Bellamy’s strong, noble striving to bring us all together, liberated and equal, to a mutated mockery that divides us all. What would Bellamy think?
We were never equal, and we are no longer united. There is only Justice – if you can afford it.
Update: 7 Oct 2010
As you can tell from the comments, I got a somewhat kooky commenter on this post. A Mister Rexwood Curry, JD. Rex is an extremist Libertarian who over-inflates himself and has a habit of talking about himself in glowing tones, in the third person. I’m seeing a lot more hits on this page due to the recent story about the Mississippi lawyer who was jailed for not saying the pledge. And since this page is the top page for “Rex Curry” as a Google Search, I thought I’d add a link here to other posts I’ve written about Mr. Curry.