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By John W. Baer, professor of economics, Anne Arundel Community
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
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*
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
"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).
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
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
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.
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
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