The Pledge of Allegiance
"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."
Few American symbols are as ingrained into the American psyche as the Pledge of Allegiance. We can skip the Fourth of July parades and fireworks, reduce the flag to pop art, or muff the words to the national anthem. But the Pledge we can recite from memory. It is one of the first things we learned and one of the last things we forget.
And this is why we say it.
The pledge wasn't born from a deep-rooted need of patriotism. In fact, it was used as part of a Columbus Day celebration at the 1892 World's Fair in Chicago. It was the 400th anniversary of Columbus coming to America.
Francis Bellamy, of Rome, N.Y., is credited with penning the pledge. At the time, Bellamy was a former Baptist minister who worked on social and patriotic causes. He was asked to serve on a national Columbus Day committee and create something special for the nation's public school children.
The year was 1892. The Civil War was still a smarting memory. Ellis Island was swarming with European immigrants and the unchecked immigration pattern triggered concern that the American way of life was being threatened.
America was ripe for patriotic boost but not even Bellamy could have foreseen the impact the Pledge would have. The anonymous Pledge was first published Sept. 8, 1892, in the "Youth's Companion," a children's magazine Bellamy worked for.
Bellamy was given credit for writing the Pledge when it appeared in the Columbus Day program because he was chairman of the executive committee. A quarter century later in 1917, the "Companion" gave credit to James B. Upshaw for authoring the pledge. However, a scholarly committee of the U.S. Flag Association determined that Bellamy was the sole author in 1939.
Almost immediately after the verse first appeared in 1892, it became a Columbus Day tradition and children began reciting it in school.
Originally, the pledge went: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."
Time added eight words to Bellamy's original.
In 1923, the U.S. Flag Association replaced "my flag" with "the flag of the United States of America," as an attempt to unify the country. In 1942, the Pledge was officially recognized by Congress and added to the Flag Code of the United States.
However, one year later the Supreme Court ruled that reciting the Pledge could not be required or accepted as a loyalty oath because to pledge allegiance to anything other than God interferred with some religious beliefs.
But by this time, the Pledge had become an American mainstay. Initially, most people held their hand over their heart while they recited the pledge. In the war years people began using a military salute, stretching out an arm with the palm of the hand facing up when they reached the part about the flag. That practice was quickly nixed because it resembled a Nazi salute.
The other change to the pledge came in 1954, in the throes of the Cold War and the fear of Communism. President Dwight Eisenhower added the words "under God" after "one nation" to distinguish America with its religious liberties from "atheistic communism."
Destined To Go The Way Of The Ten Commandments?
Perhaps no 31 words in American history have inspired as much protest and patriotism as the Pledge of Allegiance. What began as a commemorative celebration became a loyalty oath and eventually downgraded to a patriotic proclamation.
Today, war isn't the impetus to national patriotism it once was. Cold cynicism toward our government has created a false patriotism -- the kind some groups profess, the kind that says me first and everyone else second.
When we assemble on July 4, remembering that this country was built on a premise of protests and patriotism, maybe the Pledge deserves a second examination -- particularly the part about "one nation" and "liberty and justice for all."
Edited from an article by Kimberly Crockett
(Kimberly Crockett is an editorial writer for The Phoenix Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)