|Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History|
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.