The Pledge of Allegiance: who wrote it and why, how it changed through the decades and how controversial it remains

2 Apr

The Pledge of Allegiance:

Who wrote it and why,

How it changed through the decades

and How controversial it remains today

By L. Stewart Marsden

Pledge of Allegiance

NatPubSchCelColumbusDayBadge1892Driving my middle daughter to school the other day, she asked why public school children begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. A sophomore in high school, she thought the practice was out-of-line in terms of what she thought was worshiping a flag.

I confess I didn’t know much about how the pledge came to be. I knew that over the years it had changed — that the words “under God” were added later. On June 14, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the resolution sponsored by Louis Rabaut, Rep-D from Michigan so doing. I was a little more than five months shy of turning age five.

So I grew up saluting the flag on a stick that protruded from a holder at the front of the classrooms and reciting the pledge as I knew it:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under God with Liberty and Justice for all.

When a kid I saw the 1939 cartoon depicting Porky Pig struggling to learn the pledge. That was a hallmark moment for me, and is embedded in my mind. Porky fell asleep by a flagpole, exhausted and frustrated at trying to learn the pledge. The American flag waving above, he dreamed of a sit-down with none other than Uncle Sam. The eight minute forty-three second production is hard to find, and is otherwise segmented on YouTube — cutting out the Uncle Sam dream.

“You don’t know why you should learn the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?” asks Sam. “C’mon over here and I’ll show you.”

What follows is a mini-survey of American history from the colonization of the eastern seaboard, to the Declaration of Independence, signing of the Constitution and westward expansion. Truncated and highly patriotic, the propaganda still stirs my heart. You can view the film at

The internet and Google opened vast information as well as very opinionated viewpoints on the pledge.

How did the pledge come to be? Who wrote it? How has it changed over the years? What is the controversy that surrounds it? Which state public schools still have children say the pledge, and which don’t?

I also wanted to know beyond the controversy of the reference to God, how do we stand as a nation on the assertions that this nation provides liberty and justice for all? If the pledge was first penned in 1892, what significance does that bear on liberty and justice for all though the decades to the present? Some form of the pledge has been in existence for going on nearly 125 years.


Francis J. Bellamy

Francis J. Bellamy

The origins — Francis J. Bellamy and — a money-raising scheme?

Francis J. Bellamy was about 37 years old at the time he penned the first version of the Pledge of Allegiance. As his father and uncle had, Bellamy served as a Baptist minister for about 10 years, and apparently due to his unorthodox views was asked to leave the ministry.

According to Israel Wayne in his post, The Socialistic History of the Pledge to the Flag,

“[Bellamy’s] theological views were far from Biblical. He refused to believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection or the ascension of Christ, and somehow erroneously insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist, like himself. In 1889, Francis co-founded, under the influence of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, the Society of Christian Socialists.”

Again according to Wayne, the socialism Bellamy and his cousin espoused was the belief that the federal government was to be depended upon and revered. A far cry from communism, wealth and its accumulation were not

Edward Bellamy was far better known than Francis due to his writing — and especially for his novel Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 (1888). In the 1930s the book was touted by such luminaries as John Dewey and Charles Beard as “among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”

Francis joined the staff of Youth’s Companion, a family magazine owned by one of the members of his Boston congregation.

                “Assigned to the magazine’s promotions department, the 37-year-old Bellamy set to work arranging a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Bellamy successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.”

Part of the plan for the ceremony was a pledge, which remained unwritten until the very last.

Daniel S. Ford, the magazine editor, assigned his nephew James Upham and Bellamy to create the pledge. Bellamy was to create the work, and Upham to market the pledge to sell American flags, a fund-raising effort to support the magazine and other of Ford’s work.

Later Upham challenged the authorship of the pledge when it gained national attention, but Bellamy’s son was able to produce documentation establishing his father as the true creator.

 Why was a pledge necessary?

Wayne lists six reasons Bellamy and others embarked on the enterprise. It should be noted that Wayne represents a more conservative Christian point-of-view.

  1. To embrace the federal government as the panacea for all social ills, and the need for “unreserved trust and dependence on the State.”
  2.  The financial motive of selling of flags. “By 1892 the publication had already sold flags to approximately 26,000 schools, but Ford was convinced that they had not yet exhausted the market. Ford commissioned his staff to sell a flag to every school in America. The task was to encourage the NEA to tack on an official “pledge to the flag” for the celebration of the then upcoming National Public School Celebration for Columbus Day, thereby ensuring nearly universal participation in flag ceremonies (and thus, flag sales).”
  3. By playing on patriotism in his marketing of the Columbus Day celebration, Upham successfully infiltrated the NEA (Bellamy was chosen as the chairman for the celebration) and saturated the public school system. Financial motivation aside, the long-term effect impacted what had previously been student memorization of parts of the Constitution, which eventually waned in favor of pledges and patriotic songs.

                “ … most schools that used to have students memorize and recite sections of the U.S. Constitution, The Declaration of Independence or some other founding document from America’s inception, did away with teaching students what American law says, and focused only on oaths and vows. Now when nearly all students pledge allegiance to the Flag, they think the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” is a stated tenet in our Constitution on which the (Democracy) stands, with tolerance and diversity for all.”

4.  Promote the need to fund government schools. Wayne comments that underfunding had been and remains to be a prevailing symptom of the plight of public education.

5. With the division caused by the War Between the States still a rift in the nation, Bellamy wanted to assuage old wounds and promote unity.

6. Government officials felt that a pledge would serve to create a rock bed of loyalty among the rising tide of immigrants.

 “If new immigrants from foreign lands had felt hope of finally being accepted into a nation that looked past skin color and offered “liberty and justice for all,” they would have undoubtedly been disappointed by Francis and other Pledge promoters views on non-white citizens. Not only did the NEA not offer integration of blacks into the “public” schools until 1966, Francis himself said the following, “There are races, more or less akin to our own (author’s note: he means Anglo-Saxon), whom we may admit freely, and get nothing but advantage from the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”

It took Bellamy about two hours of concentrated effort to write the pledge.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands —
one Nation indivisible — with Liberty and Justice for all.


Said Bellamy of the words chosen,

 “It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people…

 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. And its future?

 Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…” []

 The original delivery of the pledge prescribed specific body motions . . .

                 “The original Bellamy salute, first described in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who authored the original Pledge, began with a military salute, and after reciting the words “to the flag,” the arm was extended toward the flag.

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side. [The Youth’s Companion, 1892]

 Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting “to the Flag,” the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.

 In World War II, the salute too much resembled the Nazi salute, so it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout.”


The controversy over “under God”

Why did Bellamy, a minister, omit the words “under God” for the original pledge? It seems at first glance ironic. Yet with the background on Bellamy’s socialistic views, the omission becomes more understandable.

Again, Wayne asserts Bellamy’s and those behind the movement dedication to a secular government. The inclusion of “in God” would have been antithesis to that state.

The pressure to add “under God”

Dwight_D._Eisenhower,_official_photo_portrait,_May_29,_1959Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, but he was first in two religious regards, according to a PBS article God in America. He was first to write and recite the prayer at his inaugural ceremony. This remains a singular distinction. He was also the first president to be baptized while in office.

“Nobody goes through six years of war without faith. That doesn’t mean that I adhere to any sect. A democracy cannot exist without a religious base. I believe in democracy.” — Eisenhower

Reared in Kansas, Eisenhower’s parents were members of the Brethren in Christ Church, a Mennonite derivative.

Of his inaugural prayer, Eisenhower said,

“. . . there was embedded in me from boyhood, just as it was in my brothers, a deep faith in the beneficence of the Almighty. I wanted, then, to make this faith clear without creating the impression that I intended, as the political leader of the United States, to avoid my own responsibilities in an effort to pass them on to the Deity. I was seeking a way to point out that we were getting too secular.”

He supported Rabaut’s legislation to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance early in his administration. The looming Cold War with Russia created an atmosphere where religious leaders throughout the nation were up in arms so to speak . . .

In this 1950s Cold War atmosphere, it was not difficult for [Billy] Graham to equate patriotism, loyalty, and the quest for happiness with a Christian ideal. The response to threats abroad

and turmoil in American society … was an awakening of religious impulses.” (Billy Graham, A Biography, by Roger Bruns)

The bill to add “in God” to the pledge was signed by Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today’s world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

Will they? From that day forward? For how long?

On June 27, 2002 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California voted 2-1 that the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the words “under God” violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. If allowed to stand, the ruling would apply to schools in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit. (

MichaelNewdow0207The decision was made in the case of Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. filed on March 8, 2000 on behalf of Michael Newdow and his daughter. The court ruled on June 27, 2002 that the pledge violated the Establishment and Free Exercise of Clauses protected by the Constitution because of the words “under God.” It therefore could not be recited in public schools. The court further held Newdow could challenge a practice that interfered with his right as a father to direct the religious education of his daughter.

The Elk Grove school district appealed to the Supreme Court on April 30, 2003. The court granted the petition to consider if Newdow had standing as a noncustodial parent to make his challenge, and if the school policy in fact violated the First Amendment.

On June 14, 2004 the Supreme Court announced its unanimous judgment to reverse the 9th Circuit’s decision. The court reasoned (in a 5-3 decision) that Newdow “lacked prudential standing” to challenge the school district’s Pledge of Allegiance policy in federal court because he was concurrently involved in a California family court dispute with his daughter’s mother, and because the mother stated that she wanted their child to recite the Pledge as worded with “under God.” The five justices ruling against Newdow’s standing did not address the constitutional question. Justice Scalia recused himself, and the remaining three justices concurred with the majority opinion to reverse the 9th Circuit Court, but dissented on the issue of standing.” []

For many who hold to more conservative religious views, challenges to the inclusion of “under God” are more than irksome. For others, these two words cause much consternation over the issue of separation of church and state.

To this point Congress has done much to protect and make the phrase immutable and invulnerable, putting into law only the President may make changes to the pledge. However solid the state of the pledge, all is irrelevant if the pledge is not uttered. And where it has been recited most often throughout the decades is within public schools at the beginning of the day across the United States. That has changed.

According to a March 23, 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the number of public schools that practice reciting the pledge is waning.

Turns out, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has become passé, considered by some to be an outdated and unnecessary ritual with a constitutionally questionable religious reference and false promises of liberty and justice for all.

Others skip it just to save time.

At Alvarado Elementary in San Francisco, students used to recite the pledge when there were daily morning assemblies. Now they don’t.

Todd David’s fifth-grade son knows it in Spanish and English. His second-grade daughter doesn’t. “When I said it to her, she said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dad.’ “

It’s difficult to know what percentage of US public schools still follow the tradition of saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Memes abound on social networks. Blogs do too.

states_pledge_mapA whopping thirty-six states require public schools to lead recitation of the pledge.  Another six states give schools the option of requiring it.  Clearly, it’s absurd to claim that “we no longer
do” the pledge.  Further, many who have objected to the pledge being used in public schools (which isn’t quite the same as being offended by it) have done so because of the phrase “under God,” which wasn’t part of the original pledge at all.  It was added in 1954, sixty-two years after the original pledge was written, during the fear-mongering era of McCarthyism, when invoking God was a handy way for those with political ambitions to prove they were hard on Communism.  My own father grew up saying the pledge without the “under God” insertion.  Anyone who is advocating a true return to tradition would more sensibly call for a return to the secular version of the pledge.


Back to my daughter’s thought that saying the Pledge of Allegiance might actually be the same as worshipping false idols — clearly a no-no in the Old Testament. Does that, then, apply to modern-day Christians?


In his blog, Benjamin L. Corey says yes.

“Should a Christian recite the pledge of allegiance at all?“

Admittedly, I never once asked myself this question until the last year or two. Once I really started to consider the issue from all sides, I was actually really disappointed that it had taken me so long to actually see this issue for what it was. In the end, I have become convinced that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is something that a Jesus follower probably shouldn’t do.


At the other end of the spectrum, editors of Got support the pledge:RNpledgememe

There is nothing sinful about saying a pledge, as long as the pledge does not take away from our commitment to the Lord Jesus. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States certainly does not contain any wording that would usurp the authority of Christ in our lives. The Bible, therefore, does not forbid the pledging of allegiance to our flag.

A pledge is a formalized promise, and there is nothing wrong with making a promise. When a couple gets married, they exchange vows, pledging faithfulness to each other—in the old phrasing, “I plight thee my troth.” When a witness takes the stand in a courtroom, he promises to tell the truth. And when a person lays a hand over his heart and recites the pledge to the flag, he is promising loyalty to his country, recognizing that we are all “under God.”



Once again, it seems that strong belief either way is the result of thinking about it. A wayward dalliance for many. People with too much time on their hands. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Like trying to correct a slice or hook for a golfer — or helping a basketball player overcome poor performance at the free throw line. Don’t think about it. Don’t — as a mentor of mine would often say — cogitate on it.

The controversy and the angst over the Pledge of Allegiance is a wonderful example of those freedoms and liberties the very same pledge espouses. You and I have the freedom to disagree over whether “in God” should be included, as well as whether or not public school children should either be remanded to or have the choice of repeating the pledge each school day.

As my dear brother-in-law often says, “Ain’t America great?”



Celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the Americas. Columbus Day.
But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.
“Edward wrote novels including, Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), a critique of American capitalism and its sequel Equality (1897). Edward depicted the year 2000 as being the date that competitive capitalism would have been stamped out in favor of what he called a “cooperative commonwealth.” The theories in the book inspired many “Bellamy Clubs,” which led to the formation of a Nationalist Party, that advocated the federalization of public services. In 1891, Edward founded the “New Nation” in Boston, an organization that for some time promoted his leftist views. Edward had other interests, such as psychic phenomena, which he explored in some of his writings, but for the most part, he limited his novels to socialist concerns.”
“During their lifetimes, Edward Bellamy’s name was much better known than Francis’s. Even today, with almost the whole nation reciting Francis’s Pledge, perhaps more people know the name of Edward Bellamy, although neither are recognized by the vast majority of Americans.”
“… Nationalist movement. Francis worked as a lieutenant in the campaign to nationalize the American economy gradually and peacefully. Occasionally Edward and Francis were mistaken for brothers since both were involved in Nationalism and were only five years apart in age.”
 “In 1935, the philosopher John Dewey and historian Charles Beard ranked Looking Backward among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”
 SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs, that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation.6 Though these words were penned by James Madison over two hundred years ago, they resonate with equal clarity today. The locations may have changed, but the religious bloodshed continues. Madison’s cure for this disease was simple: the greatest protection against religious strife and bloodshed is to guarantee equal and complete liberty for all with regard to matters pertaining to religion. It is this guiding principle that serves as the foundation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The insertion of the words “under God” by the “Joint Resolution to codify and emphasize existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America” (the “1954 Act”),7 and the continued governmental “suggestion”8 that these words be repeated daily in our children’s classrooms, is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of conscience of every Atheist.

6 Responses to “The Pledge of Allegiance: who wrote it and why, how it changed through the decades and how controversial it remains”

  1. rennydiokno2015 April 2, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    Reblogged this on


  2. cricketmuse April 2, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Truly insightful. Thanks for the resources and research.


    • skipmars April 2, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      I enjoy this kind of writing and research. I learn a lot through it. Glad you enjoyed the read. Some of the links are to really fun sites, too.


  3. Outlier Babe April 9, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    What a well-written and interesting post. Thank you for this. Had not known most of it–only the “under God” part.


    • skipmars April 9, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks, OB. My daughter was not happy I did so much research on the topic, though, as I let her know all I learned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Outlier Babe April 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

        LOL!! An Aspie can certainly relate to a complaint like that one!


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