In June, we celebrate Flag Day and what goes along with the American flag? The Pledge of Allegiance, of course. Did you know the pledge we know wasn’t written until our country and the flag was over 100 years old?
In 1888, the Youth’s Companion, a popular children’s magazine, started a campaign to sell US flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions. For Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister hired to help with the promotion, it was more than merely a business move; under his and James B. Upham’s, a marketer for the magazine, influence, the Youth’s Companion became a fervent supporter of the schoolhouse flag movement. Their goal was to have a flag in every school in the nation. By 1892, the magazine had sold US flags to approximately 26,000 schools, and the market was still not completely saturated.
In 1892, Upham thought using the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas in 1492 would further encourage the schoolhouse flag movement. The magazine called for a national Columbian Public School Celebration to coincide with the World’s Columbian Exposition, then scheduled to be held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. A flag salute was to be part of the official program for the Columbus Day celebration on October 12, to be held in schools all over the US.
Bellamy went to speak to a national meeting of school superintendents to promote the celebration; the convention liked the idea and selected a committee of leading educators to implement the program. Bellamy was selected as the chair. Having received the official blessing of educators, Bellamy’s committee now had the task of spreading the word across the nation and designing an official program for schools to follow on the day of the national celebration. He structured the program around a flag-raising ceremony and his pledge. The pledge was published in the magazine’s September 8, 1892, issue and immediately used in the campaign.
His original pledge read as follows:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
A salute accompanied the recital to the flag, known as the Bellamy salute, described in detail by Bellamy. During World War II, the hand-over-heart gesture replaced the salute because the original form involved stretching the arm out toward the flag, which resembled what we recognize as the Nazi salute.
In 1954, in response to the perceived threat of secular communism, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge that is recited today.
“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.”