HISTORY OF THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
Thirty-one words that affirm the values and freedom that the American flag represents
are recited while facing the flag as a pledge of Americans’ loyalty to their country. The
Pledge of Allegiance was written for the 400th anniversary, in 1892, of the discovery of
America. A national committee of educators and civic leaders planned a public-school
celebration of Columbus Day to center around the flag. Included with the script for
ceremonies that would culminate in raising of the flag was the pledge. So it was in
October 1892 Columbus Day programs that school children across the country first
recited the Pledge of Allegiance this way:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Controversy continues over whether the author was the chairman of the committee,
Francis Bellamy — who worked on a magazine for young people that published the
pledge — or James Upham, who worked for the publishing firm that produced the
magazine. The pledge was published anonymously in the magazine and was not
According to some accounts of Bellamy as the author, he decided to write a pledge of
allegiance, rather than a salute, because it was a stronger expression of loyalty —
something particularly significant even 27 years after the Civil War ended. “One Nation
Indivisible” referred to the outcome of the Civil War, and “Liberty and Justice for all”
expressed the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. And Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.
In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. At this time it read:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy’s daughter objected to this alteration. Today it reads:
“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.”
One atheist, believing his kindergarten-aged daughter was coerced into proclaiming an expression of faith, protested all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2004 determined that the plaintiff, who was not married to the child’s mother, didn’t have the standing to bring the suit, leaving the phrase open to review. Still, three of the justices argued that “under God” did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state; Sandra Day O’Connor said it was merely “ceremonial deism.”
Section 4 of the Flag Code states:
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “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.”, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”
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.
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.