The History of the Pledge of Allegiance

group of people standing with hand over their hearts

The Pledge of Allegiance has had several iterations throughout its history. Captain George T. Balch, a veteran of the Civil War, who later became an auditor of the New York Board of Education wrote the first widely used pledge. It was as follows:

“We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!”

Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister hired to help with the promotion of a popular children’s magazine, the Youth’s Companion, and James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, were selling flags as a premium to solicit subscriptions. They decided to market the flags to the schools and used the magazine to fan interest.

By 1892, the program had been largely successful, seeing 26,000 flags sold to schools. But this had become more than a marketing campaign to Bellamy and Upham. The latter 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, during 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, but Bellamy thought the Balch pledge was too childish. So, he wrote his own pledge. Bellamy’s original Pledge read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1906, The Daughters of the American Revolution’s magazine, The American Monthly, used the following wording for the pledge of allegiance, based on a mix of both pledges:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands. I pledge my head and my heart to God and my country. One country, one language, and one flag.”

For a couple of decades, Balch’s pledge was recited contemporaneously with Bellamy’s until 1923. That year, the National Flag Conference recognized Bellamy’s pledge as official and called for the words “my Flag” to be changed to “the Flag of the United States,” so that new immigrants would not confuse loyalties between their birth countries and the US. The words “of America” were added a year later. Congress officially recognized the Pledge for the first time, in the following form, on June 22, 1942:

“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.”

During the Cold War era, many Americans wanted to distinguish the United States from the state atheism promoted by Communist countries, a view that led to support for the words “under God” to be added to the Pledge of Allegiance. On February 8, 1954, Rep. Charles Oakman of Michigan introduced a bill to that effect. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

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