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The History and Meaning of The Pledge of Allegiance

For over 100 years, American children have spoken the words of the Pledge in schools, homes, churches, and many other places to show respect and love for the American flag. It’s also said by Congress and other parts of the government to begin their meetings, and by other groups all over the country:

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.

A Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy wrote the original version of the Pledge in 1892. It was written for the first Columbus Day celebration.

Before World War II, the common practice was to hold out your right arm in a salute while saying the pledge. This was called the "Bellamy Salute" after Francis Bellamy, original author of the pledge.
Before World War II, the common practice was to hold out your right arm in a salute while saying the pledge. This was called the “Bellamy Salute” after Francis Bellamy, original author of the pledge. This practice fell out of favor after World War II because the Nazis had used a similar salute.

James Upham had organized the celebration to promote patriotism for schoolchildren, and he worked hard to promote it. He had started the Schoolhouse Flag Movement only four years earlier. Upham wanted very much to help American kids learn to love their country and its founding ideals, and to carry on the principles written into the Constitution.

The purpose of the Schoolhouse Flag Movement was to place a flag in front of every school in the nation to inspire patriotism for future generations of Americans. It might seem hard to believe, since today nearly all school courtyards and classrooms have them, but in the 19th century many schools did not have flags.

The original Pledge was first published in The Youth’s Companion, a popular kids’ magazine, on September 8, 1892. It was shorter than it is today because Bellamy wanted to make sure it was easy to remember. This was the original text of the Pledge:

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

Bellamy and Upham worked hard to promote the Pledge and the Schoolhouse Flag Movement. Even President Benjamin Harrison got involved, making the Pledge the center of a proclamation for the first ever Columbus Day!

On October 12, 1892 over 12 million kids stood, saluted the flag, and read the Pledge together. This was also Dedication Day at the World’s Fair in Chicago to celebrate America’s achievements as a growing world leader. The Pledge became more popular through the years, and with some minor changes Congress officially recognized it on June 22, 1942. The words “under God” were added by an act of Congress in 1954, and it has not been changed since.

pledge-of-allegiance-children
New York children saying the Pledge of Allegiance with their hands over their hearts.
Photo Credit: The Blaze

How to Say the Pledge

The United States Flag Code gives directions about how to say the Pledge. You should stand at attention, remove your hat or anything else on your head that isn’t part of a military uniform or religious dress, and place your right hand over your heart before beginning to speak the words. Remove your hat with your right hand and hold it over your left shoulder, so your hand is over your heart. This will help you to pay attention and show proper respect to the Flag and to America when you say the Pledge.

Many thanks to Tricia Raymond, author of America’s Story: The History of the Pledge of Allegiance, for her comments on a draft version of this piece. 

 

 

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