The Historic Facts Most Americans Don’t Know About the Pledge of Allegiance

When the Bostonian magazine, Youth’s Companion, a rag aimed at families, released their September issue, it featured the first version of the Pledge of Allegiance.

That was September 8, 1892. In the Oval Office sat Grover Cleveland, the 22nd (and eventually the 24th) President, the first Democrat elected after the U.S. Civil War.

The United States was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up. It was not yet the military power of the modern day, not even the one of the Great War.

Many Americans feared foreign influences, which could prove degrading to the fledgling, loosely-defined national values. The Pledge gave some shape to those values.

There Were Three Evolutions

How Americans recite the Pledge today versus in 1892, are quite different. The first version read simply:

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

To make sure Americans knew which flag it was they were saluting, the wording changed somewhat in 1923.

“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.”

Then, under threat from the Communists, President Eisenhower approached Congress with a suggestion to add “under God” to the end. The Soviet commies didn’t believe in God, so the U.S. changed the Pledge.

“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.”

Francis Bellamy was a Socialist

It would shock most red, white, and blue-blooded Americans to know that the man who wrote the first version of the Pledge was a socialist. Much of the last century the United States dedicated soldier’s lives to fighting the spread of socialism [read: communism].

Most accounts focus on the fact that Bellamy was a Christian minister and a New Yorker. When he wrote the first version of the Pledge, he didn’t necessarily envision it to celebrate only the American flag.

It was broad enough to capture any flag, the key word being, my flag.

Ironically, despite being a Baptist minister, Bellamy was a firm believer in separation of state and church. He would never have condoned the inclusion of “under God.” We’ll come back to that…

The Original Flag Salute Was Troubling

Saluting the flag was twice as complicated as today’s show of reverence. In 1893, the Bellamy salute included the right hand on one’s heart, but included something extra when one said the words “my flag.”

That was when good Americans were to extend their right arms keeping it there for the duration of the Pledge. Per the instructions which accompanied the Pledge…

“…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.”

This stuck with the Pledge until the 1930s, when another country developed a similar salute. By 1942, the hand stayed on the heart for the whole Pledge.

Today, when there’s time for such debates, Americans bicker over the inclusion of the word “God” in the text.

It’s ironic that the minister who wrote it didn’t want it in there. It seems there is no end to figuring out what sort of country the U.S. wants to be when it grows up.