I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag When and If I Feel Like It
As we all know, the Pledge of Allegiance is a formal show of loyalty to flag and country. Governmental meetings open with a recitation of the Pledge, and American children begin their school day with a good old fealty oath as well.
But no-one is obliged to recite the Pledge you say?
True. In theory at least.
Though they can not be forced by law to participate, any child abstaining from saluting the flag with the rest of their class runs a huge risk of becoming a pariah. This is not conjecture. Sadly, there are hundreds of children that would attest to that.
And it’s not just the other students who are guilty of mocking and intimidating any child not participating. As always, the adults are right there to set a bad example.
But contrary to what many assume, the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t born of unbridled patriotism. It was originally a marketing campaign to sell flags. Peddling patriotism to children for profit. How exquisitely does that little bit of history sum up our country?
Here’s how it went down:
The Pledge was written in 1892 by a Socialist (yes, socialist) Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy. It was published in a popular children’s magazine of the time called “The Youth’s Companion” as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World (apparently, a lost Spanish explorer washing up here centuries ago meant everyone should start swearing a fealty oath to a country that didn’t exist then. Just nod and smile, nod and smile.)
This event was the brainchild of James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine who made it his business to foster a sense of patriotism in their young readers.
Author Margarette Miller reported Upham would often tell his wife, “Mary, if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into the Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.”
Which is so oddly specific one wonders if Margarette Miller was snuggled up under the covers between Mr. and Mrs. Upham when the conversation occurred.
Anyway, our socialist friend Francis Bellamy intended for The Pledge of Allegiance to be brief, to the point, and egalitarian. He toyed with using the words “equality” and “fraternity,” but realized that probably wouldn’t fly as the committee members whose approval he sought were opposed to anything remotely resembling equal rights, being the upstanding citizens that they were.
Bellamy later recalled that when he wrote the Pledge feelings of patriotism were at an all-time low. He, Upham, and their cohorts felt that the best place to rekindle feelings of national pride was in the classrooms, so “Youth’s Companion” came up with a plan to sell flags at cost to public schools through their students. This ploy was so effective that 25,000 schools acquired flags in just one year.
Bellamy and Upham had managed to secure the Nation Education Association’s support as a sponsor for the Columbus Day event, and by June 1892 they had convinced Congress and President Harrison to make the public school flag ceremony the highlight of the festivities. (Bellamy made his orgasmic buffalo wings so you know it was off the hook.)
Here is the original version of the Pledge, introduced in public schools on October 12, 1892 to sync with the opening of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In 1923, the first of four changes to the text of the Pledge of Allegiance were made, much to the consternation of Francis Bellamy, who thought the new wording completely ruined the flow of his original work. (It did.)The National Flag conference insisted that the two words “my flag” be replaced with “to the flag of the United States.”
This move was to prevent any “confusion” among new immigrants between loyalty to their countries of origin and their new home. The addition of the words “of America” would be tacked on a year later, in case anyone brain-farted and forgot what country they lived in.
The United States Congress first officially recognized The Pledge of Allegiance on June 22, 1942 in the following form:
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.
Starting as early as 1948, efforts were being made to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The chaplain of the Board of Governors of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (quite a mouthful), Louis Bowman, added the words “under God” when leading his group in the Pledge. The Daughters of the American Revolution saw fit to present him with an Award of Merit for his crusade to add “under God” to the Pledge.
These people knew how to party.
The movement for adding “under God” to the Pledge gathered steam with a resolution drafted by the Knights of Columbus during the Korean War. In April of 1951, the K of C called on all members to add “under God” to the Pledge when recited at the start and close of meetings.
With the Red Scare at its zenith, legislators were enthusiastically cajoled by religious leaders, the American Legion, and the Hearst newspapers. They voiced concern that the Pledge of Allegiance (as it was then worded) was uncomfortably similar to Communist rhetoric.
And before you can say “what about separation of church and state?” a bill to add the words “under God” to the Pledge was introduced to the House with the full support of President Eisenhower, who signed the bill into law.
President Eisenhower word vomited: “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
Yeah, thanks buddy, that’s worked out just swell.
The newest version reads as follows:
“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.”
Much controversy surrounded the addition of those two little words to the Pledge. The most common complaint is that the words “under God” are a direct contradiction of our first amendment rights.
Because they are. Freedom of, or from, religion is one of the fundamental rights our country’s foundation is built upon.
Over the past few years, there has been an upsurge in legal action addressing the appropriateness of children being “encouraged” to recite the Pledge in school. Kids that have refused to participate in the Pledge have been ridiculed in class even by their teachers. Blind patriotism is so caring and classy.
You have to wonder if, in a country founded on the right to dissent, it’s ever okay to strong-arm someone into pledging allegiance to a flag, a nation, or anything for that matter, especially children who may not fully understand what they are pledging allegiance to.
And why is a country that claims to be a democracy so hung up on loyalty oaths and national anthems in the first place?
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Thanks for reading.