The Pledge: Admiration or Manipulation?

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything about Americans who are expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, to get out of the United States if they express dissent regarding this country, and who are expected to respect the troops by reciting that pledge without any questions asked, all while creating a link between the troops fighting for an individual’s freedom in the USA and that individual is somehow expected to keep up with American traditions for the sake of supposedly living as an “American”? What’s the connection between a person’s daily life, their culture, and their nationality? It may vary, depending on the person, for they’re different.

What is “freedom”? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word means–it has many meanings but this is one of the primary definitions–“the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action”. Now, as an American, you’ve been led to believe that you live in “the Land of Free”, all while you’re expected to recite the Pledge in schools and standing up for that pledge while troops are fighting for your “freedom”? In reality, the troops actually fight for your obedience to recite the pledge, whose procedures emanate from the state and American culture.

If the troops did fight for your right to refuse to partake in that activity, countless American students wouldn’t get sent to the principal’s office, the teacher would have an advantage to move on to their lesson and those pupils would be taught that it’s okay to think for yourself, it’s all right to not go with the herd, and to be true to yourself–especially if people reject your ideals.

If you seek to return to American values from 1776, it’s time to examine one of America’s most cherished patriotic items to understand what “liberty” really means and to examine the history of the that item: the Pledge of Allegiance. The link between that patriotic item and the belief of American troops fighting for the Pledge will also be examined in this essay too.

To the average American, The Pledge of Allegiance is viewed as nothing more than a poetic, innocuous allegiance to the United States of America and to the American Flag that’s currently recited in grade schools. What’s however unknown about the Pledge of Allegiance by many Americans today are the overlooked origins of the Pledge. In fact, the word “Allegiance” in the title “Pledge of Allegiance” actually came from Abraham Lincoln’s “Oath of Allegiance”, which was written for rebellious Southerners during the Civil War.[1] In 1892– on the year of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas– the Boston-based Baptist minister and Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance[2] for the first issue of “The Youth’s Companion”, which included instructions on how school children should celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day[3]. In Francis Bellamy’s words, he recalled the reason why he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, for reasons that may or may not resonate with Americans today.[4]

“When Upham began to explain his idea and method, his eyes had the gleam of a prophet. He pointed out that the old patriotism had fallen to a low ebb. The love of country which had been a passion when the Republic was new, and which had reached its climax at the Civil War, had gradually become enfeebled. Big business enterprises had absorbed the people’s thought. The simple patriotic idealism of the former generations was being forgotten in the current materialism. That old spirit must be revived. The place for the revival to begin was in the public schools. The new generation must be taught an intense love of country.”

Francis Bellamy also recalled James B. Upham describing his feelings in regards to patriotism and the future of American school-children.

“’When I was a boy in the little red schoolhouse,” he said, “every Friday some boy declaimed Webster’s speeches about the Union and the forefathers. We were brought up in the very atmosphere of patriotism. Are the children getting that culture now? No. We must start it up again. The flag will do it. I want to see the flag over every schoolhouse. What is more, I want the children to put it there themselves. I want them to raise the money to buy their flag. If they do that, the Boards of Education will give the staff. When we get that well started we’ll go further. We will get up a flag-raising exercise for the children to join in saying. What a great thing that will be. Think of it. A flag over every school to remind the children that they belong to the nation as well as the town. Then, the children every day uniting before the flag in patriotic exercises which will stir up their love of country.’”

Ultimately, around 1891, Francis Bellamy penned the original pledge as it follows[5]:

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

Due to the popularity of “The Youth’s Companion” during the late 19th century–which had the largest or next to largest circulation of any American magazine at the time[6]–both men were successful in imposing their personal beliefs to local schoolchildren around the Boston area first by first–during February 1892–presenting the idea of the Pledge to top educational officials, which came with the idea of Columbus Day. In actuality, the Pledge of Allegiance was penned for the 400th anniversary of the Pledge and for Bellamy’s and Upham’s personal thirst to get the youth to think like them on their view of America. Subsequently, many changes were made to the Pledge of Allegiance after 1892.

In 1923, the words “my flag” was changed to the phrase “The Flag of The United States” by Bellamy because due to the sudden increase of foreign children born in America; he made it a priority to impose his personal patriotic beliefs to children he doesn’t personally know.[7] A year later, the words “of America” were added to the phrase “The Flag of The United States”. Fast-forward to two decades later in 1942: Congress officially recognized that particular pledge as “The Pledge of Allegiance”, as its recognized today. Another change that slightly altered the pledge was the infamous “Bellamy Salute”, which looked like this--students were instructed to extend their right arm straight ahead and pointing slightly upward, with their fingers pointing straight ahead or in the direction of the flag, if present while reciting the Pledge.[8] Due to the ongoing World War II, an abundant amount of Americans felt that the Bellamy salute strongly resembled the Nazi salute made by Hitler’s regime in Europe. In order to discontinue that resemblance, a new salute was made in addition to the Pledge, which is the same salute continued by Americans today. The text of the pledge was left alone for a while until the federal government decided to acknowledge it in the mid-1950s, whose contribution to the change of the pledge happened a few years earlier.

In 1948, an Illinois-based Attorney and Chaplain, Louis A. Bowman, decided to add the words “under God” during the recitation of the Pledge with the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.[9] He added those words to that pledge because he claimed that Lincoln used the same phrase “Under God” in his 1863 Gettysburg Address–by now, it’s hard to tell that if Lincoln did the phrase “Under God” in his speech; he may have added that phrase while reciting his speech after composing it (Merriman 111-112). After repeating his new addition to that pledge on Lincoln’s birthday, the Knights of Columbus–began to recite Bowman’s revised version of the Pledge, which ultimately led to the that organization urging Congress to add the words “under God” to that pledge during 1952. A year later, Congressman Louis A. Rabaut, who represented Michigan, introduced one of seventeen resolutions to officially add the words “under God” to that pledge. Ultimately, significant support rose for that particular addition to the pledge during the year 1954, which was directed by the Presbyterian minister Rev. George M. Docherty, who explained that “It struck me that it didn’t mention God” many years later in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette after that addition was official. Coincidentally, around February 7th. 1954, President Eisenhower attended Rev. Docherty’s church, where he famously proclaimed in his sermon, “To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive character of the American way of Life.”[10] Inspired by the Reverend’s words, President Eisenhower responded enthusiastically–with Rep. Charles Oakman of Michigan by his side who introduced legislation to add the words “under God” to that pledge–by signing Rep. Oakman’s bill on Flag Day 1954[11], which added the words “under God” to the Pledge as written on the Flag Code, which was amended twelve years earlier.[12] On that day, Eisenhower proclaimed,

“From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning.”[13]

Today, the Pledge of Allegiance is recited as it’s written here:

“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”.

Today, many Americans still view that Pledge as innocuous, patriotic, and unifying. The idea of unification does however have its dilemmas, as seen on one of the pledge’s words: “indivisible”. To the average American, it doesn’t hint socialism but instead, it’s a sweet reminder to the individual that no matter the differences, every individual who lives in America is an American, based on that nationality. Unfortunately, the idea of “indivisibility” wasn’t seen that way by Francis Bellamy—who was a Christian Socialist who was described to preach Christian socialist ideals to his church in the form of lectures, such as the popular “Jesus was Socialist”[14]. In fact, his idea of “indivisibility” was inspired by Abraham Lincoln—after all, Bellamy mentioned how the Civil War and the Revolutionary War inspired him to compose the original pledge[15]. The idea of “indivisibility” came from Abraham Lincoln’s personal opinions on uniting the American union; Lincoln stated that the union actually created the states on his first Inaugural Address[16]–while during that era, Americans, especially West Point, were taught that secession was indeed a legal move (DiLorenzo 5), as specified by America’s Founding Fathers (DiLorenzo 85-87). In actuality, Lincoln’s claim of how the Union created the American states is false; American History shows that during the late 18th century, the original 13 colonies did join the American union in a voluntary manner from the years 1787-1790—it’s as if they weren’t urged by the Founding Fathers to join the Union or else the states will face the consequences[17].

Historian Tom Woods even remarked on the phrase “One Nation, Indivisible” by saying that it’s an anti-American phrase because it contradicted the original American idea that the USA is a collection of states—he also specified that when you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re actually pledging to the idea of a powerful centralized government disguised as a beacon of “Liberty” from the French Revolution; during that revolution, it was the French Revolutionary Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes who said that France was not a collection of states; instead, France was a “single hold”[18]; in other words, France is “indivisible”[19]. The idea of “indivisibility” in the pledge is no stranger to socialism, which is ironic because many Americans during the 20th century were staunchly against socialism and communism while reciting the pledge. In fact, that’s another reason why the words “under God” was added to the pledge.

I’ve noticed how many Americans today claim that “Big Government Sucks” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, unaware of the Pledge’s socialist and nationalist origins, which does go against the main ideal of the United States, which is “Freedom”. Its one thing to profess your love of country and that country’s troops but to use the public school system to impose your personal beliefs into people you don’t know personally is unacceptable. Education is meant for learning, not indoctrination; if it was a place where people are there to learn then why aren’t American school-children taught about the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance in detail and the true reason why they recite it without the emotional, patriotic commentary that developed organically after Bellamy penned that pledge in 1892. Are you afraid that those school-children don’t deserve to think for themselves due to tradition or to peacefully secede from American traditions without hard feelings?

Indoctrination is just as bad as teaching abstinence in schools, expecting kids will refrain from sexual congress or teaching kids about the ideas of a powerful centralized government, expecting them to obey the state in the future without ever questioning? It’s best if children weren’t indoctrinated; instead, they’re left for themselves to decide if they love the United States or not. After all, it’s all right to disagree with the ideals of the United States, for dissent is what fueled the American Revolution and the early secession movements of the 19th century–especially today where some counties in the most liberal states want to break off from the dominant liberal government because those movement feel that those governments don’t represent them. Secession is just one step away from self-governance.

Doesn’t America’s ideals encourage personal choice? Why would you get enraged about people’s personal choices regarding the Pledge if you defy socialism or a “big government”? It seems contradictory but ultimately, it should be left for the individual to decide if they want to recite that pledge, not get as many people as they can so they can recite that pledge in unison to avoid being berated by other people for being “different”, for “disrespecting the troops”, or for “disrespecting the ideal of American ‘freedom’. Personally, I’ll never recite the Pledge of Allegiance because I strongly disagree with the dangerous mix of socialism and nationalism being reflected in that pledge–the fusion of those ideologies aren’t anything new in modern world history since the 20th century– the idea of a powerful centralized government, and how those ideas are being presented behind a smokescreen in a form of a poetic, patriotic poem.

In fact, I consider myself as a unorthodox patriot for living up to the ideal of “freedom”; that is, I don’t have to say the pledge to prove that I’m free under a centralized government and it’s the least of my worries if other people refuse to say that pledge for various reasons. I’d rather simply live free without dictating what others should recite in order to be an American.  To be an American, you must live free, even if it means refusing to say the pledge under scrutiny.  It’ll take a long time to defeat the institution of government completely without violence but this is one way where an individual can stand up for themselves against the state; by not reciting the pledge. It’s their revolution; people are free to either join or not join; it’s all up to them.

[1] http://truthinhistory.org/to-pledge-or-not-to-pledge.html
[2] Francis Bellamy wasn’t the first American to write such a pledge; it’s important to note that in his time period, another man from New York City, a school superintendent named George Balch did develop a flag salute of his own to his students, which was simply written “One God! One Language! One Flag!” (Merriman 110)
[3] The original instructions can be seen here: http://hist118.wcaleb.rice.edu/pledge.png
[4] Francis Bellamy was recalling how a man named James B. Upham, who was the nephew of “The Youth’s Companion”’s editor, Daniel Ford, was the one who conceived the idea of a Pledge to be recited by countless school-children during their era and the future. Source: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=3418
[5] Fun fact: Bellamy also insisted that the Pledge was to be recited in 15 seconds. As a Baptist minister, he also preached that Jesus Christ was a socialist. Source: http://www.democracynow.org/2002/6/27/the_history_of_the_pledge_how.
[6] http://www.oldtimeislands.org/pledge/pdgech2.htm
[7] http://archive.org/stream/congressionalrec91bunit#page/n1362/mode/1up
[8]http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/fl/Why-Americans-Once-Gave-the-lsquoBellamy-Salutersquo.htm
[9] http://www.kofc15085.com/knights-of-columbus-pledge-of-allegiance/
[10] http://www.kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/under-god.html
[11] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-11-29-pledge-obit_N.htm
[12] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Public_Law_83-396
[13] http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/god-in-the-white-house/
[14] http://www.scsun-news.com/silver_city-opinion/ci_27341396
[15] http://www.oldtimeislands.org/pledge/pledge.htm
[16] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp
[17] See DiLorenzo’s Chapter 5, titled “The Myth of Secession as “Treason” in pages 85 to 93; these pages explain the legitimacy of the concept of secession. After all, the South during the Civil War wasn’t the first secession movement; 50 years earlier, there were three serious secession attempts from New England Federalists made during the Jefferson and Madison Administrations of the early 19th century. Secession should still be cherished as a legal right made by states but unfortunately, it isn’t seen that way anymore.
[18] https://youtu.be/upBgi_G4_7Y?t=1245
[19] The French Revolution, as some of you may know and/or have heard, is a revolution that did get its inspiration from the American Revolution but, the leaders of French revolution mishandled their government; they instead turned it into a tyrannical regime which became strictly secular and “liberal”, with mass executions made mandatory by the Jacobin government at that time. The same government was even responsible for executing a 12 yr old boy who chopped down a tree named “Liberty” by the government, which goes against the idea of “liberty” in general.

Works Cited:

DiLorenzo, Thomas J. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Roseville, CA: Prima, 2002. N. pag. Print.

Merriman, Scott A. Religion and the Law in America: An Encyclopedia of Personal Belief and Public Policy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Print.

Roberto Chamorro

I have a better vinyl collection than you. I’m the editor of Liberty Hangout too.