A pledge for Columbus Day
THE pledge of allegiance was written in 1892 by my grandfather, Francis Bellamy. It was written for a nationwide public school celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America - Columbus Day. On that day in every schoolhouse in the land there would be a flag-raising ceremony and the schoolchildren would salute their flag. Let's see how the pledge came to be written in 1892....
The time was ripe for a reawakening of patriotism, and the leaders of this movement felt it should begin in the schools with a national public school celebration. This plan was launched in the editor's office of the Youth's Companion - a magazine read from cover to cover by every schoolchild. Bellamy was appointed chairman of the celebration, and he went to Washington to persuade President Harrison to proclaim Columbus Day a national holiday. Harrison gave this presidential proclamation in 1892:
``I, Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Friday, October 21, 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States. Let the American flag fly over every schoolhouse in the land and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship.''
For this national holiday - Columbus Day - there needed to be a flag-raising ceremony at every schoolhouse in America. A salute to the flag was needed. This salute was written by Bellamy. Here, in his own words, is the story of how the pledge to the flag was written:
``It was a warm evening in August 1892 in my office at the Youth's Companion in Boston that I sat down to write the words of the Salute to the Flag. I worked on it for three hours and threw into the wastebasket many attempts.
``The first words I decided on were `I pledge allegiance to my flag.' I felt that pledge was a better school word than vow or swear. Then, should it be `country,' `nation,' or `Republic'? Republic won because it distinguished the form of government chosen by our founding fathers. So I added `And to the Republic for which it stands.'
``Then I felt that I must describe the Republic so I added one line `one Nation, indivisible' for the Civil War between the States had settled that the States could not be divided. Then we should close by a line telling what the big united idea of the American people was, - so I included that in the last line `With liberty and justice for all.'
``As the final line, it seemed to assemble the past and to promise the future.
``And there is the story of how I wrote the pledge. The first time I heard it was on Columbus Day 1892 when 6,000 high school boys and girls in Boston, roared it out together. It thrilled me.''
What happened to the original pledge of 23 words? In 1924, adding the words ``to the flag of the United States of America'' seemed a logical addition, since after the turn of the century there were thousands of immigrants arriving at US shores, taking their oath of allegiance to their new country as they became American citizens. This ceremony included the pledge to the flag, and it was important that when they were saluting the flag they were not saluting the flag of their country which they had left behind. This was done with the approval of my grandfather.
In 1954, the second change occurred long after he died. By an act of Congress the pledge was changed. ``One Nation, indivisible'' became ``one nation under God, indivisible.'' My grandfather would have objected strongly to this change, as it changed the fundamental meaning. He had considered that ``one Nation, indivisible'' conveyed the deep meaning that after the Civil War our nation could not be divided.
In his early years, Bellamy had been a Baptist minister, and he remained always a man of religious character. The ``under God'' addition tampered with the original meaning of the pledge as well as spoiling its rhythmic cadence.
Francis Bellamy was born May 18, 1855, in Mount Morris, N.Y., son of a Baptist minister, the Rev. David Bellamy. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1876, then attended Rochester Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1879. In 1891 he gave up his Baptist ministry in Boston to devote his time and energy to young people. He then joined the staff of the Youth's Companion in Boston and immediately became active with the editor, James Upham, whose campaign was to revive patriotism among the youth of America.
In his later years, he moved to Tampa, Fla., with his wife. In his last speech to the Tampa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on Flag Day 1931, he reminded them:
``The pledge was not a thing to which I could attach my name by copyright. It was a free contribution of my brain and heart for the awakening of ardent love of the Flag and a stirring duty toward the Republic for which it stands. It was born out of my own love for the flag and for all the lofty Americanism it represented.'' It was a ``Creed of patriotism.''
Excerpted from a speech recently given by Barbara Bellamy Wright to a district of the Daughters of the American Revolution.