The Pledge of Allegiance

FRANCES DUNCAN, who lives in Baldwin Park, California, reminds us that her first writing was published in the May, 1901, ATLANTIC.

As familiar to this generation as was the Lord’s Prayer to our ancestors is the pledge of allegiance to the flag. It is recited with fervor on many, many occasions by all — from kindergarten tots to the tremulous aged. And, periodically, as Memorial Day approaches, its origin is queried.

A few years ago the Library of Congress announced that the “Salute to the Flag” first appeared in the Youth’s Companion and that its author was Francis Bellamy. This is true. But the whole story is much more enlivening, as early devotees ol the Companion, now in their late seventies or eighties, well remember.

It was between 1889 and 1892 that the Youth’s Companion, seeking new subscribers, published an intriguing offer. Week after week it proclaimed: “To Any School in the United States sending in, collecI tively,” a certain (stated) number of subscriptions, “the Youth’s Companion, as a reward, will send to that school, as a gift, an AMERICAN FLAG, of a fair size, which can be displayed outside the schoolhouse.” In this era no school flew the American flag.

One can imagine how ardently Companion devotees urged their playmates to subscribe. Their school must not miss winning a flag. Today’s girl scouts selling cookies could not equal the enthusiasm.

Continuing its drive for patriotism and subscriptions, the Companion announced the coming of a patriotic page, to be made up of contributions from its readers. For any contribution used, verse or prose, the magazine would pay five dollars. It was in response to this offer that the “Salute to the Flag” made its first appearance; it was entered in the competition by a young Canadian, Francis Bellamy, then living in Rome, New York. As printed in the Youth’s Companion, the salute read, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands; one Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And Mr. Bellamy undoubtedly received his five dollars.

Following this, the Youth’s Companion featured a page detailing “exercises” suitable for a school’s patriotic celebration. It was suggested that the school look up any surviving veterans of the Civil War who might reside in the vicinity. Each of these old soldiers must be formally invited to the affair. Upon arrival at the school grounds, they should be met by a chosen group of small boys acting as guard of honor and carrying the flag. This group must escort the veterans to the school building and with them march ceremoniously up the aisle, mount the platform, and stand at attention until the soldiers have been seated in the places of honor arranged for them. Patriotic songs should be sung, and, standing at attention, all the children must repeat in unison the “Salute to the Flag.” There were many other suggestions, for the Youth’s Companion did a good job demonstrating “How to Stage a Patriotic Rally.”

This program, undoubtedly put on by many a school throughout the country, was the first advertised use of the now indispensable “Salute to the Flag.” Its national acceptance came in 1892, with the first celebration of Columbus Day. In the national plans for the great Columbus Day ceremonies, the salute had an honored place.

Not long after use of the pledge became widespread, this criticism was made. A schoolboy, in polyglot New York City, for instance, placing his hand on his heart, would say, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag,” but if he were a native of France, Brazil, Haiti, or some other republic, he might be pledging allegiance not to this country but to the country of his birth. Therefore, “my Flag” was changed to “the Flag of the United States of America.” In 1954. President Eisenhower made another change, inserting the words “under God” after “Nation.”

Some years ago in California, Jehovah’s Witnesses were prosecuted and nearly jailed for refusing to repeat the pledge to the flag. The matter was reviewed in Sacramento, and it was proved that the Salute did not come down from Mt. Sinai.