September 8, 1892 (a Thursday)

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

On this date, the Pledge of Allegiance was published in The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine and the Reader’s Digest of its day. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as a critique of the rampant greed, misguided materialism, and hyper-individualism of the Gilded Age. Furthermore, he wrote it in support of President Harrison’s public education programs, which were called socialist in 1892 just as Obama’s health care program is today.

He did not include the phrase “under God” as part of the original Pledge.

Bellamy, who lived from 1855 to 1931, was a Baptist minister and a leading Christian socialist. He was ousted from his Boston church for his sermons depicting Jesus as a socialist and for his work among the poor in the Boston slums.

Bellamy (cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of two best-selling socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward and Equality) believed that unbridled capitalism, materialism and individualism betrayed America’s promise. He hoped the Pledge of Allegiance would promote a different moral vision to counter the rampant greed he thought was undermining the nation.

In 1923, over the objections of the aging Bellamy, the National Flag Conference, led by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the opening, “I pledge allegiance to my flag” to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”  In 1954, at the height of the Cold War — when many political leaders believed that the nation was threatened by godless communism — the Knights of Columbus led a successful campaign to get Congress to add the words “under God.”

The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. Bellamy’s granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change: He had been pressured into leaving his church in 1891 because of his socialist sermons, and during his retirement in Florida he stopped attending church because he disliked the racial bigotry he found there.

When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we should remind ourselves that it was written by a socialist who believed that “liberty and justice for all” meant more equality and a stronger democracy.

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