The History of the Pledge of Allegiance
Before today's version, there was a version that was created by Captain George T. Balch, a veteran of the Civil War and teacher of patriotism in New York City schools. Balch’s version, “We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country; one language; one flag!” was embraced by many schools, DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), and GAR (Grand Army of the Republic). This version was used until 1923 when the National Flag Conference opted to use today’s version.
Today’s pledge was created by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian socialist, in August of 1892. Bellamy said that Balch’s pledge was “too juvenile and lacking in dignity.” Bellamy came up with the idea of a new pledge because he thought is was time “for a reawakening of simple Americanism.” Bellamy stated, "It was my thought that a vow of loyalty or allegiance to the flag should be the dominant idea. I especially stressed the word 'allegiance'. ... Beginning with the new word allegiance, I first decided that 'pledge' was a better school word than 'vow' or 'swear'; and that the first-person singular should be used, and that 'my' flag was preferable to 'the.'” He and some leaders thought that this Americanism should begin in public schools. Bellamy lobbied for all schools to have an American flag on display (and to be used in raising the flag each day) and to recite the Pledge while doing so. Bellamy originally wanted to use the words “equality” and “fraternity” but opted against it knowing that the state superintendents of education and his committed were against equality for women and Blacks.
The Pledge of Allegiance was first published in the September 8th issue of The Youth’s Companion, a popular children’s magazine, as part of the National Public-School celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. The pledge that was published, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” was designed to be short and said within 15 seconds. His lobbying efforts were successful and on October 12, 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance was first recited in public schools.
Changes to the Pledge
In 1923, the National Flag Conference called for the words "my Flag" to be changed to "the Flag of the United States," so that new immigrants would not confuse loyalties between their birth countries and the US. The words "of America" were added a year later. Congress officially recognized the Pledge for the first time, in the following form, on June 22, 1942: "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."
In 1948, Louis Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, was the first to suggest adding “under God” to the pledge. Bowman said that the words “under God” were said by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. It was not until February 7,1954 that the push the add “under God” to the pledge was successful. George MacPherson Docherty, a Presbyterian minister, gave a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address, entitled “A New Birth of Freedom,” while honoring Lincoln’s birthday with President Eisenhower present. Docherty argued that the country “might lay not in arms but rather in its spirit and higher purpose.” He also stated that “there was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life" and cited that that Lincoln’s words “under God” as words that set the US apart from other nations. Enthusiastic about a conversation with Docherty after the sermon, Eisenhower followed Docherty’s suggestion and on February 8, 1954, Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich), introduced a bill to Congress that passed and Eisenhower signed into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
Swearing of the Pledge is accompanied by a salute. The Balch salute, which accompanied the Balch pledge, was adopted in 1887 and instructed students to stand with their right hand outstretched toward the flag, the fingers of which are then brought to the forehead, followed by being placed flat over the heart, and finally falling to the side.
In 1892, Francis Bellamy created what was known as the Bellamy salute. The salute started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Due to the similarity between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi, Congress stipulated that the hand-over-the-heart gesture would replace the Bellamy salute.