The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is a patriotic recited verse that promises allegiance to the flag of the United States and the Republic of the United States of America. The first version, with a text different from the one used at present, was written in 1885 by Captain George Thatcher Balch, a Union Army officer in the Civil War who later authored a book on how to teach patriotism to children in public schools. In 1892, Francis Bellamy revised Balch’s verse as part of a magazine promotion surrounding the World’s Columbian Exposition, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Bellamy, the circulation manager for The Youth’s Companion magazine, helped persuade President Benjamin Harrison to institute Columbus Day as a national holiday and lobbied Congress for a national school celebration of the day. The magazine sent leaflets containing part of Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance to schools across the country and on October 21, 1892, over 10,000 children recited the verse together.
Bellamy’s version of the pledge is largely the same as the one formally adopted by Congress 50 years later, in 1942. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The most recent alteration of its wording came on Flag Day (June 14) in 1954, when the words “under God” were added.
Congressional sessions open with the recital of the Pledge, as do many government meetings at local levels, and meetings held by many private organizations. All states except Nebraska, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wyoming require a regularly scheduled recitation of the pledge in public schools. However, many states have a variety of exemptions for reciting the pledge, such as California which requires a “patriotic exercise” every day, which would be satisfied by the Pledge, but it is not enforced. The Supreme Court has ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that students cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge, nor can they be punished for not doing so. In several states, state flag pledges of allegiance are required to be recited after the pledge to the American flag.
The current United States Flag Code says:
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag:
“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,”
should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces not in uniform and veterans may render the military salute in the manner provided for persons in uniform.
Historians point to surges in American patriotic oaths and pledges to the flag after the Civil War, when tensions surrounding political loyalties persisted, and in the 1880s, as rates of immigration increased dramatically.
An early pledge was created in 1887 by Captain George T. Balch, a veteran of the Civil War, who later became auditor of the New York Board of Education. Balch’s pledge, which was recited contemporaneously with Bellamy’s until the 1923 National Flag Conference, read:
We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!
Balch was a proponent of teaching children, especially those of immigrants, loyalty to the United States, even going so far as to write a book on the subject and work with both the government and private organizations to distribute flags to every classroom and school. Balch’s pledge, which predates Francis Bellamy’s by five years and was embraced by many schools, by the Daughters of the American Revolution until the 1910s, and by the Grand Army of the Republic until the 1923 National Flag Conference, is often overlooked when discussing the history of the Pledge.
The pledge that later evolved into the form used today is believed to have been composed in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855–1931) for the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion. However, in February 2022, Barry Popik tweeted a May 1892 newspaper report from Hays, Kansas, of a school flag-raising on 30 April accompanied by an almost identical pledge. An alternative theory is that the pledge was submitted to an 1890 patriotic competition in The Youth’s Companion by a 13-year-old Kansas schoolboy, coincidentally named Frank E. Bellamy. Fred R. Shapiro regards Popik’s discovery as favoring Frank E. Bellamy rather than Francis Bellamy as the originator. Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of Edward Bellamy (1850–1898), described the text of Balch’s pledge as “too juvenile and lacking in dignity.” The Bellamy “Pledge of Allegiance” was first published in the September 8 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism in students and to encourage children to raise flags above their schools. According to author Margarette S. Miller, this campaign was in line both with Upham’s patriotic vision as well as with his commercial interest. According to Miller, Upham “would often say to his wife: ‘Mary, if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.” In 1957, Kenneth Keating instigated a report by Congress’ Legislative Research Service that it was Francis Bellamy, and not James B. Upham, who authored the September 8 1892 article; Keating represented New York’s 38th congressional district, which included Bellamy’s birthplace, Mount Morris.
Bellamy’s original Pledge read:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge was supposed to be quick and to the point. Bellamy designed it to be recited in 15 seconds. As a socialist, he had initially also considered using the words equality and fraternity but decided against it.
Francis Bellamy and Upham had lined up the National Education Association to support the Youth’s Companion as a sponsor of the Columbus Day observance and the use in that observance of the American flag. By June 29, 1892, Bellamy and Upham had arranged for Congress and President Benjamin Harrison to announce a proclamation making the public school flag ceremony the center of the Columbus Day celebrations. This arrangement was formalized when Harrison issued Presidential Proclamation 335. Subsequently, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892, during Columbus Day observances organized to coincide with the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair), Illinois.
In 1906, The Daughters of the American Revolution’s magazine, The American Monthly, used the following wording for the pledge of allegiance, based on Balch’s Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands. I pledge my head and my heart to God and my country. One country, one language and one flag.
In subsequent publications of the Daughters of the American Revolution, such as in 1915’s “Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution” and 1916’s annual “National Report,” the previous pledge (adjusted to read “I pledge my head, my hand, my heart…”), listed as official in 1906, is now categorized as “Old Pledge” with Bellamy’s version under the heading “New Pledge.” However, the “Old Pledge” continued to be used by other organizations until the National Flag Conference established uniform flag procedures in 1923.
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.