The Pledge of Allegiance is very much a part of the fabric of our country. Yet the tradition of the Pledge is actually relatively young. It was first introduced in 1892.
Despite the fact that it is often recited in schools and community meetings, the Pledge did not come from the government or the military. It was written by a minister and promoted by a very patriotic owner of a popular magazine of the 19th century.
The magazine for which the Pledge was created was known as Youth’s Companion. Daniel Ford, the owner and publisher of the magazine, and James Bailey Upham, his employee and nephew by marriage, wanted to publish a “salute to the flag.” They assigned the task to one of their best writers, Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who frequently wrote copy for the magazine.
Here’s how the three men brought about what we know as the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Men Behind the Pledge
When Youth’s Companion was first published, it was a religious magazine for children. The magazine encouraged virtue, piety, and patriotism.
Daniel Ford, who eventually was to buy the magazine, grew up in Massachusetts without a father. He attributed his good values to the fact that he attended public schools that emphasized patriotism and civic responsibility.
In 1857, as a partner in Olmstead & Company, Daniel Ford was pleased that the publishing company was able to buy the popular magazine. Ford recognized that the magazine could have even broader appeal if it were re-thought. He liked the values the magazine represented, but he wanted to broaden the audience so that the whole family could enjoy the stories and lessons.
Ford’s Front Man
Ford preferred the role of being a behind-the-scenes boss. The fellow he hired to carry out his goals for the magazine was James Bailey Upham, his nephew by marriage.
Upham also shared Ford’s values. He was a member of the Masons, and this further influenced his values. The beliefs of the Masons (Freemasonry) are rooted in a system of morality, altruism, and patriotism. The Masons also strongly support secular education (public schools) vs. church-run education. (Masonic Orders were also the exclusive province of white men.)
The publishing company run by Daniel Ford relied heavily on premiums to build readership. Premiums involve sending customers something for free or for very little money, if they send in a certain number of proofs of purchase. (“Send in 3 box tops and get a sticker book for free…”)
In the 1880s, memories of the Civil War were very fresh in the minds of Americans. Many citizens sought ways to promote loyalty to the country. Because of all that the American flag represented, both Ford and Upham dreamed of a day when a flag would fly in front of every school building in the nation. (At that time, flags were primarily flown at military installations.)
James Upham was in charge of the premium department of the publishing company by this time. He instituted a student essay contest where the winners were given flags to be used at their schools.
Upham also launched a community program. Students asked community members for ten-cent donations. The donors received a card that read “A share in the patriotic influence of a Flag over the schoolhouse.” When $10 was raised collectively, the school was eligible to purchase a flag from Youth’s Companion at a discounted price.
The community program gained widespread support. Teachers liked it, which got the National Education Association involved. Eventually, even the U.S. government participated. In 1891 alone, 25,000 schools bought flags. (Today most states have laws requiring the flag to be flown on a flagpole in front of the school. These compulsory flag laws were initially pushed by the magazine.)
Expanding the Flag Program
In 1891, plans were getting underway for the World’s Columbian Exposition to be held in Chicago. The World’s Fair was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. Upham approached the Fair’s governing board about establishing a school program. He envisioned a ceremony where the flag was raised by students. They would then lead the audience in a flag salute of some type.
The Governing Board approved the plan and put Youth’s Companion in charge of the school event. It would be held in October of 1892 in conjunction with the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition. (The opening of the exposition was delayed by 8 months because of weather and construction problems.)
Upham wanted the event to celebrate free and universal education as offered by the public school system. As Daniel Ford believed, Upham felt the schools were the country’s crowning achievement in the four centuries since Columbus arrived.
Upham contacted schools and developed the program. He planned a ceremony that included President Benjamin Harrison’s proclamation of the holiday as well as the performance of a song about America. The program would include a prayer, a patriotic oration, and a “salute to the flag,” what we now know as the Pledge of Allegiance.
Writing the Pledge of Allegiance
But the summer of 1892 began, and the pledge had not yet been written. Upham called Francis Bellamy to his office. Bellamy was the best writer on staff, and Upham explained what needed to be written.
One hot summer evening in August, Bellamy got to work. Over a two-hour period, he wrote intently, scrutinizing each word. Bellamy’s original 22-word pledge read as follows:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Equality” was a word Bellamy considered adding, but knew he couldn’t include it. In the 1890s, many school superintendents were against equality for women and African Americans.
About six weeks later, the word “to” was added for better flow.
Making the Pledge of Allegiance Official
The Pledge of Allegiance was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of the Youth’s Companion. That year, it was recited schools throughout the country on the first-ever American Columbus Day. Today we view Christopher Columbus very differently, but in the 1890s, the public saw him as a hero.
For the most part, the Pledge of Allegiance is widely accepted. It is often part of school events, civic ceremonies, and all national celebrations. Today Americans view it as a quiet unifying ritual that brings people together in an affirmation of shared patriotism.
To read more on this subject read The Pledge of Allegiance and How It Has Changed.