The Pledge of Allegiance is so much a part of the fabric of our country that it is surprising to be reminded that it has only been recited for the past 122 years. Even more unexpected is the fact that the pledge exists because it was written and promoted by the very patriotic owner of a popular magazine of the 19th century.
Actual authorship of the pledge is credited to Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who was hired to write copy and help promote the magazine, Youth’s Companion. However, two other men were instrumental in planning for the creation of the pledge: Daniel Ford, the owner and publisher of the magazine, and James Bailey Upham, his employee and nephew by marriage.
Here’s how the three men brought about what they called the salute to the flag.
The Men Behind the Pledge
The tone of Youth’s Companion altered when it was purchased in 1857 by Olmstead & Company, a publishing company in which Daniel Ford was a partner. Ford grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts without a father, and he attributed the availability of free public schools with his rise from poverty to being part owner of the publishing company.
Youth’s Companion had started as a religious publication that encouraged virtue and piety but when Ford bought it he began to reshape the magazine to broaden its appeal. A magazine just for children was too limited, and he sought to make Youth’s Companion a magazine that the whole family could share.
He also believed the best way to grow the magazine was through the use of premiums (free product offerings achieved through some sort of customer participation such as sending in proofs of purchase).
Ford was deeply patriotic and believed strongly in helping others, but he was a self-effacing fellow who always remained in the background. The fellow he hired to carry out his goals for the magazine was James Bailey Upham, his nephew. Upham took direct control of the premium department in 1886.
Upham shared Ford’s values, and he was also influenced by his membership in a Masonic Order. Freemasonry’s beliefs are rooted in a system of morality, altruism, and patriotism; they also strongly support secular education (public schools) vs. church-run education. (Masonic Orders were also the exclusive province of white men.)
Youth’s Companion and the School Flag Movement
In the 1880s, the memories of the Civil War were still fresh in the minds of Americans, and many citizens sought ways to promote loyalty to the country. Because of all that the United States Flag represented, Ford and Upham dreamed of a day when a flag would be flown in front of every school building in the nation. (At the time, flags were primarily flown only at military installations.)
Working through the premium department, Upham created ways to get more flags into public schools. An exemplary student essay could win a free flag for some schools. Other schools participated in a Youth’s Companion program to include the community in sponsoring a school flag; students asked for ten-cent donations and provided donors with a card that read “a share in the patriotic influence of a Flag over the schoolhouse.” When $10 was raised, the school could purchase a flag.
The campaign gained widespread support, gaining traction with teachers, the National Education Association, and eventually the U.S. government. In 1891 alone, twenty-five thousand schools bought flags. (Today most states have laws requiring the flag to be flown on a flag pole in front of the school. These compulsory flag laws were initially pushed by the magazine.)
Making the Flag a Focal Point
In 1891, shortly after the plans for the World’s Columbian Exposition were getting underway in Chicago, Upham approached the Fair’s governing board about establishing a school program around the raising of the flag and the reciting of a flag salute. The Governing Board approved the plan and put Youth’s Companion in charge of a school event to be held in conjunction with the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in October of 1892.
Upham’s plan was to celebrate free and universal education as offered by the public school system; he felt it was the country’s crowning achievement in the four centuries since Columbus had arrived.
Upham began contacting schools and developing the program. As he saw it, the ceremony would include the reading of President Benjamin Harrison’s proclamation of the holiday as well as singing a song about America. There would be 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
The summer of 1892 began, and the pledge had yet to be written. Upham called in Francis Bellamy, the best writer on staff, and explained what the pledge needed to be.
One hot summer evening in August, Bellamy got to work. Over a two-hour period, he worked 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 one of the words Bellamy considered adding but had to reject; he knew that many school superintendents were against equality for women and African Americans.
The word “to” was added about 6 weeks later for better flow.
Making the Pledge of Allegiance Official
The pledge was published in the September 8, 1892 issue of the Youth’s Companion, and it was recited schools throughout the country on the first-ever Columbus Day celebrated in 1892.
For the most part, the Pledge of Allegiance is widely accepted. It is recited at 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.