Origins of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
(Excerpted from, The Christian Heritage of the 50 United States of America,
copyright 2000 by Catherine Millard.)
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
one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
On October 21, 1892, Francis Bellamy, a Minister of the Gospel who had been ordained in the
First Baptist Church of Little Falls, New York, wrote a pledge of allegiance to America’s flag – the Star-Spangled Banner.
I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
The pledge he wrote was first used at the dedication of the World’s Fair grounds in Chicago on October 21, 1892, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, and has been recited from that day to this, with some changes, by school children throughout the land. Reverend Bellamy’s original wording was altered slightly by the First and Second National Flag Conferences in 1923 and 1924 and his work was officially designated, as the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag by Public Law 287, 79th Congress, approved December 28, 1945. On June 14, 1954, Flag Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law House Joint Resolution 243, which added to the Pledge of Allegiance the compelling and meaningful words: under God. This came about after Eisenhower and his had attended the Sunday, February 7, 1954, Lincoln Day Observance Service at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church – the sermon topic, “Under
God,” being preached by Pastor George Docherty, D.D. So moving are these lines, that they are here excerpted for the reader to assess:
…And where did all this come from? It has been with us so long, we have to recall it was brought here by the people who laid stress on the fundamentals. They called themselves Puritans because they wished to live the pure and noble life purged of all idolatry and enslavement of the mind, even by the church. They did not realize that in fleeing from tyranny and setting up a new life in a new world they were to be the
fathers of a mighty nation.
These fundamental concepts of life had been given to the world from Sinai, where the moral law was graven upon tables of stone, symbolizing the universal application to all men; and they came from the New testament, where they heard in the words of Jesus of Nazareth the living word of God for the world.
This is the American way of life. Lincoln saw this clearly. History for him was the Divine Comedy, though he would not use that phrase. The Providence of God was being fulfilled.
Wherefore, he claims that it is under God that this nation shall know a new birth of freedom. And by implication, it under God that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” for Lincoln, since God was in His Heaven all must ultimately be right for his country.
Russia claims to have liberty. You will never understand the Communist mind Until you realize this aberration of their judgment. Marx in his dialectic, makes It clear that the communist state is only an imperfect stage toward true socialism. When that day comes, the state will wither away and thus socialism will reign forever. Utopia will have dawned. Until that day there must be personal limitations. As the capitalistic state limits freedom in the day of war, so must the workers of the world accept this form of restricted freedom. Besides, claims Marx, trouble arises when you give men their unrestricted freedom. Human freedom always proliferates into license and gives rise to greed and war. They might claim that their servitude is perfect freedom.
Again the Communists claim there is justice in Russia. They have their law courts. They have their elections with universal suffrage. When pressed to the point, they will admit there is really only one candidate because the people are so unanimous about that way of life.
They call their way of life “democratic.” One of the problems statesmen find in dealing with Russia is one of semantics, of definition. Russia says she is democratic and we are Fascist; we claim to be democratic and call Russia communist.
What, therefore, is missing in the Pledge of Allegiance that Americans have been saying off and on since 1892, and officially since 1942? The one fundamental concept that completely and ultimately separates Communist Russia from the democratic institutions of this country. This was seen clearly by Lincoln. Under God this people shall know a new birth of freedom, and
“under God” are the definitive words.
Now, Lincoln was not being original in that phrase. He was simply reminding the people of the basis upon which the Nation won its freedom in its Declaration of Independence. He went back to Jefferson as he did in a famous speech delivered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on February 22, 1861, two years before the Gettysburg Address. “All the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn from sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from sentiments embodied in the declaration of Independence.”
Listen again to the fundamentals of this Declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
In Jefferson’s phrase, if we deny the existence of the God who gave us life, how can we live by the liberty He gave us at the same time? This a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson are the words “In God we Trust.” Congress is opened in prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the President takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance,
conclude solemnly, with the words “so help me God.”
This is the issue we face today: A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in god. A way of life that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concantenation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and “Whose soul is restless till he rest in God…
The meaningful and compelling words: One nation under God, denoting dependence and reliance upon Almighty God, our Benefactor and Sustainer, were adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s famed Gettysburg Address, where he describes America as “this nation under God.”
The song, “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,” composed by Irving Caesar, ASCAP, was sung for the first time on the floor of the House of Representatives on Flag Day, June14, 1955, by the official Air Force choral group, the “Singing Sergeants,” under the direction of Captain Robert L. Landers, AFRES, in special Flag Day ceremonies.
Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary states that “to dip the flag” means “to Salute by lowering the flag and immediately returning it to place. It is done in token of courtesy, welcome, or respect.” The commentary goes on to explain that “to strike or lower the flag” means to “lower the flag as a sign of surrender; hence, to capitulate, to give up.”
The Star-Spangled Banner has a proud Christian heritage. It was designed by a Christian patriot, George Washington, and first made by a Christian patriot, Betsy Ross, both of whom were members of Christ Church in Philadelphia – “the nation’s church.”
The flag has been honored and stamped with America’s national motto: In God is our Trust, both verbally and musically. It is thus the foremost symbol of a nation whose primary allegiance is to Almighty God, and whose people bow the knee to God alone; for, as the Pledge of Allegiance states: America is the one nation under God.