Above image from strangemilitary.com
by William “Doc” Halliday
“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.” Those thirty-one words are well-known by most Americans. It seems as though I have always known the Pledge of Allegiance. I memorized those words as a child when I first began attending school. Actually I only memorized twenty-nine of those words which I shall explain later.
It was seventy-four years ago today, on June 22, 1942 that the Pledge of Allegiance was formally adopted for the first time by the Congress of the United States. The origins of the pledge can be traced back to 1887 when George Thacher Balch wrote the initial pledge: “I give my heart and my hand to my country—one country, one language, one flag.” He spent the last years of his life dedicated to inspiring greater patriotism in children. Col. Balch died in 1894.
There is not a comma and there should be no pause within “one Nation under God.”
In August of 1892 Francis Bellamy wrote a separate pledge: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” He wanted to publicize the pledge for the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World. Presidential Proclamation 335 decreed that the public school flag ceremony was the focus of the Columbus Day celebrations. The Pledge was published in the September 8th issue of The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine in the United States at that time. It was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892. The pledge was initiated with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting “to the Flag,” the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down. You can best visualize this by recalling the Nazi salute prior to and during World War Two.
…because the salute with the extended arm was thought to resemble the Nazi salute too much, it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout the salute.
The two pledges coexisted until 1923. That year, the National Flag Conference called for the words “my Flag” to be replaced by “the Flag of the United States” so that fresh immigrants would not confuse their loyalties between their birth countries and the United States. The words “of America” were added in 1924.
In 1942, during World War Two, because the salute with the extended arm was thought to resemble the Nazi salute too much, it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout the salute.
In 1948, Louis Albert Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, suggested adding the two words “under God”. He received an Award of Merit from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution as the originator of this idea. On April 30, 1951, in New York City, the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution to amend the text of their Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of each of the meetings by the addition of the words “under God” after the words “one nation.”. The phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance in June of 1954, by a Joint Resolution of Congress. This is why I stated at the beginning of the article that I originally only memorized 29 words.
Section 4 of the Flag Code now states:
“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.”
I would ask that you read the pledge again, either aloud or silently. When you read or said “one Nation” did you pause as if there was a comma there? There is not a comma and there should be no pause within “one Nation under God.”
William “Doc” Halliday, an historian and writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org