In the Spirit of Independence Day, July 4th: A Brief History of the Pledge of Allegiance

By Larry German

Most historians believe that, in 1954, when “under God” was inserted, the Pledge of Allegiance became, for better or for worse, “both a  patriotic oath and a public prayer.”  President Eisenhower, it was said, reluctantly authorized the change in response to a nationwide campaign led by the Knights of Columbus and privately encouraged by the Reverend Billy Graham, with a desired goal to advance religion, “when the government was publicly inveighing against communism.”

Whether the reference is a violation of the Constitutional recognition of the Doctrine of Separation of Church and State seems, at this stage, to be moot.

Many people think or want to believe the Pledge ofAllegiance has the same august status as the Constitution and/or the  Declaration of Independence. However, the Pledge was composed and brought to the national conscience by a Baptist minister and notable educator, Francis J. Bellamy, who was an active and proud member of the Socialist Party as well as the Masonic Fraternity in1892.

Most historians believe Bellamy’s purpose was to indoctrinate every child, at the earliest age, in the belief that the United States of America was “one Nation, indivisible,” thereby banishing any notion that sovereign states had the right of secession. In other words, the United States was a monolith, not a confederation of states. Such belief could help to prevent another Civil War.

Of equal importance, historians agree, Bellamy believed the United States  would benefit from a strong Federal Government, by being better able to respond to the collective welfare and by sharing one State’s good fortune with another.  According to the same historians, it was not Bellamy’s intent to inculcate the superiority of the government to the citizen, but to advance three precepts — liberty, equality and justice — as accepted ideals. And to make these ideals an integral part of the Public Schools curriculum, pitting moral purpose against prevailing prejudices and powers of the day.

However, practically coupled with a sincere desire to gain adoption, the Reverend Bellamy was persuaded to delete the word “equality.”  Indeed, at the time, women were not allowed to vote, Negroes were seen as lesser human beings, Jews were viewed as a threat to Christian domination, and “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” was a common chorus.

Whether some intrepid current-day politician decides to advance the idea of reinserting the word “equality” remains to be seen.  But in the Spirit of Independence Day, July 4th, 2020, it seems like a good idea — with liberty, (equality) and justice for all.   

Play ball!