Since it’s the Fourth of July weekend, the idea of patriotism, and how it has come to mean different things throughout American history, got Mister Boomer thinking about the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge has undergone three major versions, and has a fascinating history that is wrought with social and cultural implications in each age in which it was proposed. The one that boomers recited throughout their school years was adopted in 1954.
The original pledge was proposed by a Union Civil War vet named Captain George Balch. In 1887, he wrote:
We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!
Certainly there is much to discuss in those few words, but nonetheless, it was favored by the Daughters of the American Revolution and informally adopted for use in some schools until 1923.
Baptist minister Francis Bellamy wrote the next version in 1892. Bellamy wrote:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In June of 1892, Francis Bellamy and James Upham, a marketer for the magazine, The Youth’s Companion, promoted the idea of school children reciting the pledge in classrooms to the National Education Association as a way of instilling a feeling of American patriotism. Their goal was to get it to coincide with the 400 year anniversary of Columbus Day celebrations. History does tell us it first received widespread recitation in classroms on Columbus Day, October 12, 1892.
There were suggested tweaks in the early 1900s, but the first actual change came in 1923, when “my Flag” was changed to the more specific, “the Flag of the United States.” A year later, “… of America” was added.
The phrase “under God,” which became part of the pledge recited by boomers, was first proposed in 1948. After the War and heading into the Cold War, there was a sentiment that it was a way to differentiate the U.S. system of governing from what was referred to as “godless Communism.” Besides, the proponents argued, it was phrase used by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address (“… that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom…”).
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, championed the idea and adopted it for use in their own meetings. After several attempts to codify it through Congress, the organization was successful in finding a Representative who brought it into legislative form in 1953. It was in 1954, when President Dwight Eisenhower got onboard with the idea, that it picked up steam. Congress passed the resolution, and Eisenhower signed it on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
Mister Boomer is certain every boomer remembers standing in classrooms throughout their school years, facing the flag, placing a hand over their heart, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It was just another part of the school day, though Mister B recalls some of his classmates were not enthused about being forced into doing or saying anything, let alone something that to them meant much less than the intent of the grown-ups who decided this would be the order of the day. The Generation Gap started early, in Mister B’s experience.
The controversy over the Pledge of Allegiance that ran right through our boomer years continues to this day. For decades before and after the Boomer Generation, there have been numerous attempts to strike down the mandatory requirement of the pledge in schools on a myriad of grounds, including First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. If the cases reached the U.S. Supreme Court, they were either refused review and turned back to lower courts for various reasons, or the court upheld the status quo. In many states today, students do have the right to refuse to stand and recite the pledge, though some states require parents to sign a form that allows their child to do so.
A robust examination of the social and cultural ramifications of the pledge are beyond the scope of this boomer blog. Mister Boomer urges everyone to research the topic on their own. As fascinating as the story is, the evolution of how children saluted the flag is also quite a tale! The implications each version had on immigrants to the country, as well as issues of class, race and gender, are still being debated to this day.
On the Fourth of July weekend, is it comforting to know that each American can still openly discuss topics like the pros and cons of the Pledge of Allegiance? Isn’t that very idea of open discussion a bedrock principle “for which we stand?”
How about you, boomers? What memories do you have about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance?