Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

Three Lions/Hulton Archive
Three Lions/Hulton Archive

Various people had their hands on it, adding as little as a word or two, but the credit for the bulk of the pledge goes to Francis Julius Bellamy (May 18, 1855 – August 28, 1931), a Baptist minister from New York. Bellamy had some interesting political ideas—he was a Christian Socialist who believed in the equal distribution of economic resources in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, but not the distribution of voting rights to women or immigrants.

By 1891, Bellamy was tired of his ministry and accepted a job from one of his congregants, Daniel S. Ford, owner and editor of Youth's Companion, a nationally circulated magazine for adolescents. Bellamy was hired to help the magazine's premium department, where he worked on a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a way to solicit subscriptions. By the end of the year, the magazine had sold flags to some 26,000 schools. But there were still more than a few holdouts.

They gave the campaign a shot in the arm by arranging a patriotic program for schools to coincide with the opening of the 1892 Columbian Exposition in October, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World. Part of the program would be a new salute to the flag that schoolchildren would recite in unison. That August, just a few weeks before the exposition and mere days from his deadline, Bellamy sat down and composed the pledge. He approached it in part as a response to the Civil War, which was still fresh in the national memory, and decided to focus on the ideas of allegiance and loyalty.

Bellamy's pledge was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of Youth's Companion as follows:

American schoolchildren doing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1915.
American schoolchildren doing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1915.
New York Tribune via Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Initially, the pledge was accompanied with a salute (seen above). According to Bellamy's instructions, "At a signal from the Principal, the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it." The pledge would then be recited, and at the words "to my Flag," the "right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side."

After the pledge had taken root in schools, people started fiddling with it. In 1923 a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, decided that "my flag" should be changed to "the flag of the United States," so newly arrived immigrant children would not be confused about exactly which flag they were pledging to. The following year, the Flag Conference refined the phrase further, adding "of America."

By 1942, the pledge's 50th anniversary, the pledge was ingrained in schools and many states required their public school students to recite it each morning. Around this time, people decided that the extended-arm salute looked a little too much like the Nazi salute, and began to simply keep the right hand over the heart throughout the whole pledge.

One Last Tweak

By the next decade, the Knights of Columbus—a Catholic fraternal organization—had adopted a modified pledge that mentioned God for use in their own meetings and soon began lobbying Congress with calls for everyone to do the same. Other fraternal and religious organizations backed the idea and pushed the government hard. In 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut (D-Mich.), proposed an alteration to the pledge in a Congressional bill. Congress approved the addition of the words "under God" within the phrase "one nation indivisible" in an Act of Congress, and President Eisenhower got on board the next year at the suggestion of the pastor at his church.

The act was signed into law in 1954. Its sponsors, anticipating that it would be challenged as a breach of separation of church and state, wrote a disclaimer into the act explaining that the new phrase was not, in fact, religious. "A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," they wrote. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs." Of course, not everyone bought the line, and a succession of people all over the country have been challenging the language in the courts for the last half-century.

This story was republished in 2019.

What Happened to the Physical Copy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech?

AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

In 1989, some three decades after King had earned his doctorate, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER