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The Pledge of Allegiance Debuts in a Boston Magazine

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Christian Socialist minister who didn’t include “God” in the original version.

And for the first 50 years, people recited the Pledge with a Fascist salute.

The Pledge of Allegiance

In 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance, a staple in school classrooms for more than 100 years, made its debut in the Youth’s Companion magazine.

Students performing the Bellamy Salute

Students performing the Bellamy Salute

Francis Bellamy wrote it.

He was the son of a Baptist minister, born in upstate New York on May 18, 1855 in the Great Burned-Over District. His cousin, Edward Bellamy, wrote the popular novel Looking Backward. The book promoted a utopian vision of a society in which the state owned industry and eliminated war, poverty, crime and inequality. Beginning in 1888, it inspired Nationalist Clubs, which sought to realize that socialist ideal. They claimed 500 clubs, but then disappeared around 1896.

Francis Bellamy

Like his father, Bellamy trained as a Baptist minister. And like his cousin, he embraced the idea of a society in which government controls capital and spreads the wealth equally, known then as Christian socialism.

As a young man, Francis Bellamy traveled New England preaching. Then in 1891 he landed a job with the Youth’s Companion magazine in Boston, a popular family magazine that began publishing in 1827 by the Perry Mason & Co.

Americanization

At the time, the arrival of millions of immigrants alarmed citizens born in the United States. They thought foreigners should adopt American ways, and so campaigns for “Americanization” began. Schools began to teach patriotism and American values. Manufacturers found a lucrative market creating school supplies with patriotic images like flags, eagles and George Washington.

Youth’s Companion then jumped on that bandwagon. The magazine publisher, Daniel Sharp Ford, and its promotions man, James B. Upham, launched an effort to sell flags to schools, with the idea that every school room should have one as a way to revive patriotism. Youth’s Companion then sold flags to children at cost. In one year, the promotion resulted in 25,000 schoolhouses acquiring flags.

Pledge of Allegiance Becomes Official

It was 1892, the year of the wildly successful World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Ford and Upham sought to link their flag campaign with the fair. They wanted schoolchildren to participate in a flag-related ceremony on Oct. 12, 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.

Bellamy worked on the campaign, lobbying lawmakers, governors and even President Benjamin Harrison to support a flag-raising ritual on Columbus Day. It worked. Harrison issued a declaration that said on Columbus Day 1892, The Youth’s Companion had “an official program for universal use in all the schools.”

The magazine’s publisher pondered, however, once the flag was in the room, what should be done with it? And so the pledge was born.

Bellamy sat down and wrote 22 words.

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

Jeffrey Owen Jones, in The pledge: a history of the Pledge of Allegiance, called it a “clean, easy-flowing and pleasantly cadenced piece of writing.”

“The kind of compact prose that trips off the tongue as the Pledge does is deceptively difficult to craft,” wrote Jones.

Bellamy later said he wanted to find a way to express “intelligent patriotism.” That meant awareness of the nation’s ideals as well as love of country.

The Bellamy Salute

Southington, Conn., Schoolchildren reciting the pledge of allegiance in 1942. Photo by Fenno Jacobs, courtesy Library of Congress.

Along with the pledge came the Bellamy salute — right arm raised toward the flag with palms out. For 50 years, the Bellamy salute accompanied the Pledge of Allegiance.

But then during World War II, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler adopted the Bellamy salute. They incorrectly attributed it to an ancient Roman salute.

Congress officially adopted the Pledge in 1942, along with the instructions that it be recited “by standing with the right hand over the heart.” Then in 1954, amid the fear of “godless Communism,” Congress added “under God.” Francis Bellamy, who believed in the separation of church and state, would not have approved. He died in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28, 1931.

This story was updated in 2021.

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