Here's How We Used To Say The Pledge Of Allegiance

Here’s How We Used To Say The Pledge Of Allegiance (VIDEO)

Thanks to the back and forth between the religious right (which likes to loudly, frequently, and falsely proclaim that America was founded as a Christian nation) and anyone who knows the historical fact that America was founded as a nation with freedom of religion, you’ve probably already heard that America’s Pledge of Allegiance said nothing about God until 1954. That’s when then-President Ike Eisenhower pushed for adding the “under God” part to show those Godless commies a thing or two.

As it turns out, we’ve made other changes to our Pledge as well. and its history is stranger and sometimes darker than we think. For example, did you know that when we first started saying the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, we held our right hands palm-down with our arms outstretched instead of over our hearts? Yes, this looked creepily like the salute we now associate with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, but Hitler was still only a toddler and neither World War I nor World War II had happened yet.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist Baptist minister.

The Pledge of Allegiance began when we were still reeling from the Civil War and many U.S. leaders thought we needed a serious dose of patriotism. Among these was Daniel Sharp Ford, who published a then-popular magazine called The Youth’s Companion. He envisioned a campaign to put a flag in every single school in the country (with him selling the flags, of course) and to have students and teachers across our nation reciting a pledge each morning. CNN reports that Ford assigned the writing of the Pledge of Allegiance to his staffer Francis Bellamy, who also happened to be a socialist and former Baptist minister.

As part of the campaign, Sharp gave an assignment to a member of his staff: Francis J. Bellamy, who was an author, a minister and an advocate of the tenets of Christian socialism. Sharp asked Bellamy to compose a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Bellamy wrote it, and it was published in the magazine.

The original version of our Pledge of Allegiance was much shorter than the one we say today:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

But some thought the spectacle of crowds mumbling the Pledge with their arms dangling limply by their sides to be less than spectacular, so Francis Bellamy’s editor James B. Upham came up with the one-armed salute. Daniel Sharp Ford spread the word through his magazine, and the “Bellamy salute” was debuted in Oct. 1892 to celebrate Columbus Day.

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. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” 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.
— From The Youth’s Companion, 65 (1892): 446–447.

After the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, both the flags and the Pledge of Allegiance grew “wildly popular” at schools, campgrounds and other public gatherings, according to CNN.

The darker side of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Talking Points Memo also mentions darker reasons for the swift surge in popularity for our Pledge of Allegiance. Then, as now, native-born Americans had widespread anxiety over waves of new immigrants.

In his book To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance, Richard J. Ellis digs further into the nation’s “patriotic” school program of 1892. Ellis writes that the creation of the Pledge actually reflected “two widespread anxieties among native-born Americans” at the time: the fear of new immigrants (especially in the Northeast), and the complacency of post-Civil War Americans oblivious to the dangers facing the country.

Bellamy’s new Pledge, then, would serve two purposes, Ellis argues: to rekindle the patriotism and heroic duty of the Civil War years, and to Americanize the foreigner.

In 1923, the words were changed from “my flag” to “the United States of America,” just in case those newly arrived immigrants had any clever ideas about secretly pledging to the flag from their old country instead of ours.

During the first National Flag Conference, the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution made this change so that immigrant children — who could theoretically be pledging their native land (rather than the U.S.) as they spoke — would be clear as to which flag they were saluting.

After the rise of Adolf Hitler and our entry into World War II, the photos and film footage from Nazi Germany made us uneasy about our Bellamy salute. After all, we certainly didn’t want Adolf Hitler’s propagandists swapping in photos of das Führer for our flag to make it look like we supported him. Some say Adolf Hitler got his infamous Nazi salute from us, while others say both gestures derive from the ancient Roman salute. In any case, we began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts in 1942.

In case you don’t believe us…

Here’s the video with a collection of film and photographic footage of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1930’s with the Bellamy salute.

Photo: Imgur (Public Domain)

Elisabeth Parker is a writer, web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante.