The Pledge of Allegiance was a product of its time, a time that was in many ways like the present. The nation was haunted by war—a bitter and bloody Civil War that had ended twenty-five years earlier yet was still very much alive in the national consciousness. As in contemporary America, technological innovation was reshaping the economy, and working people were scrambling to adapt. Then as now, the chief executives of the dominant companies and the financiers who managed the flow of capital had amassed staggering fortunes, and the country’s private wealth lay mostly in the coffers of a super-rich elite, while an undereducated, underprivileged underclass languished in urban slums.
As in America today, waves of immigrants were helping to meet the country’s manpower needs—some of them fleeing conditions so wretched that they were happy to do the menial jobs American workers shunned. The country fretted about the impact these foreign-born masses would have on society, and there was much argument in Washington, in the communications media, and around the cracker barrel over what measures would be appropriate to control the influx.
At the ebb of the nineteenth century, as at the rise of the twenty-first, changes in the economy, changes in the makeup of the population, and a growing fear that the nation’s fundamental identity was in jeopardy had led to a surge in patriotic activities and public displays of patriotism.
For all its similarities to the present, however, the era when the Pledge of Allegiance came to life was a unique and pivotal moment in the life of the nation. In 1892, the year Francis Bellamy set the original words of the Pledge on paper, America was a brawny adolescent striding out of its frontier past toward a new era. In fact, in 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau had officially declared the frontier closed; the land of opportunity was now metropolitan, and people were streaming to American cities from farms and villages around the country and across the seas.
The country had grown from what had been a second-rank economic presence in 1865 to a full-fledged industrial powerhouse. By 1890, the value of goods manufactured in the United States nearly equaled that of England, France, and Germany combined. In 1892, the output of Carnegie Steel alone was more than half the total product of all the steel companies in Great Britain. Within the decade, the United States would begin to flex its muscles in the geopolitical arena with military adventures in Cuba and the Philippines that would prove to be the coup de grâce of the four-hundred-year-old Spanish empire.
As the nation hurtled toward the twentieth century, and the wonders and the horrors that awaited it, the legacies of the waning era still lived on in the national psyche—none more vividly than the Civil War. The treaty at Appomattox, twenty-five years before, still seemed recent to many, and the trauma of the conflict was in no way forgotten. Of a national population totaling thirty-four million when the shooting began, nearly four million men had served in the Union and Confederate armies. One in four of the combatants had died or was wounded. Everyone Francis Bellamy’s age or older remembered men marching off to war from their towns and cities never to return, or hobbling home on one leg and a crutch. The postwar Reconstruction was conceived in idealism, but despite some real accomplishments, rather than salve the internecine wounds it only rubbed them raw again. For many Americans in the 1890s, the country was still divided between Union blue and Confederate gray. And when Bellamy was planning the grand nationwide Public Schools Celebration, he took pains to ask congressional leaders for their opinions about including veterans groups from the north and south, for fear of reigniting sectional passions.
Along with the enduring pain of national schism and human loss, the postwar era brought fresh blows to the American self-concept. Lincoln had been assassinated, Andrew Johnson impeached, and the Union hero turned president Ulysses S. Grant had turned out to be a hapless dupe for fleecers and flimflammers. Meanwhile, civil rights advances achieved under Reconstruction were nullified during Grant’s watch by a rash of new white supremacy laws. Then there came economic recession (the Panic of 1873), and before long another assassination (Garfield, shot in the back on July 2, 1881).
It is remarkable, then, to read what Bernard A. Weisberger would later write about the America of 1890 for the Life History of the United States:
The average citizen believed that his social order was the world’s best and his political system the world’s wisest. . . . The future would be ever richer, more spacious for each new generation.
To the extent that Weisberger’s description of the national mood at the time is accurate (more about that shortly), it may reflect in part a popular infatuation with the mystique of industrialization that was sweeping the Western world. The miracles of technology and their promise of a brave new world ahead were celebrated at world’s fairs in London (1851), Philadelphia (1876), Paris (1889), Chicago (1893), and, again in Paris (1900), with the Eiffel Tower the most spectacular and enduring product of the period. Hand in hand with late-nineteenth-century technophilia was the return to prominence of that ancient object of mania: money.
Not that wealth had come into the hands of the many. In fact, the final decade of the nineteenth century was an era of huge income inequality between the very richest and the rest of the population—much like the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 1890, the wealthiest one percent of the population received the same total income as the bottom half and owned more property than the other 99 percent. (As for the present-day wealth gap, according to a 2006 report from the Federal Reserve, the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States possessed 70 percent of the wealth, and the richest 5 percent owned more than the bottom 95 percent.)
Even though riches eluded the great majority of Americans in the 1890s—as now—the fortunes created by the spectacular industrial expansion inflamed the popular imagination. Those who had cashed in were flaunting their new wealth in gaudy displays—which the contemporary observer Thorstein Veblen described as “conspicuous consumption”—and the man in the street found it mesmerizing. Money and the making of it had become a national obsession; at least it seemed that way to Mark Twain, who dubbed the era the Gilded Age in his novel of the same name (coauthored with his Hartford, Connecticut, neighbor Charles Dudley Warner). Patrician statesmen like Henry Adams were being replaced as the most admired Americans by hard-driving industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and by financiers like J.P. Morgan, who had amassed their riches thanks in part to the lack of an income tax (which didn’t come into effect until 1913) and the absence of antitrust laws (the first of which was enacted in 1890).
Not everyone agreed with the cutthroat rapaciousness of the money moguls, but many couldn’t help wanting their own share of the loot. What’s more, like the day traders riding the tech-stock bubble of the 1990s, the unschooled speculators of the Gilded Era marveled at their own apparent canniness: “I wasn’t worth a cent two years ago, and now I owe two millions of dollars,” gushes one of Twain and Warner’s characters.
Of course, for all the glittering fantasies of striking it rich, most Americans merely toiled away as cogs in the great economic machine that was generating the fortunes of the well-off. The era of American rugged individualism when most people made a living on their own as farmers or craftsmen or tradesmen was giving way: America was becoming a nation of industrial laborers and office workers on someone else’s payroll.
Meanwhile, with government assistance to the poor virtually nonexistent, those who fell through the cracks of the industrial revolution landed hard. Guests at the Vanderbilts’ Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City dined off golden plates, but fifty blocks south, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the poor lived in Dickensian squalor. Families crammed into windowless rooms, street urchins played in trash-filled alleys, and homeless men sprawled head to toe on bare wood planks in primitive lodging houses. It is a fair guess that the vision of an ever-richer future was lost on the members of this rapidly growing underclass. To the general public, bedazzled by the posturing of the rich and the nouveaux riches, the poor had remained conveniently invisible. Then a reporter named Jacob Riis wrote about them in newspaper articles and in a book, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890. Riis, a Danish immigrant who had experienced poverty firsthand, backed up his writing with stark photographs that shocked readers: haggard men staring from the floor of a flop house, and smudge-faced toddlers in a tenement kitchen wide-eyed in the glare of Riis’s flash-powder illumination. Other writers and social critics described the plight of women and children working backbreaking shifts under deplorable conditions in factories and sweatshops.
To explain the gap between the opulence of the rich and the misery that the work of Riis and others revealed, self-made magnates like Andrew Carnegie embraced a convenient idea: “survival of the fittest,” the catchphrase of a philosophy that came to be known as “social Darwinism.” Before Charles Darwin ever used the saying, it was made famous by the British social philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer advanced a worldview in which everything under the sun would continually get better and better, if only humankind would avoid interfering with nature’s inexorable progression toward perfection. When Darwin published his world-shaking Origin of Species, in 1859, Spencer pounced on the idea of “natural selection” and extended it to the realm of human interaction and commerce. (Darwin eventually picked up Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” epithet and used it in his own writings.) Spencer asserted that governments should stay away from any kind of business regulation. A laissez-faire approach would ensure optimal economic development—the strongest businesses would thrive and those that couldn’t keep up would be swept aside.
This way of thinking was tailor-made for men like Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, eager to reconcile their ruthlessly monopolistic business practices and, in Carnegie’s case, brutal treatment of workers with their self-image as God-fearing Christians. “We accept and welcome . . . the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few,” Carnegie said, “as being not only beneficial but essential to the future progress of the race.”
Some pushed the eugenic interpretation of the gap between the haves and the have-nots a step further. S.C.T. Dodd, the vaunted general counsel for Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, asserted that poverty exists “because the nature of the devil has made some men weak and imbecile and others lazy and worthless, and neither man nor God can do much for one who will do nothing for himself.”
In the face of such smug sophistry, Americans in need of a moral compass to help guide them might find that even their church had been co-opted. Protestantism was America’s religion at the time—two out of three churchgoers identified with one of the many Protestant denominations. As part of the Establishment, much of the mainstream Protestant church found itself in sync with business. According to historian Sidney Fine:
Nowhere . . . did the business spirit find greater favor than in the Protestant church. . . . Wealthy business figures were appointed to church boards in increasing numbers, and men of business ability were in demand to serve as church officials. Even the Baptists, who had prided themselves on being a poor man’s denomination, ceased to express contempt for wealth. . . .
However, strong voices would emerge within the church and the churchgoing laity, who resisted the sweep of materialist values and the self-justifying rationales of the well-healed. Protestant clergymen Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch were among the most renowned critics of Gilded Age materialism at the time. They denounced the corrosive impact on society of the cartels like Standard Oil and the men behind them. Of Rockefeller, Gladden would write in 1905:
[Rockefeller] is the representative of a great system that has become a public enemy. The organization which he represents has been and is now a gigantic oppressor of the people. . . . [It is] abundantly clear that this great fortune has been built up by the transgression and the evasion of law and by methods which are at war with the first principles of morality. Are we, as Christians, forbidden to judge this sort of thing? I rather think it is our business to be swift witnesses against it.
Gladden, a Congregational minister, wrote influentially and entered politics in an effort to push reforms, serving for two years on the city council of Columbus, Ohio. Rauschenbusch, a Baptist, was a pastor in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City and a religious educator. They and others advanced an activist religious practice known as the Social Gospel, which called on believers to assert Christian principles in the here and now to support economic and social justice. Meanwhile, the needs of the poor and socially deprived inspired the founding of urban settlement houses, like Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago, the Neighborhood Guild in New York, and Andover House in Boston, which brought some social services, education, and recreation to city slums.
Representing the interests of wage earners, the American labor movement began to coalesce as a force to contend with. By 1886, the broad-based Knights of Labor counted as members more than 700,000 skilled and unskilled workers. The movement progressed in fits and starts over ensuing decades of tumult and periodic crisis.
In a more visionary realm, writer-philosopher Edward Bellamy, Francis’ first cousin, imagined a society based on equitable distribution of resources. His best-selling 1888 novel, Looking Backward, tells a kind of Rip van Winkle story in which a man wakes up, in the year 2000, after a century of sleep to discover a world founded on mutual cooperation and concern, rather than competition. He finds a country that has been cleansed of its nineteenth-century flaws and transformed into a peaceful and thoughtful society free of unemployment, starvation, or poverty, and the state is the only employer. The change occurred gradually, without violence. A beneficent government controls capital and apportions the gross national product equally among all. Bellamy’s dream of institutionalized equity and brotherly love attracted a following of intellectuals and idealists who embraced the tenets of what came to be known alternately as Nationalism and Christian socialism. Among those active in promoting these ideas in speeches and published essays was Edward’s younger cousin, the future author of the Pledge of Allegiance, Reverend Francis Bellamy. (As we will see later, Francis, a fervent idealist, also shared some of the era’s crass prejudices.)
The single most far-reaching phenomenon of the era when the Pledge came into being was immigration. In 1892, the year the Pledge came to be, Ellis Island opened in New York Harbor as a processing center for people arriving by ship from Europe in ever-increasing numbers. The former naval munitions depot was converted at a cost of $500,000 to replace a smaller reception area in Castle Garden, a onetime fortification and amusement center in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. That facility had been overwhelmed. Between 1881 and 1890, the number of foreign-born people entering the United States had almost doubled compared to the previous decade—from 2.8 million to 5.2 million. (The aggregate foreign-born population in 1890 was more than 9 million, almost 15 percent of the national total, the biggest proportion ever. By comparison, in 2000, the Census Bureau counted 28.4 million people living in the United States who were born abroad, at 10 percent the highest proportion since 1930.)
Immigrants played a crucial role in the economy by helping to fill an ongoing need for manual labor. In 1890, 56 percent of the labor force in manufacturing and mechanical industries was foreign born or of foreign parentage. But then as now, the increasing influx of immigrants raised fears and bared some ugly prejudices. Would the new arrivals take jobs, use up public resources, cause an increase in crime? Would their language, their customs, their differentness overwhelm the nation’s dominant Anglo-Saxon culture?
America’s traditional image as a nation of immigrants and a refuge for the downtrodden is well earned. The timeline of immigration to America in colonial times is famously marked with the arrivals of people fleeing intolerance and persecution—from the Puritans in 1620, to Lord Baltimore’s Catholics in 1634, to the first Jewish immigrants fleeing maltreatment in Brazil (1654), to the Quakers (1681), the Mennonites (1688), and the Huguenots (1685). And yet, almost from the beginning, Americans have exhibited mixed feelings toward those who came after them. In the late 1600s, popular prejudice drew official support when some colonial governments passed measures discriminating against Catholics and the Scotch-Irish (who originally had been brought into the colonies as servants):
“The common fear,” a Pennsylvania official explained, “is that if they [the Scotch-Irish] thus continue to come they will make themselves proprietors of the Province.”
In the early days of independence from Britain, the young United States of America had virtually no legal or bureaucratic barriers to immigration. (One reason for welcoming all was the practical fact that there were huge territories to settle and defend. The first federal census, in 1790, counted a total population in the young nation of only 3.2 million occupying more than 700,000 square miles of territory.) In 1793, President George Washington enunciated an “open-door policy” that resounded with the democratic idealism that Americans like to think of as a defining national characteristic: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.”
By 1798, however, Congress had voted into law the oxymoronically titled Alien Friends Act, which empowered the president to deport any noncitizen who might be “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” This was soon followed by the Naturalization Act, which established a hefty residency requirement of fourteen years for an immigrant to be eligible for citizenship. In 1801, though, after a power shift in Congress, the Alien Friends Act was allowed to lapse and the residency requirement for naturalization was shortened to five years.
The first enduring restriction on immigration came in 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, spurred by lobbying from Western states, where Chinese immigrants had helped build railroads and mine the gold and silver fields. The law barred Chinese from entering the country for ten years (except for students, merchants, and children of Chinese-American citizens). Rather than only a decade, the prohibition on Chinese immigration stayed in effect until 1943.
Although the Chinese Exclusion Act was the only time in American history that an ethnic group or nationality was singled out to be prohibited from immigration, it was of course neither the first nor the last time that a minority was the target of open bigotry and hostility. For millions who have come to this country over the years and who are still arriving from around the world, the mystique of America as a land of opportunity and safe haven has been very much a reality. Unfortunately, though, along with the Scotch-Irish, the Germans, and the Chinese, successions of immigrant groups have experienced discrimination and violence in their adopted homeland.
Twenty-five years before signing the Declaration of Independence, no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin expressed unblushing antipathy toward German newcomers in Pennsylvania. In a 1751 screed, he wrote about immigrants from the German Palatinate:
Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together, establish their Language and Manners, to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them . . . ?
This passage from a revered founding father is an early example of a mind-set that decades later came to be known as “nativism”—virulent opposition to supposedly inferior groups seen as a threat to the predominant culture. In his attack, the word-savvy Mr. Franklin used terms like “swarm” and “herding” to dehumanize the people who were the object of derision, an approach that would be typical of later nativist diatribes.
In the great wave of immigration to America during the 1830s and 1840s, the Irish outnumbered all other nationalities. Escaping famine and oppression in their own country, many found themselves crowded into disease-rife slums on this side of the Atlantic and shut out of the jobs that might lift them out of poverty. (The now infamous phrase “No Irish Need Apply” was familiar in employment postings and rental ads.) Portrayed as ignorant, dirty, and immoral, the Irish were, worst of all to their detractors, Catholic. Many Americans saw Catholics as a subversive group controlled by the pope in Rome and a threat to the governing principles of the primordially Protestant nation.
Anti-Catholicism and other nativist sentiments entered mainstream politics with the rise in the 1850s of the Know-Nothing Party. Officially called at various times the American Party or the Native American Party, the group had nothing to do with indigenous peoples and everything to do with playing on fear and prejudice for political advantage. (Originally a quasi-secret organization with hokey recognition signals, the party earned its nickname because its members, when asked about the organization, supposedly replied, “I know nothing.”) With anti-Catholic, anti-Irish tenets as their chief focus, the Know Nothings gained control of several state governments, mostly in the Northeast, and sent more than a few representatives to the U.S. Congress. The party pushed for laws limiting immigration and tightening naturalization requirements, while Know Nothing legislators set up committees to investigate alleged malfeasance in Catholic institutions. In the presidential election of 1856, former president Millard Fillmore represented the Know Nothings as a third-party candidate. Almost 900,000 Americans cast ballots for him (more than one in five voters) and he won the state of Maryland.
While its electoral successes lent the Know Nothings a veneer of legitimacy, the party attracted a thug element that favored intimidation and violence over electioneering. In 1844, nativist precursors of the Know Nothings sparked anti–Irish Catholic riots in Philadelphia that resulted in more than twenty deaths. Ten years later, in Baltimore, a gang of Know-Nothing boosters called the Plug Uglies attacked polling places on election day. Writing in 1998 in the Baltimore City Paper, Brennen Jensen described their approach:
Their methods were crude but effective. While today we vote in secrecy, voters of that era brought their marked ballots to the polls with them. Know Nothing ballots were gaudily striped and easy to spot. When a voter approached carrying Know Nothing colors, he was greeted with backslaps and smiles. When a rival ballot was spied, thugs chanted “Meet him on the ice!” and pounced like feral dogs. Fists, paving stones, and knives were part of the arsenal, but the favorite weapon was the easy-to-conceal awl. Shoemakers used these pointed tools to punch holes in leather; the Know Nothings used them to punch holes in their rivals.
On election day 1854, the Plug Uglies triggered riots in Baltimore that left eight dead. In Louisville, Kentucky, election day 1855 became known as “Bloody Monday” after Know-Nothing mobs attacked Germans and Irish voters, leaving twenty-two dead and a trail of arson and looting.
Although the Know-Nothing Party fizzled soon after the 1856 elections, hostility toward immigrants and spates of nativist violence recurred in America through the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond. Favorite targets in the West were the Chinese, more than 200,000 of whom had crossed the Pacific between 1850 and 1880, before the Exclusion Act. As with the Irish-Catholics and German immigrants, the Chinese were resented as competitors for jobs, housing, and other resources in California, Colorado, and other areas of the West where they had settled. The Chinese were also feared and loathed because of their otherness. Officially sanctioning popular sentiments, state legislation banned them from mining jobs, barred them from public schools, and even prohibited them from testifying in court against whites.
Once a group is officially depersonalized and painted as a menace, grassroots violence often follows. In 1871 a mob attacked Chinatown in Los Angeles, burning and looting homes and businesses and killing some twenty Chinese men and boys. Other violence against Chinese in California followed, especially as economic conditions deteriorated nationwide and jobs became scarce after the Panic of 1873. In 1876, a group of angry citizens who counted themselves as members of the nativist Order of Caucasians attacked Chinese woodcutters in Truckee, California, setting their cabin afire as they slept and firing on them when they ran outside to fight the blaze. In 1885, at a Rock Springs, Wyoming, coal mine, a group of striking union miners of Welsh and Swedish descent attacked and burned the homes of Chinese miners who had been brought in as replacement workers, killing twenty-eight. Such attacks on Chinese seldom led to successful prosecutions, even when it was well known who the perpetrators were. Chinese witnesses, of course, weren’t allowed to give evidence in court.
As new waves of immigrants crossed the Atlantic during the 1880s and 1890s, xenophobic reactions and episodes of violence against ethnic minorities increased elsewhere in the country as well. The issue for those on the attack wasn’t simply the volume of new arrivals, but who the latest newcomers were and where they came from. The traditional view of the prototypical American at the time was someone of northern and western European descent, reflecting the origins of the large majority of immigrants up until the 1880s. But in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, the numbers coming from southern and eastern Europe mushroomed, spurred by poverty, privation, persecution, and other political, economic, and social conditions. In the same period, the totals from Ireland, Germany, and Great Britain trailed off dramatically. Of the 3.22 million people who came to the United States during the 1890s, more than half were from Italy and eastern Europe. If the Irish felt unwelcome when their influx peaked during the 1840s and 1850s, well, at least they typically were fair-skinned and spoke English. On the other hand, the Italians, the Jews from Russia, the Slavs, Magyars, Greeks, Portuguese, and other groups whose immigration tallies increased during the period were considered by many Americans of more traditional ethnic extraction to be beyond the pale—fundamentally different and occupying a lower niche on the scale of human development.
These attitudes were widely held, openly expressed in educated, respectable circles, and given currency by individuals considered part of the intelligentsia. Francis Amasa Walker, a renowned economist at the time, portrayed the new strain of immigrants as “beaten men from beaten races, representing the worst failures in the struggle of existence.” A group of young Harvard graduates founded the Immigration Restriction League, which zealously lobbied Congress to regulate immigration based on ethnic origin and to institute literacy tests for immigrants. In 1896, Congress passed such a bill, sponsored by the powerful Massachusetts congressman (later senator) Henry Cabot Lodge (who, in the next chapter, will play a walk-on role in the story of the Pledge). President Grover Cleveland denounced ethnic quotas and literacy tests as contrary to the American spirit and vetoed the measure. Similar legislation, passed and vetoed by successive presidents, finally took effect in 1917, after Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto.
The changing face of immigration, and the threat it seemed to imply to a traditional view of American identity, was one of the factors behind another, more benign phenomenon: a mushrooming growth in the number of patriotic organizations and a notable increase in public displays of national pride. The 1890s saw the birth of groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), and other hereditary associations that sought to identify themselves with the heroic origins of American nationhood.
Beyond confirming that the forbearers of its members were longtime residents of the New World, these organizations saw fervent patriotism as a central part of their franchise. While the motivation for joining the groups was in part snobbery and in part a simple urge toward social affiliation, there was in the impulses behind their formation an implied circling of the wagons. In his book Patriotism on Parade, Wallace Evans Davies offers this observation:
What was happening was that an industrialized urbanized society was dissolving the standards, mores, and bonds of a simpler rural order and instead was producing a land more and more diversified in national origin, religion, and cultural inheritance, with no national church or royal family or other cohesive traditions and symbols, perhaps in the near future not even a common language, some feared. Consequently many turned to patriotism as a sort of secular religion to unite the American republic.
However much defensiveness may have motivated the surge in patriotism, there was a genuinely American exuberance to it as well. In his book Flag: An American Biography, Marc Leepson describes the growing popularity in those days of displaying and venerating the Stars and Stripes:
Flags flew from public and private buildings, ceremonies took place at city halls and other municipal venues, streetcars in big cities were decked out with flags and bunting, and flag commemorations took place in public schools.
In terms of size, a scheme for the grandest flag began to take shape in 1890 when William O. McDowell, a zealous and imaginative booster of all things patriotic, launched a campaign to get a gigantic flagpole constructed on the Navesink Highlands in New Jersey so that ship passengers bound for New York Harbor would see the American standard as they caught sight of shore. McDowell, a prominent Garden State financier, was instrumental in founding both the Sons and the Daughters of the American Revolution, the two most prominent heredity groups commemorating American patriots. Membership in both organizations required proof of being a direct descendant of someone who had aided in the independence effort. While some DAR chapters dated to 1890, Congress gave the group an official charter in 1896; SAR, begun by McDowell in New York City’s Fraunces Tavern in 1889 (the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration), received its congressional charter in 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was also a member.
In 1891 the U.S. commissioner of education, William T. Harris, appointed to his post by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889, approved a proposal to fly flags over every public school building in the country, thus reflecting what author Wallace Evans Davies described as “a curious faith in the beneficial effect that the mere physical presence of the banner had upon youth.”
Soon there would come an opportunity to focus national pride on a national scale. With the approach of the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyage of discovery to America, the U.S. Congress authorized funds for a new world’s fair in Chicago. A major thrust of this “Columbian” Exposition would be to celebrate the United States as the full florescence of civilization in the New World. Groundbreaking for the Chicago expo was scheduled for October 1892, which set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the birth of the Pledge of Allegiance.