Diligent by nature, it was Bellamy’s habit to tackle any task set before him with energy, determination, and high expectations. And whatever emotions roiled within him during this major career change, outwardly he conveyed confidence and determination as he undertook the task of organizing a nationwide salute to the discovery of America.
He already had a sense of the obstacles ahead of him. Coordinating the details and getting cooperation from all the necessary parties toward a single national event involving thousands of schools and millions of people would be no small feat.
It was the spring of 1892, with the October anniversary of the Columbian landfall fast approaching. Bellamy knew there was no time to stand on ceremony. He wrote two lengthy memos to his boss explaining what he had been doing and proposing a bold plan to keep “the Press” interested. So far, he told Ford, the Clipping Bureau had already found two hundred editorials about the October event. But “the fire is slackening.” The second memo, especially, is a peek into the mind of a marketing man—no detail is unimportant. “It seems to me we shall want both a Morning and an Afternoon Celebration—each for different purposes,” he tells Ford. “You see, we ask the schools to celebrate the Day, and we also ask the people to make the schools the center of Celebration. This double purpose cannot be accomplished at a single session, except in rural schools where the school-house is the great rallying place of the people. In towns and cities two occasions will be needful.” Bellamy suggested that the schools have “their own exercises—for which we will furnish the program” and that “the citizens’ celebration take place in the largest hall in the town, preceded by a procession in which the older pupils will be escorted by the veterans and by other organizations, this Afternoon Celebration to be distinctly keyed on the Public School note. Consequently, we shall need at least three varieties of Program. . . .”
But the real beauty of this six-page typewritten letter to Ford, dated April 18, 1892, is Bellamy’s second section, “Pushing the Movement.” It is here that he justifies Ford’s confidence in giving him such a large responsibility. “The work thus far done has only launched the movement,” Bellamy writes. “It requires a great deal more to make it an assured success.” His analysis is straightforward and to the point. “General local apathy must get such repeated shakings that every locality will at last wake up and produce at least one man who will say, ‘This thing must be done here.’ ” Bellamy then proceeds to outline a four-point plan for “repeated shakings,” ending with what he warned was the “main dependence” for success: the press. “Success hangs on the amount and continuance of newspaper talk.”
Newspaper talk? A thoroughly modern publicist at work.
Bellamy indeed knew the media. “It is only the concrete that appeals to the Daily Press,” he tells Ford, “and it is hard to keep them supplied with concrete material. They will not publish our general effusions.” Bellamy’s frank and honest assessment must have appealed to Ford, the man who once followed the minister to his new church. “It is easy to foresee that shortly the great din of the Presidential Campaign will drown out our noise unless we make preparations for keeping our rumble going,” he continued, correctly assessing what would be a historic confrontation between Grover Cleveland, itching for retribution, and then-President Benjamin Harrison, who had, in 1888, prevented Cleveland from having a second term. “I believe we can do this,” said Bellamy. “But we must do it by giving concrete news to the Press.”
How did he propose to give such news to the Press?
“I have a special plan to submit to you for the making of this kind of news,” he said:
The Dailies will publish, and comment on, what leading statesmen say. What Mr. Blaine, Mr. Cleveland, Mr. Reed, Mr. McKinley etc. think about this plan would be telegraphed everywhere, printed, and commented on editorially. Such men, who would not allow themselves to be “interviewed,” would talk with me as the Chairman of this great movement and would allow me to give “currency to their opinions.”
So I want to ask you if this would not be the best step now;—
Let me go on to Washington taking letters from Gov. Russell to our Massachusetts Senators and Representatives asking their cordial endorsement and introduction since this is a Boston idea.
Bellamy was clearly no country rube, with no small ambition to “see the leading men in Washington, including the President.” And he left no stone unturned: the ten-day trip would be cost effective. “It would cost about $75.00,” he told Ford. “But that amount might otherwise quickly be spent in printing and postage which would not achieve anywhere near the same result.”
Ford was convinced. And his considerable connections would undoubtedly serve Bellamy’s cause, greasing the wheels and opening doors, including that of the influential Republican congressman from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge. An appointment at the White House soon came through.
Bellamy charged down to Washington, but not without shrewdly stopping first in New York to secure the support of the once (and future) president Grover Cleveland. In the election of 1888, Cleveland, the incumbent, had beaten the challenger Harrison in the popular vote—only to lose in the electoral college when the Tammany Hall machine helped tip New York State’s decisive thirty-four votes into the Republican column. Now Cleveland was preparing to try to take back the presidency for the Democrats in the 1892 balloting.
At the White House, Congressman Lodge introduced Bellamy to President Harrison, letting it be known that Cleveland had already promised support. Harrison quickly agreed to back the Columbus school commemoration and promised to write a letter of endorsement. But Bellamy also conducted one of his many interviews—this was “the concrete material” the press would love—with the president. Harrison told him that he was “interested in all that pertains to the Public School and I like to see the Flag over the School.” Already in campaign mode, he reminded Bellamy that “I did as much as anyone to promote the School Flag idea.” But Harrison’s limitations were apparent. “The best thing to do with [these flags] is for these business men to give them to the Public Schools to be a perpetual lesson in patriotism,” he told Bellamy. Harrison was probably less a marketing man than Bellamy. “They used to think that all the school had to do was to teach the ‘3 Rs’ as we called it out West,” the president continued. “But they see it differently now, and it is time. The school is the place for education in intelligent patriotism and citizenship.”
Harrison was proud of his support for public education and it was clear that Bellamy and Upham had done the right thing by making the schools the central sponsor of their Columbus event. “Yes, I talked this from Maine to California,” said Harrison. “I told the people twenty times along the route, that the American free education system was the choicest institution we had.”
Then he stopped. “I’ve said enough on this subject, Mr. Bellamy,” he abruptly concluded, advising the magazine man to “present the matter to me in writing or printing so that I can see it before me easily, and I will call in my stenographer and dictate a few sentences which will cover the ground you want.”
As the president tendered a farewell handshake, Bellamy stuck a verbal foot in the door. “I thank you, Mr. President,” said the cheeky former preacher, “but I was going to ask you if you wouldn’t issue a proclamation making the day a national holiday and recommending the people to observe it in the public schools.” The president stiffened and Lodge glared at Bellamy. “Why sir,” said Harrison, “that is impossible without congressional authority.”
Lodge hustled Bellamy out. “That was going too far after the president showed you such consideration,” Lodge scolded. “You almost tipped over the apple cart.” Bellamy was contrite, but only momentarily. “I’m sorry if I made a bull,” he said. “Now we’ll have to get Congress to give him the authority.”
“That is absolutely impractical,” Lodge sputtered. He reminded Bellamy, with what patience he could muster, that the Democrats, who controlled the House, would never allow Harrison to hand voters an extra day off from work during an election year. “But I didn’t know any better than to try,” Bellamy later reminisced.
And so Bellamy began to haunt the halls of Congress, interviewing, or trying to, dozens of Capitol Hill solons. Some legislators sidestepped the issue completely. Senator David B. Hill (D.-N.Y.), harboring presidential fantasies, declined comment. Senator John Sherman (R.-Ohio), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was too busy worrying about external affairs to have an opinion. With others, though, Bellamy found success. Rather than arm-twist the lawmakers, he asked for “interviews,” ostensibly to gather their assessments of the proposed Columbus Day commemoration. How would it be received in the West? he asked a senator from South Dakota. What was the view from Texas? he asked another. What would a Southern senator think about including Civil War veterans, “both the Blue and the Gray”? One by one, influential lawmakers embraced the idea of a national Columbus celebration in public schools as if it were their own. Congressman William Holman (D.-Ind.) called the plan “an admirable one,” and was much impressed that the event “is calculated to sweep the whole country. Nothing can withstand the force of it.”
“Where do you think, Judge Holman, that the Celebration will be most successful?” Bellamy asked.
“It will prevail most among the country schools,” replied Holman, “in the real country schools at the crossroads and in the back country. . . . The country people are almost as quick to read the news of the day as the people in the cities who have the daily papers, but there is this difference; what they read in their weekly papers certainly makes a deeper impression upon them.”
It is clear from reading Bellamy’s transcripts of these interviews that he had a list of questions—at least, subjects—that he wanted to cover. But the language of his subjects is far from pat, with clear and oftentimes remarkably trenchant comments from the country’s “leading men” at an important period of American history.
One common theme, which seems almost quaint today, is the significance of Columbus and his “discovery.” “The voyage of Columbus was made in the name of enlightenment and progress, in spite of ignorance and conservatism,” said Congressman Durborow (D.-Ill.). “It is also peculiarly appropriate because our free educational system is the direct product of what Columbus stood for,” added Lodge. “Whatever may be said of Columbus, he certainly stood as a protest against ignorance. He achieved his discovery in spite of all that ignorance could do to defeat him. His protest against ignorance and the general spirit of enlightenment, which has always been the spirit of this country, are one and the same. Of course the Public School ought to lead in the Celebration. What is the program to be?”
And many of the legislators drew a quick line between the enlightenment that Columbus represented and the role of public schools in the celebration. “There is a direct line of connection between the determination of Columbus to break through the limitations of the Middle Ages and the educational system which represents the modern spirit of enlightenment,” said Durborow. Even Congressman Joseph Bailey (D.-Tex.), who announced that he was “uncompromisingly opposed to the appropriation of a single dollar more for that Exposition” and was “hostile to this sort of thing from first to last,” was very much in favor of the Public School Celebration. “It not only asks for no money from the Government, but most of all, and best of all, it centers itself in the hearts of the people. . . . It depends entirely upon the people of each locality, and in that respect it represents the American idea. . . . It will be an object lesson in the responsibilities of citizenship.”
There was no doubt, at least among the several dozen or so congressmen that Bellamy interviewed, that education was an important subject. “When the children begin to take an interest in historical matters the rest of the world has to follow,” said Congressman Sherman Hoar (D.-Mass.). “Children can make anything in the world interesting, and significant as well.” “Our perpetuity as a Nation depends upon the education of all the citizens,” exclaimed Mr. Bailey of Texas. “That is the one line where individual liberty must give way to the general good. No man has a right to demand that his children shall grow up ignorant. No man who has property has the right to deny the advantages of education to the children of the man who has no property.” Congressman Roger Mills (D.-Tex.), seemed to make a similar exception to the preeminence of individual, or states’, rights when it came to education. “The Public School cannot be exalted too much,” he told Bellamy. “You must remember it is a state institution and not a national one.” That notwithstanding, Mills continued, “A mass of ignorant citizens is always a menace to justice and liberty. Therefore we must take the public money, and compel these children to be educated.”
“Our public school system is what makes this Nation superior to all other Nations—not the Army or Navy system,” said Hoar. “Military display . . . does not belong here.” In fact, a number of the congressmen expressed their desire to keep the military, except for the Grand Army, a group of Civil War veterans from the North, out of this. “I have no patience with all this Naval Display and Military Display for Columbus Day,” intoned Congressman William Campbell Preston Breckinridge (D.-Ky.), a former colonel in the Confederate Army. “What place has it in that day? We have had war enough. The genius of the country isn’t arms and military display. . . . [W]e are made for different things. Our progress lies in the direction of enlightenment, and that is what the Public School stands for. The Children ought to be made to feel on that day that enlightenment and not the showiness of uniforms, and the perfection of machines for killing men, is the real destiny of this land of ours. They can’t learn that too early either.”
An interesting exception to the general roll of interviewees was Theodore Roosevelt, then serving as president of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Bellamy clearly recognized the political clout that the young Harrison appointee from New York had. And Roosevelt didn’t disappoint:
Yes, I believe in the Celebration of Columbus Day, by the Public Schools of America, from the word “go.” The public School is the keystone of the arch of our civilization. It stands for the American principle of equality. It is a great thing to give to the average man the principles of progress and enlightenment. Other nations have given these privileges to a few; we have given them to all. And so the Public School, perhaps more truly than any other institution in America, represents the essential moral spirit.
This 400th anniversary ought to be made more of than any other Centennial in history. The Discovery of America was the first step in the revolution of the whole world. It has already brought two Americas and Australia into the civilized world. It set in motion the chain of energies which has opened up Asia and Africa to civilization. The Old World civilization clustered around the Mediterranean Sea; in the Middle Ages civilization centered in Europe; but now civilization is world-wide. No other one thing has been so important in the history of our race, as we know it, as the Discovery of America. It has made possible this world-wide civilization.
The part the Flag is to play, in this Celebration of the 12th of October, appeals to me tremendously. We are all the descendants from emigrants, but we want to hasten the day, by every possible means, when we shall be fused together in an entire and new race, or rather the new races of a new world. Consequently, by all means in our power we ought to inculcate, among the children of this country, the most fervent loyalty to the Flag.
The Common School and the Flag stand together as archtypical of American civilization. The Common School is the leading form in which the principles of equality and fraternity take shape; while the Flag represents not only these principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, but also the great pulsing nation with all its hopes, and all its past, and all its moral power. So it is eminently fitting that the Common School and the Flag should stand out together on Columbus Day.
I am particularly pleased with this Celebration by the Public Schools when I look at it from the national standpoint. It will mean that we are all one people. The South, as well as the North, will join heartily in it. It will signalize as no local observance could do, and as no general observance base on any other institution could do, the fact that we are a solid nation.
Within a few weeks, Bellamy’s Capitol Hill lobbying paid off. Congress approved a joint resolution empowering the president to proclaim a national holiday “with suitable exercises in schools.” Despite that victory, though, the White House proved maddeningly slow to issue a proclamation. President Harrison’s reputation for fretting and dawdling over even minor administrative details seemed to be accurate. Bellamy needed the official proclamation to begin convincing state governors to follow suit with decrees of their own.
The real hold up, however, came from Capitol Hill and not from the White House. An argument had surfaced within Congress centering around whether the proclamation should set the date for Columbus Day as October 12 or October 21.
Though there was a scholarly question over the historically correct date for the actual Columbus landing, some observers believed that politics had something to do with the reconsideration as well, as the number of VIP speakers for events on October 12 was limited. And for a brief moment the tempest in the teacup grew into a maelstrom that almost sucked the school celebration down.
The scholarly argument revolved around the change in worldwide calendar use from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar beginning in 1582, some ninety years after the Columbus landing. While the original written entry in Columbus’s log set the landing date in 1492 as October 12, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar prompted many people to revisit historical dates. The change, based on sixteenth-century recalculations, improved on the Julian calendar because it accommodated for the actual length of the solar year, which is not a perfect 365 days. The Gregorian calendar introduced the leap year every four years, adding a day into the year, to keep the counting of days almost nearly accurate. In 1582 the Catholic church literally made up for lost time by readjusting the calendar in that year and declaring that the day that followed October 5, 1582, would be October 15, thereby catching up on ten days that the Julian calendar had not properly accounted for.
This historic shift in dates was what consumed the thoughts of some members of Congress in 1892. After all, Columbus set foot in the Americas on October 12 of the Old Style calendar, not the new. This strictness of historical dates gathered adherents within Congress to move to change the date for the observation of Columbus Day, or “Discovery Day.”
The controversy about Gregorian versus Julian calendars had not been resolved throughout the world in 1892. Many countries by that date had not adopted the Gregorian calendar. In fact, it would not be until 1929 that worldwide adoption of a single calendar—the Gregorian—was achieved. Until that time, world travelers would go from one country to another and literally not know what day it was. Part of the problem with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar is that its original source was a decree by a Catholic pope. Non-Catholic countries had no interest in this new calendar. For example, non-Catholic England and its colonies, including, of course, the American colonies, did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. By that time there was an eleven-day difference between the Old Style Julian calendar and the Gregorian system. The official change within England and its possessions took place in September of 1752; the day that followed September 2, 1752, was September 14, 1752. All old dates were readjusted to fit the new system. So, for example, George Washington’s birthday, which was February 11, 1732, suddenly jumped to February 22 during the year 1753, as it is noted on the calendar today.
For Bellamy, the arguments over the precise historic date to mark the Columbus landing proved infuriating. He had a deadline to meet and needed an official date, whatever it might be, to focus the Companion’s school events around. Congress, and more significantly congressional staff members, dithered back and forth over the issue as precious weeks melted away.
Bellamy himself wanted to stay with the October 12 date in part because the Companion had already announced that October 12 was the date for the celebration, but also because large-scale events had already been announced and planned on that date for New York City and for the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
But punctilious members of Congress continued to press the importance of strict historic correctness by refusing to allow the United States of America to officially declare any date but October 21 as the date of the Columbus landing—noting that in 1492 the difference between a Julian calendar date and a reconsidered date under the Gregorian calendar would have been nine days.
Back and forth the calendar argument went, until it looked like the entire enterprise might end in a stalemate. With the “21” camp refusing to bend, Bellamy finally gave in, bowing to the need for a timely congressional resolution.
As June turned toward July, Bellamy again descended on the executive mansion, where he learned that paperwork for the proclamation had gone to the State Department where it had stalled for weeks.
“I immediately called upon Secretary of State [John] Foster and asked him if the proclamation might not be hurried,” Bellamy later wrote. Secretary Foster, in his cabinet post less than a month, was about to show the presumptuous magazine factotum the door when an assistant came in to report that the order for the proclamation had just been received. Seizing the moment, Bellamy pressed the issue with a velveteen coyness that might have made Machiavelli blush. “I thought that possibly I was in a position to contribute one or two valuable points of view as to [the proclamation’s] phrasing,” he recounted years later. “I gave as my only excuse that in view of the coming election a tactful wording of that proclamation was very important, and that . . . the whole matter up till now had resulted from personal conferences with Congressional leaders and the President himself. . . .”
Whether exasperated or convinced, Foster decided to put the ball back in Bellamy’s court. “I’ll send you right up to the Third Assistant Secretary, Mr. Creidler, and he will give you the form and you can write out the first draft yourself,” said the secretary of state. Bellamy set down a draft. Perfectly aligning the first national Columbus Day celebration to the Youth’s Companion vision, the declaration peaked with this pneumatic passage: “Let the National Flag float over every schoolhouse in the country, and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of citizenship.” The next day, newspapers carried the president’s official decree with Bellamy’s text intact.
And so, the first official national observance of Columbus Day fell on October 21. As we know today, subsequent decisions about the date to observe fell back to the traditional date of October 12. In the early part of the twentieth century a number of states started declaring official Columbus Day commemorative days—all on October 12. Then, in 1934, after strong lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, President Franklin Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a federal holiday—again, on October 12. All the scholarly precision that vexed Bellamy in 1892 became even more irrelevant in 1971 when the holiday was fixed to the second Monday in October—making a specific historic connection to a specific date less important than the convenience of a set three-day holiday weekend. (Coincidentally, the second Monday in October is celebrated in Canada as Thanksgiving.)
While the first national date for Columbus Day was set for October 21, the complex and elaborate festivities in New York City remained firmly committed for October 12. The organizers of the groundbreaking ceremonies at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, on the other hand, embraced the new October 21 date. They had been concerned that dignitaries who were scheduled to attend the events on October 12 in New York City would not come to Chicago. Now, however, with a nine-day separation between the two events, the same dignitaries could attend both, which they did.
With the first national Columbus Day commemoration now officially proclaimed, Bellamy had three months to attract enough local participation around the country to make the school event truly national in scope. The main vehicle for getting the word out was the Youth’s Companion itself. Ads ran for weeks promoting both the school celebration and the ongoing school flag campaign to its hundreds of thousands of readers:
Has your school yet obtained its Flag for this great Celebration? [One ad asked readers in large bold type.] Ask your Teacher to send for our Flag Certificates. By the sale of these Flag Certificates for 10 cents each to the friends of the pupils, your school can raise money for its Flag in one day.
Copy for another ad said:
$3.50 will buy a bunting flag of best quality, 6 feet long, just right for a “little country school,” and for $5.35 a flag 9 feet long. . . . The boys can cut the flagstaff.
In the weeks that followed, Bellamy led a juggernaut campaign of promotion and public relations. He inveigled governors to issue proclamations in their own states and urged the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization of Civil War veterans, to get former troops from both sides involved. He sent brochures and personal letters to school superintendents. He sent streams of correspondence to newspaper editors offering ready-made editorials and news features already typeset and cast in boilerplate. (The promotional instincts, creativity, and resourcefulness he displayed would eventually come in handy during his later career in advertising.)
Meanwhile, Bellamy and James Upham were assembling a “programme” for the ceremony, to be published in the Companion and sent out in bulk to schools. The order of ceremony reflected an era when audiovisual technology had yet to make an appearance. There were no amps and loudspeakers, no theatrical lighting, no satellite hookups, no Quicktime videos, no Power Point slides, no digital effects. In the arena of public gatherings, it was still very much an acoustic era and the impact of a presentation relied on the unaided projection of the human voice, on movement, and on gesture.
The day would feature American flags in front of public school buildings in every community. The flood of patriotic expression would crystallize when children across the country stood and saluted the flag. The special recitation would be followed by several other works that were commissioned for this extraordinary day.
Poetry, celebratory song, readings, and formal addresses were common components of most any ceremonial gathering in American towns and cities. Declamation and group recitations were standard fare, especially in any assembly having to do with patriotism and civic life. “Oratory is the parent of liberty,” said a handbook on public speaking popular at the time. The Columbus Day program to be published in the Companion for schools around the country to follow would feature a reading of President Harrison’s proclamation, a group singing of “America” (“My Country ’tis of Thee”), and a prayer or scripture reading. The Companion had also commissioned a song by Theron Brown (“Hail him who thro’ darkness first followed the Flame / that led where the Mayflower of Liberty came”) and an ode by Edna Dean Proctor (“Blazon Columbia’s emblem, / The bounteous, golden Corn! / Eons ago, of the great sun’s glow / And the joy of the earth, ’twas born”). No one seemed to think that any of these original pieces might achieve popularity beyond the 1892 event.
An oration, “The Meaning of Four Centuries,” had been assigned to W.C.P. Breckinridge, known as “the silver tongue of Kentucky.” But two drafts from the renowned speaker had proved unsatisfactory to Daniel Ford. He threw the task to the busy Bellamy who, drawing on a facility honed through years of penning weekly homilies, dashed off a speech, which Ford okayed. (“Four hundred years ago this morning, the Pinta’s gun broke the silence, and announced the discovery of this hemisphere. . . .”)
Of all the elements in the program, the one accorded the dramatic focus of the ceremony was the raising of the Stars and Stripes, accompanied by a formal Salute to the Flag, to be recited by the students. As the deadline approached to send the program to press, this one key component remained unwritten. The salute was “the nub of the program,” Bellamy later quipped, “and the nub was the rub.”
A flag salute did exist at the time and was in common use. It had been composed by Colonel George T. Balch, a Civil War veteran and New York City school teacher, who devised it in conjunction with the first Flag Day celebration in 1885. The Balch Salute ran: “I give my heart and my hand to my country—one country, one language, one flag.” At his death in 1895, Balch was “famous for his work in awakening a feeling of patriotism in school children,” according to The New York Times. “His plan was to have flag poles raised on all school houses in the land.”
The Balch Salute had gained some popularity in the public schools. Bellamy, however, dismissed it as “too juvenile.” He and Upham wanted to replace Balch’s constricting text with a salute “of more dignity” that, in Bellamy’s words, “carried more historical meaning.” Amid the frenetic preparations for the October event, Bellamy and Upham had thrown the job of writing the salute back and forth for weeks. Upham tried his hand, jotting drafts at the breakfast table day after day, but the right words didn’t come. Bellamy would later say that his idea for the new salute was a “straight-out vow of allegiance.” The word “allegiance” was a playback to the Civil War, which still seared popular memory.
Eventually there arrived a day in August, the precise date nowhere recorded, when the printer’s press deadline loomed the following morning. Upham and Bellamy stayed late at the Companion that evening. They talked through ideas for the salute over supper at the nearby Thorndike Hotel, then strolled back to the office at 201 Columbus Avenue through the heat of a summer evening. Ultimately, Upham pressed the task of actually composing the salute on his energetic colleague. “You write it,” Bellamy remembered him insisting. “You have a knack at words.”
Bellamy asked Upham to stay around to review what he came up with. He went to his desk, loosened his stiff collar, then took up a lead pencil and a piece of scrap paper. The evening was still sweltering, even though a breeze wafted in off Boston Harbor.
After what he later recalled was “two sweating hours,” Bellamy emerged from his office, called Upham, and read aloud to him the twenty-two-word draft he had settled on: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
As Bellamy later recalled, “After the first phrase, ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag,’ the rest was arduous mental labor.”
He described his thinking process in detail some thirty years later:
“Allegiance to the Flag”—Why? Because it stands for something concrete behind it. What is that concrete background?
“The Republic.” That word Republic, however, is perhaps too concrete, with little natural appeal to a child. What then is this Republic?
It is the whole Nation. We are still near the earlier days when the wholeness of the Nation had been disputed. So the words one and indivisible came to mind—words made familiar by Webster and Lincoln and made vital by the Civil War. That was the genesis of the phrase “and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible.”
And what is the purpose and aim of this indivisible Nation? The first thought was of the phrase which Jefferson had brought back from the French Revolution, “liberty, equality, fraternity.” But that was discarded as too remote and too impossible of realization.
What then? Liberty and justice came as the answer, with a final for all.
In the hands of a less skilled and experienced writer than Francis Bellamy, the flag salute that we now know as the Pledge of Allegiance might have quickly disappeared into oblivion. That it came into common use is attributable at least in part to its being (in its original form) 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. Once accomplished, it seems simple, which is a hallmark of effective composition.
Both the quality of the writing and the care that went into it were characteristic of Bellamy. As eager as he must have been to complete this final program element for the Columbus Day school commemoration and get out of the office on an uncomfortably hot night, we can be sure that there was nothing haphazard about Bellamy’s approach to composing the flag salute on that August evening. He was a conscientious wordsmith and no doubt weighed every word, scribbled and crumpled one draft after another until he was well satisfied with the content and the phrasing.
Conveying thoughts clearly, cleanly, and efficiently was a facility Bellamy would hone under the keen tutelage of Daniel Ford, publisher of Youth’s Companion. “Mr. Ford,” Bellamy remarked many years later, “was one of the finest masters of English I ever met. . . . His own blue pencil was my merciless censor.” But that night, having been with the Companion for barely a year, it was probably not Ford’s tutelage that had much effect, but the voices of preachers past.
The complete “Official Programme,” including the original wording of the Pledge, was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of the Companion.
In later years, Bellamy and the Companion claimed that thousands of local communities and millions of schoolchildren participated in the publication’s observance of its “Official Programme.” Certainly school participation picked up momentum following reports of the hugely successful Columbus Day events in New York City on October 12. Throngs of people lined the streets to watch the parade in New York and more throngs gathered to listen to speeches and bands celebrating with popular music.
But it is unknown exactly how precisely all the various schools followed the Companion’s script on the official national date of October 21. While many newspapers made note of the school observation ceremonies, the only community that can be certain to have followed the “programme” to the letter was Malden, Massachusetts—the hometown of James B. Upham. Bellamy was on hand in Malden to witness this accurate unfolding of the Companion’s “Official Programme.” And he himself gave a speech to the gathered crowd.
After hearing the Pledge recited aloud on that day by schoolchildren, Bellamy felt that the rhythm wasn’t exactly right. He thought hard about it, parsing the sentence over and over until finally deciding what was wrong: there should be an additional “to” in front of “the Republic.” The change was made immediately and from that day, until the next time the Pledge was altered in 1923, the Pledge stood at twenty-three words.
In today’s version of the Pledge, which has nine additional words, the elegant architecture of the original text is still visible, and the fundamental themes still shine through. Bellamy packed a lot of meaning into that single sentence. But how, during those hours of fervid scribbling and scratching out, did the ideas in the Pledge find their way to the page? To begin to answer that question, it will be helpful to know what shaped the man behind the ideas.