Francis Bellamy may have possessed the exceptional writing talent needed to compose the Pledge, but the idea (and necessity) for a patriotic salute to the flag was not unique. The “flag-raising movement,” as it was known, was well under way when Bellamy joined Youth’s Companion in 1891.
By then the Companion was a national family paper read by parents and teachers as well as children, the Life magazine of its day. It produced 52 issues a year, published 7 book-length serials, 50 lead stories, 150 “special contributions,” 260 good short stories, 1,000 brief notes, and 2,000 anecdotes, poems, and humorous sketches. Each new subscription included 10 issues and a calendar “in 12 colors and gold.” At the time Bellamy penned the pledge, the Companion had a circulation of 500,000.
The ideas, the style, and the feeling of the words Bellamy set down in the Pledge were a product of his time, to be sure, but also, more particularly, his life experience, his intellectual and philosophical journey, his ideals and prejudices all are the sources of the Pledge. Like many of his peers, Bellamy feared the new generation was losing touch with the extraordinary sacrifice of the Civil War generation.
But why a push to salute or pledge allegiance to the flag at this particular time—in the late nineteenth century?
Anxiety over increasing immigration loomed large at that time and men like Bellamy, George Balch, and James Upham were concerned about the country’s future and identity. The wave of immigration that occurred during the late 1890s brought people “who looked different”—from southern and eastern Europe—as well as large numbers of Catholics and Jews.
Bellamy was also concerned about the “enemy within,” immigrants or native-born Americans who were “not patriotic enough.”
It is unclear whether Bellamy thought he was writing for the ages when he penned the Pledge. But after the practice of reciting it spread during the early years of the twentieth century, he became more outspoken about it, including defending his authorship of it. In the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, he discussed using the Pledge to help combat internal subversion. He viewed the Pledge as “an inoculation” against the “virus” of radical thought and subversion. And he could not escape the “melting pot” issues of his time,* as is clear from these ruminations written several years after he wrote the Pledge:
The hard, inescapable fact is that men [are] not born equal, neither are they born free, but all in bonds to their ancestors and their environments. The success of government by the people will depend upon the stuff that people are made of. The people must guard, more jealously even than their liberties, the quality of their blood. A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another. Every alien immigrant or inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. There are races more or less akin to our own whom we may admit freely and get nothing but the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.
Political scientist Richard Ellis, author of To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance, argues that five anxieties loomed large “in the creation, propagation and amending of the Pledge of Allegiance”: immigrants, materialism, freedom, radicals, communism.
The most compelling concern for Bellamy and his contemporaries were the new Americans, those people who were arriving by the boatload each day. Although we celebrate this as a country of immigrants, Ellis argues, that sentiment “exists side-by-side with fear and sometimes loathing.” At almost the same time, 1883, Emma Lazarus composed her great sonnet for immigrants, a part of whose celebratory invitation was eventually attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It is no coincidence then that the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor was dedicated in 1886, just a few years before the Public School Celebration of the continent’s discovery and in the midst of an intense immigrant wave.
The Columbus Day celebration and the creation of the Pledge happened in the midst of an era that quite literally changed the complexion of America. The immigration anxiety continued, however, into the 1920s, when Bellamy’s original words—“I pledge allegiance to my flag”—were changed to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America” to ensure that immigrant children were not referring to the flag of their country of origin. The change was made to eliminate any confusion in the minds of those children, as well as to impart to them identification with their new country. Though the “my flag” problem may not have been foreseen by them, Bellamy and his Companion colleagues did anticipate the importance of instilling habits of national identity at an early age.
“Our school’s [sic] great task,” announced the Companion, was to make each child into a “thorough going American.” And its editors had done their homework. They cited Census Bureau data showing that, in 1892, a third of all children in the country between the ages of five and seventeen had foreign-born parents or had themselves been born in another country. “It is the problem of our schools,” concluded the Companion, “to assimilate these children to an American standard of life and ideas.”
“The Pledge was a way of sending the patriotic message across America, bringing Columbus Day to the towns and the villages,” says Marilyn Paul, a curator at the National Archives. “It was really a very grassroots idea.”
Bellamy viewed the Columbus Day Celebration and the creation of the Pledge as a powerful moment for public education. The Pledge would, as Peter Dreier and Dick Flacks wrote in The Nation in 2002, “promote a moral vision to counter the individualism embodied in capitalism and expressed in the climate of the Gilded Age, with its robber barons and exploitation of workers. Bellamy intended the line ‘One nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all’ to express a more collective and egalitarian vision of America.”
Bellamy held that the capitalist individualism of the late nineteenth century was inconsistent with Christianity, and like slavery before it, capitalism was destined to disappear, as well. But despite this strong belief in Christian socialism there is little in the pledge (or the Columbus Day celebration) that was overtly socialist.
Between his resignation from the pulpit (1889) and the Columbus Day Celebration (1892), Bellamy traded God for the new Americanism in his proselytizing. During that time, he joined the Lyceum League lecture circuit and addressed large influential groups speaking primarily about “Americanism in the Public Schools.” Key speeches were made to the National Education Association (NEA) and the Women’s Literary Union.
In the NEA speech on July 15, 1892, Bellamy credited Balch’s salute (used in the New York City schools at the time) with having a positive effect on the immigrant children of that city. The salute, he said, made their new country real to these children, and the flag had the power to “Americanize” them.
Bellamy spoke at length about liberty, an American trait that had been “run into the ground,” he said. The problem was not with liberty itself, he argued, but with liberty in the hands of corporate America, which he considered too greedy. Liberty for corporations was not, in Bellamy’s view, “liberty and justice for all.”
That was all well and good. It was when the former preacher began to talk about individual liberties that he drifted off into being what Richard Ellis called a “race conscious nativist.”
“The hard, inescapable fact,” as Bellamy had written, “is that men are not born equal.” His opinion was not unique in America at the time; he was not alone in his apprehension about immigration.
But like Balch before him, Bellamy, while holding and expressing racist beliefs and ethnic prejudice, believed strongly in the transformative power of America and its institutions. He believed that America had the power to elevate peasants, former slaves, and common laborers. Enlightening the poor immigrant using rituals like the flag salute and the Pledge of Allegiance was imperative if the nation was going to maintain control of its ideals.
Though all the elements of the 1892 Columbus Day school celebration were quickly forgotten, except “The Bellamy Pledge,” the event was nevertheless just the beginning of the organizers’ vision of bringing a political socialization program to the public schools. As patriotic fervor in the country increased, the Pledge changed, and as it changed was steadily woven into the fabric of everyday life in America.
During the final decade of the nineteenth century, the flag was transformed into an important patriotic symbol in large part because of the Pledge and the Youth’s Companion efforts to make the Columbus Day celebration a permanent presence in the lives of schoolchildren and adults. The intense emotional build-up before the Spanish American War brought about the informal custom of standing in the presence of the flag as it passed. Momentum continued to build for the school flag movement well into the last decade of the nineteenth century. Wisconsin was the first state to pass a law, in 1889, allowing school boards to purchase flags with public funds, but by 1900, just eleven years later, nineteen states and territories had made flying the flag over a school mandatory.
Just six months after the Columbus Day celebration, on April 25, 1893, James Upham and Francis Bellamy joined William McDowell to help celebrate the installation of his soaring flagpole on the coast of New Jersey. It was the first adult recitation of the Pledge at the National Liberty Pole and Flag Raising Ceremony at the Sandy Hook Navesink Lighthouse, the brightest light on the eastern seaboard, with a broad view of New York Harbor to the north.
The fact that both Upham and Bellamy attended the event was recognition of the role the Youth’s Companion had played in the resurgent flag movement, and Upham was asked to give the key speech at the event. It was short, but had the mark of oratory that echoed the welcome optimism of Emma Lazarus:
America has crossed the threshold of her supreme century. Preceding centuries have built but the framework of our nation. Shall America fulfill her divine mission? Then must she train leaders loyal only to right.
The times demand a patriotic citizenship, patriotic schools, a patriotic pulpit, a patriotic press. Patriotism in its broadest sense is the propelling force behind this multitude of thoughtful, earnest young men, whose generous action makes this event today possible. . . .
As the future shall behold them floating in their majestic mission, may all hearts wave a glad welcome to the coming millions; a welcome not in bondage and superstitions of the past, but to freedom, enlightenment and human brotherhood.
Bellamy was afforded the opportunity to lead the small group in the recitation of the Pledge as the huge flag waved, though the New York Herald Tribune incorrectly reported the words recited at the lighthouse as: “I vow myself to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, and liberty and justice for all.”
In fact, not until after the turn of the century did the Bellamy pledge emerge from the pack and get recognition as the Pledge. The act of showing deference to the flag with a “salute” was by then deeply embedded in the national psyche. But the first flag salute statute was passed in New York State on the day after the United States declared war on Spain, April 22, 1898. The bill was introduced in the state Senate by Senator Henry Coggeshall and required that the U.S. flag be flown over all public schools.
It shall be the duty of the school authorities of every public school in the several cities and school districts of the State to purchase a United States flag, flagstaff and the necessary appliances therefor, and to display such flag upon or near the public school building during school hours, and at such other times as such school authorities may direct.
The law also directed the state superintendent of public instruction to prepare “a program for a salute to the flag at the opening of each day of school and such patriotic exercises as may be deemed by him to be expedient. . . .” Interestingly, in keeping with a theme stressed by many of the government officials Bellamy interviewed prior to the public school event in 1892, the New York legislators forbade using any of the flag ceremonies for military purposes:
Nothing herein contained shall be construed to authorize military instruction or drill in the public schools during school hours.
The superintendent, Charles Rufus Skinner, a former editor of the Watertown Daily Republican and U.S. congressman, noted that the law said “not a word” about its intent. So he intended to provide one: “But whoever will read between the lines cannot fail to see its gracious purpose,—nothing less or other than to awaken in the minds and hearts of the young a strong and abiding regard for the flag and intelligent appreciation of the great men and great deeds that made it to be, to all American youth, the rallying-cry of patriotism.”
Skinner got so carried away with the project that the “program” the law required turned into a huge 470-page Manual of Patriotism. “I would be glad to have every pupil in our public schools commit to memory each week some patriotic selection or quotation, no matter how brief it be,” wrote Skinner in the preface. “Let school be opened by a patriotic song and a salute to the flag. This may be followed by a short recitation or by several brief patriotic quotations from the masterpieces which have been arranged in this work.”
The tome was filled with dozens of poems, salutes, songs, and activities for use in the classroom and is a treasure trove for historians of the era who wish to find a single source for turn-of-the-century arcana of patriotism. It has, of course, things we recognize as standards—like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America”—but most of the content of this book has been lost from our collective memories. Like “The Flag That Has Never Known Defeat,”attributed to songwriters Charles L. Benjamin and George D. Sutton:
On history’s crimson pages, high up on the roll of fame
The story of Old Glory burns, in deathless words of flame.
’Twas cradled in war’s blinding smoke, amid the roar of guns,
Its lullabies were battle-cries, the shouts of Freedom’s sons;
It is the old red, white, and blue, proved emblem of the free,
It is the flag that floats above our land of liberty.
Then greet it, when you meet it, boys, the flag that waves on high;
And hats off, all along the line, when Freedom’s flag goes by.
Uncover when the flag goes by, boys,
’Tis freedom’s starry banner that you greet,
Flag famed in song and story,
Long may it wave, Old Glory,
The flag that has never known defeat.
All honor to the Stars and Stripes, our glory and our pride,
All honor to the flag for which our fathers fought and died;
On many a blood-stained battle-field, on many a gory sea,
The flag has triumphed, evermore triumphant may it be.
And since again, ’mid shot and shell, its folds must be unfurled,
God grant that we may keep it still unstained before the world,
All hail the flag we love, may it victorious ever fly,
And hats off, all along the line, when freedom’s flag goes by.
Uncover when the flag goes by, boys, etc.
There are essays and interviews, including a conversation between one General Horry and a General (Francis) Marion, supposedly conducted in 1795 and titled “Free Schools Inspire Loyalty to Country.” “Israel of old, you know, was destroyed for lack of knowledge,” it begins; “and all nations, all individuals, have come to naught from the same cause. . . .” Many of the entries are quite good, even if their authors have disappeared into the fog of history, like this from one E. C. Cheverton:
Uncover to the flag; bare head
Sorts well with heart as, humbly bowed
We stand in presence of the dead
Who make the flag their shroud
Other entries are accompanied by names most of us know: Daniel Webster, reminiscing about “the towering marble of my country’s Capitol”; or “Thou too, sail on, O ship of state! / Sail on, O Union, strong and great!” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The Manual also included examples of six different “patriotic pledges” that could be used for the flag salute at the start of each day. Bellamy’s pledge was number five on the list and Balch’s not mentioned at all:
Flag of Freedom! True to thee, All our Thoughts,
Words, Deeds shall be,—
Pledging steadfast Loyalty!
The toil of our Hands,
The thoughts of our Heads,
The love our Hearts,
We pledge to our Flag!
By the Memories of the Past,
By the Present, flying fast,
By the Future, long to last,
Let the dear Flag wave!
I pledge myself to stand by the flag that
stands for Loyalty, Liberty and Law!
Though Bellamy’s Pledge (identified in the Manual as “The Youth’s Companion ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ ”) was fifth, it was the only one to be accompanied by directions on how to salute the flag:
(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 to 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 towards the Flag and remains in this gesture to the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.)*
Others tried to take advantage of patriotism’s popularity, but it was hard to compete with Skinner’s massive state-sponsored Manual. The Woman’s Relief Corps, for example, a strong promoter of the flag salute, attempted to distribute the American Flag Manufacturing Company’s booklet “Ritual for Teaching Patriotism in the Public Schools,” but as Ellis points out, schools were put off by the fact that the booklet carried advertising for the flag company and did not use it.
The Nation pounced on Skinner’s tome for promoting “flag-fetishism” in a December 6, 1900, editorial. “Reading drivel to children and making them sing doggerel can hardly have any effect except to vulgarize them,” said the magazine. “We believe that there is left enough of the old saving grace of humor to send this big and foolish book into the obscurity which yawns for the bathetic. What is really serious—and the only thing that warrants our giving it a moment’s attention—is that it bears the imprimatur of the State Superintendent, and that it is to be inflicted upon our schools.”
But it was not enough to stop the legions of patriots pushing for more flag appreciation. The Grand Army of the Republic officially endorsed the salute in 1899, and in 1905 its chief aide in charge of military instruction and patriotic education in schools, Allan Bakewell, circulated detailed instructions on a salute program in the group’s August 1 newsletter. “The flag should be floated daily over every school-house,” he said. “[A]nd, if any State has not yet on its statute books a law requiring this, all Aides in such States are urged to endeavor to secure such a law.”
It should not be hoisted and lowered in a mere perfunctory way, but with ceremony and salutation. My recommendation to the National Encampment that there should be but one pledge in the salute met with favor, therefore the only pledge recommended is, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice to all.” This form of pledge, with instructions for saluting, will be furnished upon requisition.
The Woman’s Relief Corps, with whom you are urged to co-operate, are most earnest in this work of educating the youth to be patriotic, and you will find the Department President fully instructed by the National Patriotic Instructor and ready to join in every reasonable endeavor. . . .
Let us all stand firmly together then, as if it were to be the last year in which we would have the privilege of serving our country. We must dispute the advance of anarchy. We must do all we can to prevent confusion by enrolling a large body in the interest of peace. Whoever shall be taught to respect the flag will always be ready to protect it. And, wherever it shall fly, it must be for the protection of the weak, a menace to inhumanity, a banner of good will and honor for all mankind.
Bakewell then explained again the proper etiquette in saluting the flag:
At the given hour in the morning the pupils are assembled and in their places in the school. A signal is given by the principal of the school. Every student or pupil rises in his place. The flag is brought forward to the principal or teacher. While it is being brought forward from the door to the stand of the principal or teacher, every pupil gives the flag the military salute, which is as follows:—
The right hand uplifted, palm upward, to a line with the forehead, close to it. While thus standing with the palm upward and in the attitude of salute, all the pupils repeat together, slowly and distinctly, the following pledge:—
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: One Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”
At the words “to my Flag,” each one extends the right hand gracefully, palm upward, toward the flag, until the end of the pledge of affirmation. Then all hands drop to the side. The pupils still standing, all sing together in unison the song “America,”—”My Country, ’tis of thee.”
In the primary departments, where the children are very small, they are taught to salute in silence, as an act of reverence, unaccompanied by any pledge. At a signal, as the flag reaches its station, the right hand is raised, palm downward, to a horizontal position against the forehead, and held there until the flag is dipped and returned to a vertical position. Then, at a second signal, the hand is dropped to the side, and the pupil takes his seat. The silent salute conforms very closely to the military and naval salute to the flag.
With America’s entry into World War I in 1917, the demand for flags hit an all-time high. Between April 1916 and May 1917, the cost of flags increased 100 to 300 percent.
During that same time, Major League Baseball (like other sports organizations) began the practice of playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of every game in a gesture of support for the military, and people stood. Within organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the flag ritual became a focal point.
By 1918 the adoration of the flag was such that commentators began to describe the fixation in religious terms. In fact, that year, William Norman Guthrie, a clergyman and lecturer in literature at universities like the University of Chicago, published his The Religion of Old Glory. Guthrie “undertakes to interpret the historical meaning and the spiritual significance of the American flag,” said The New York Times at the time. “Our national banner, he holds, conveys and inculcates lessons of patriotism and emblemizes what he calls ‘the faith to which, as Americans, we’re born.’ He considers separately and together the flag’s elements of form, color, design, and number, and from his study draws the conviction that the flag is worthy of the reverence and worship of good Americans.”
As more states adopted Uniform Flag laws, prosecutions for desecrating or “insulting” the flag rose. It was in this context, and the thick of war, that Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which outlawed “insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States” and the willful obstructing of “the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States,” and the Sedition Act of 1918, which went further, and made it a violation of law to, among other things, “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States. . . .” So it seemed not so odd that state flag statutes cracked down on desecrations: “No person shall publicly mutilate, deface, defile, defy, trample upon, or by word or act cast contempt upon any such flag, standard, color, ensign or shield.”
In one case, E. V. Starr of Montana was sentenced to ten years behind bars when he refused to kiss the flag. Accounts of the time indicate that in March 1918, Starr was confronted by a group of people who attempted to convince him to kiss the flag. He refused, and said, “nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes.” This statement was believed to be seditious. He was charged and five months later, sentenced and fined.
In 1918, Congress went on to pass the Sabotage Act and the Sedition Act, criminalizing “any expression of opinion that was disloyal, profane or abusive of the American form of government, flag or uniform.”
It was thus not extraordinary that the first mandatory flag salute law was passed in Washington State on March 13, 1919. It was a time of labor unrest in the Northwest. That January the city of Seattle was on the brink of a general strike after thirty-five thousand shipyard workers walked off the job and called for the rest of Seattle’s workers to join them. The conflict raised fears of radical agitators and the possibility of a “homegrown socialist revolution.” Calls for “revolution” by the striking workers evoked an emotional response, especially in light of the recent Russian Revolution.
Seattle’s mayor, Ole Hansen, warned that the Industrial Workers of the World union, which was orchestrating the strike, was attempting “to take possession of our American Government and try[ing] to duplicate the anarchy of Russia.”
The general strike fizzled due to public opinion, but the same day it ended the Washington State legislature passed the law that required schools to teach “the principles of American citizenship” and to prevent the hiring of any employee previously dismissed for being unpatriotic. The mandatory pledge law passed three days later with very little resistance or question. It held that school boards in Washington “shall cause appropriate flag exercises to be held in every school at least once in each week at which exercises the pupils shall recite the following salute to the flag: ‘I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ ”
The Washington law appears to be the first to direct that a specific salute be required, and that salute was to be Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance. Failure to follow the law was a criminal misdemeanor.
Following passage of the Washington law, the Pledge became mandatory in schools beginning in the 1910s, until 1943, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the practice of forcing students to say the Pledge unconstitutional (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette).
Following the end of World War I, the American Legion’s National Americanism Commission—under the leadership of its director, Garland Powell—held two Flag Day conferences (over two years) and declared the U.S. flag “a living symbol of a living nation.” The conferences brought together the major private sector patriotic organizations of the time. Members of the government were also present, including the secretary of education; President Warren Harding opened the conference.
“They are invading our homes, our schools, our churches, and our very camps, our patriotic organizations, attacking our flag and our institutions,” roared Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway, national chairperson of the U.S. Daughters of 1812 and chair of Maryland’s Correct Use of the Flag Committee. The “they” referred to were all the perceived critics of America and its institutions.
The commission’s primary objective was to create and implement one code of rules for “how to honor and revere the American flag.” The two-day meeting would produce rules for citizens to follow for the display, raising, lowering, saluting, and folding of flags and dispatched a seven-member committee—among them representatives from the American Legion SAR, DAR, Daughters of the Confederacy, PTA, and Boy Scouts—to draft the details. The committee was also assisted by members of the military.
The commission recommended that Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance be the nation’s official pledge. It did not specify the manner of the salute, but did amend Bellamy’s original wording: “I pledge allegiance to my flag” became “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.”
Commission member Gridley Adams took credit for pushing the change. Adams defended that position years later, saying, “I did not like those words ‘my flag,’ believing that any alien or Hottentot could, and with all sincerity, pledge allegiance to whatever National emblem he held in his mind’s eye. I wanted the Pledge of Allegiance to be specifically American.”
Adams, a high-school dropout who claimed his great-great-grandfather was Nathan Hale’s roommate at Yale, went on to become chairman of the National Flag Code Committee and founder of the United States Flag Foundation. Though his language may not sit well with Americans today, he was an effective, if eccentric, patriot, advising Emily Post on flag etiquette and once chastising Franklin Roosevelt for improper use of Old Glory in the Oval Office.
“Of all the Americans whose eyes grow bright and whose pulses quicken at the sight of the Stars and Stripes and the sound of ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ none reacts to either patriotic stimulus more briskly than a retired advertising man named Gridley Adams, a chipper, outspoken, egocentric, and contentious old gentleman who for the better part of the last thirty years has carried on an impassioned, public love affair with the flag of the United States of America.” So wrote E. J. Kahn in one of the more notable New Yorker opening sentences—in length, if nothing else—for a wonderfully titled profile of Mr. Adams called “Three Cheers for the Blue, White, and Red.” Kahn was then writing, in July of 1952, in honor of the flag enthusiast’s eighty-fifth birthday. And he painted the “advertising man” as a lovable oddball who was pretty much a one-man show on the flag decorum scene. As it turned out, both the Flag Code Committee and the Flag Foundation were headquartered, according to Kahn, in “a four-room apartment Adams and his eighty-year-old wife, whom he married in 1898, occupy in Peter Cooper Village in New York City.”
Regardless of his quirks, Adams had an impact on the nation’s attitude toward its flag. And during the Americanism Commission’s second conference in 1924, the “to my flag” line was amended again, at Gridley’s insistence, to read, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”
“[P]eople ought to be sure which United States they’re talking about,” Adams said in defense of the change.
Bellamy, then almost seventy but closely following the discussions from his retirement home in Tampa, Florida, disliked the changes—they were “needless,” he said, and “interrupt the rhythm and make the Pledge harder to say.” A wordsmith to the end, Bellamy had left Youth’s Companion in 1895, finding it hard to have any assignments matching the excitement of the Public School Celebration. After a four-month stint with Ladies’ Home Journal, the former minister settled in with The Illustrated American as an editor. Unfortunately, without the moderating influence of an uplifting goal—unifying America through a celebration of the flag—Bellamy fell under the sway of some of his darker tendencies. In an 1897 editorial for the magazine he wrote the line about men “not born equal.” This was the launching pad for his advice about the country being on guard against certain immigrants; not the “races, more or less akin to our own,” he had said, but the “other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard.”
When The Illustrated American was sold in 1898, Bellamy went to work for a book publisher (where he edited and published his cousin Edward’s last, posthumous book, The Duke of Stockbridge), then did some reporting for the New York Sun, then some writing for the Equitable Life Assurance Society.
He finally landed a job at Everybody’s Magazine, where he would stay for eleven years. And though Everybody’s had a muckraking reputation, with Lincoln Steffens on its editorial board, Bellamy stayed out of trouble, working as an advertising manager. Even at that, however, he found an “audience,” writing a well-received book called Effective Magazine Advertising. This landed him a job as an account executive at a New York advertising agency, where he stayed until his “semiretirement” in 1921. His wife Hattie had died in 1918 and in 1920 he married Marie Morin, with whom he moved to Tampa in 1922—and from where he would monitor the debate over his Pledge until his death in 1931 at age seventy-six.
Given his apparent lifelong fear of inferior races and places, one would have thought that Bellamy would welcome Gridley Adams’s 1924 concern about the “my flag” part of his Pledge. But pride of authorship prevented Bellamy from accepting the change. In any case, his objections were ignored—in large part, no doubt, because this was exactly the period that his authorship of the Pledge was being challenged (see Chapter 7)—and the American Legion’s Commission moved on to its other significant piece of work, during its second meeting that year: formalizing the salute. The group decided on one that was, essentially, a slight modification of what the Grand Army of the Republic had been suggesting for years: civilians were to stand with their “right hand over their heart,” as the Pledge was recited. At the words “to the flag,” the right hand was to be “extended, palm upward, toward the flag.” A member of the military, in uniform, was to use the standard, right-hand salute while reciting the Pledge.
A permanent National Flag Code Committee was also formed at that meeting and Adams was made its chairman, but as Kahn would point out, the committee never met again:
Those listed on his Flag Foundation stationery include General Douglas MacArthur (Honorary Chairman); Sergeant Alvin C. York (National Chairman); James A. Farley, William Green, and Gene Tunney (among a twenty-two-man advisory committee); and the Honorable Herbert Hoover, Captain E. V. Rickenbacker, the Honorable Harold R. Medina, General Lucius D. Clay, General William J. Donovan, Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Gilbert Grosvener, and George E. Sokolsky (among thirty-seven members-at-large). Adams got them all to serve by writing to them, but he has never called a meeting of the Foundation in its six years of existence, and is unacquainted with the majority of its sponsors.
Following the 1924 conference, the flag code was published in the Boy Scout handbook. The American Legion distributed six million pamphlets on flag etiquette to schools, churches, and public officials nationwide. A total of fourteen million pamphlets were distributed across the country.
In 1925, the Ku Klux Klan (with a membership of four million) endorsed the Flag Code and regularly instructed its younger members on flag etiquette. Prospective members swore an oath of allegiance to the flag and the U.S. Constitution, and they made a strong, clear link between religion and flag devotion. At its peak (in the mid-1920s), the Klan readily used the flag as part of its ritual. And on August 9, 1925, forty thousand hooded KKK members walked down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., holding thousands of American flags aloft. Aside from some of the more visible flag-burning incidents during the 1960s, this march remains one of the most visible reminders of the perils of elevating the flag to hyper-symbolic status.
“ ‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,’ ” went the lines of John Greenleaf Whittier’s famous 1864 poem, “ ‘But spare your country’s flag,’ she said.”
A heated debate arose during the 1930s over the salute’s resemblance to that of the Nazis’, both the DAR and the U.S. Flag Association reacted poorly, dismissing the concerns. The Pledge had become such an important piece of American life, such a potent symbol of nationalism, that it could not be allowed to be tainted by the Fascist association.
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) successfully saw the Flag Code passed into law. On June 22, 1942, the U.S. Flag Code became the law of the land. A joint resolution passed by Congress made the code Public Law 829 (Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session). The law sets out the rules for use and display of the flag, conduct during the playing of the national anthem, and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (Bellamy’s) to be recited. The flag code also contained the raised-arm salute (as prescribed during the 1924 Flag Day conference). And despite the controversy among the general public, there was no discussion about the appropriateness of that salute within Congress.
With this act, the federal government had finally made the Pledge of Allegiance an official U.S. slogan, and guaranteed its part in the mainstream of American life. But was it Bellamy’s Pledge?
*In fact, the term “melting pot” came into common use thanks to Israel Zangwill, whose 1908 play by that name attracted some attention at the time, including from Theodore Roosevelt, who attended its opening in Washington, D.C., in 1909. Says the hero of the play: “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming . . . Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.”
*A variation on the salute protocol was given in a 1912 book called Flag Day: Its History, Origin, and Celebration as Related in Song and Story: “1. Eyes on flag, right hand touching forehead, face uplifted: ‘I pledge allegiance.’ 2. Right arm waving outward and upward, palm up: ‘To my flag and the country for which it stands, One nation, indivisible.’ 3. Expansive gesture, both arms waving out. ‘With liberty and justice.’ 4. Hand brought down to side: ‘for all.’ ”