The Weird Pledge Of Allegiance Mystery: There’s Something Unethical Here, But Who Knows What?

The Pledge of Allegiance is an endlessly fascinating bit of Americana. A powerful snippet of poetry, an assertion of patriotism, a throw-back to simpler times, an anachronism, a culture war battleground: whatever it is, the Pledge is important. For me, it was the first thing I memorized after “Now I lay me down to sleep…” My lifelong interest in and obsession with the American Presidency was probably seeded when my first grade class stood every day to recite the Pledge while looking at the American flag with a framed photograph of President Eisenhower next to it. Now we learn that there is a controversy over who wrote it, and it is quite a tale.

The New York Times, reminding us what an excellent job it can do when it isn’t engaged in partisan spin and propaganda, broke the story yesterday.

A Baptist minister and Christian socialist from upstate New York named Francis Bellamy has been credited as the author for a century.  He swore in two affidavits that he had written the Pledge in August of 1892 in the Boston headquarters of a magazine for young people that he was promoting. He remembered the evening very vividly: it was “blisteringly” hot.

 The American Flag Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Congressional Research Service (when it was called the Legislative Research Service), the Library of Congress, and the definitive quotes source, “The Yale Book of Quotations” all agreed that the reverend was the author. Just last year Bellamy was given the credit in a resolution by the United States Senate.

But in February of this year, Barry Popik, a historian and lexicographer, found an old clipping on newspapers.com from the Ellis County News Republican of Hays, Kansas dated May 21, 1892. The local news story described a school ceremony on April 30, 1892 in which high school students in Victoria, Kansas “pledged allegiance to the flag” in virtually the same words Rev. Bellamy pledged he had written more than three months before he claimed he had written them. The discovery suddenly gave renewed credibility to a discredited claim by a 13-year-old Kansas schoolboy who said he submitted his original pledge to a contest promoting American values. 

And now it gets weird. That contest was organized by Francis Bellamy’s magazine. The name of the schoolboy: Frank Bellamy.

Now history sleuths, including Fred Shapiro, the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, believe that it is very likely that Frank Bellamy, the boy, is the real author of the Pledge of Allegiance, and that the newspaper clipping proves conclusively that Francis Bellamy was not.

What’s going on here? I haven’t a clue. In 1915, Frank Bellamy died from tuberculosis contracted while fighting in the Spanish-American War, years before Francis Bellamy signed affidavits under oath stating that he had written the Pledge of Allegiance. Making things more complicated still, Frank’s sister wrote a letter citing 1896 as the year her bother said he had submitted the Pledge, causing some to argue that he had stolen the words from Francis. But if that was true, how did the Pledge come to be recited in Frank’s home state, three months before the Reverend wrote it? It seems more likely that his sister just confused the dates. In this matter, however, everyone seems to be confused.

As in the case of the toe in the plug of tobacco, the facts speak for themselves in one respect: someone did something very wrong, or at least very careless.

Who and what, however, we may never know.

 

10 thoughts on “The Weird Pledge Of Allegiance Mystery: There’s Something Unethical Here, But Who Knows What?

  1. Since there is no way to truly know the truth in this case, revise the original pledge to read…

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

    by F. Bellamy 1892

    Problem solved.

  2. The existing pledge will not work for today’s Democrats. They view the republic as quite divisible, and are working hard at it every day.

  3. If the promise of my inalienable rights being protected and the unfettered opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness without harming others isn’t enough to inspire my loyalty – a pledge of allegiance certainly won’t do it.

    I grew up with the Pledge of Allegience and for the most part felt is was an innocuous ceremony that reminded us of our unity. I don’t know though – it’s a soft-core statist move and it doesn’t sit well with me anymore.

    • I think it makes poetic sense though – that something conjured up in the mind of a child as being good for the country was then stolen by an grown up Socialist and advanced as something actually good for the country. I can’t say that goes against the usual thought processes of socialists.

      • That’s the same kind of energy that had me singing “God Save The Queen” at school until I was 13 despite Canada declaring independence 118 years before I was born in 1867.

  4. This kind of stuff always fascinates me. To have all of the “official” sources saying something is true only to find out it possibly isn’t. There’s something weirdly exciting about that.

  5. When I attended a Catholic school, we said the pledge every morning. Don’t remember a picture of the current president next to the flag, though. When I moved to a public school, the pledge was never said once.

    In terms of who wrote it first, I’m leaning towards young Frank Bellamy, though that’s mostly to give my home state some bragging rights.

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