Did you ever wonder why children in America pledged allegiance to the American flag? The story actually begins in Boston. 1892 was the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World. That year, two Bostonians embarked on a mission to use their paper and the event as an opportunity to put flags in schoolhouses across the country.
|Puck Magazine, 1902.|
Because of Upham’s efforts, in July of 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared that October 21, 1892 would be a national day of celebration:
The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day's demonstration. 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 American citizenship.
In preparation for the event, Upham hired Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist to write a pledge for the students to recite as part of the October ceremony. Yes, that’s right, a socialist wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. In its original form, students were supposed to raise their right arm in the air as a form of salute and recite:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
|Southington, Connecticut school children |
pledging their allegiance to the flag, 1942,
Library of Congress.
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
A year later, the next Convention added the words “of America.”
In 1939, as war raged in Europe and images began to appear of the Hitler salute, the Sons of the American Revolution began pressuring Congress to adopt an official set of flag rules and etiquette for ceremonies. Outraged by the schools’ compulsory flag salute and pledge recitation some began to challenge its legality. As a result, the Supreme Court struck down compulsory pledge recitation during the school day in Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940).
In the wake of Pearl Harbor and American nationalism, Congress responded to public pressure by passing the Flag Code in 1942, changing the salute to a hand over the heart. As far as flags in the schools were concerned, the Flag Code only mandated the display of the American flag during the school day. While the Pledge was no longer mandatory, many schools continued to start the day with an optional recitation, keeping in line with an already well-established tradition. In addition, after Pearl Harbor everyone was proud to pledge allegiance to their flag.