History of the Pledge of Allegiance

Current Pledge

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The original Pledge of allegiance was slightly different from the one in use today:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

This pledge was first published in "The Youth's Companion," a Boston magazine, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. Believe it or not there was controversy concerning who actually wrote the first pledge. James B. Upham, one of the editors of the "The Youth's Companion," and Francis Bellamy, an assistant editor both made claims to authorship.  Bellamy had at one time been an ordained minister serving Baptist congregations in New York and Massachusetts.

The Boston magazine and in particular Bellamy worked diligently to persuade President Benjamin Harrison that school children should show proper respect to the flag and to the country.  Bellamy's idea was to send American flags to all the public schools.  He decided some type of pledge would be proper for the occasion.

Public schools first started using the pledge in the classroom to celebrate Columbus Day, October 12, 1892.

In 1923, "my Flag" was replaced with the words, "the flag of the United States," by the National Flag Conference of 1923. There was concern in the country that foreign-born residents might be thinking about the flag of their homeland instead of the United States flag when reciting the pledge.

In 1924, the words "of America" were added after "United States."

One of the first legal disputes over the pledge centered on two children from a Jehovah's Witness family, Billy and Lillian Gobitas. In 1935, the children attended a public school which, as did most schools at the time, required students to salute and pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag.

Their church however, viewed the ceremonial saluting of a national flag as a form of idolotry based on Exodus 20: 4-6 that "thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor bow down to them..."

On October 22, 1935 Billy refused to participate in the daily flag-and-pledge ceremony. His sister did the same the next day. In November the school board voted to expel the two for insubordination. Legal cases began seeking to delineate between the authority of the state to require respect for national symbols and the right of individuals to freedom of speech.

In an 8-1 vote in 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the government had inherent authority to compel respect for the flag as a central symbol of national unity. But, in 1943 by a 6-3 vote the Court reconsidered its decision and held that the right of free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution denies the government the authority to compel the saluting of the American flag or the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A U.S. Flag Association committe settled the dispute over the authorship of the pledge in 1939, giving Francis Bellamy credit.

The pledge was officially recognized by Congress on June 22, 1942 when it was formally added to the U.S. Flag Code.

The phrase "Under God" was added to the pledge by a Congressional act approved on June 14, 1954. At that time President Eisenhower said: "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."  The Knights of Columbus and other religious and social organizations were instrumental in the words being added to the pledge.  They hoped to clearly draw the line between the U.S. and its spiritual foundation and what they saw as the growing threat of godless communism around the world.

The U.S. Librarary of Congess issued a detailed report on the pledge in 1957, supporting the ruling that Francis Bellamy was the author.

 Sources: Ben's Guide to Government for Kids, the U.S. Code, Our Flag (U.S. Senate, 1997), the American Legion, the Library of Congress