The Surprising Story Of The Pledge Of Allegiance

  • Wednesday, July 11, 2012
  • Chuck Hamilton

One of the most glaring examples of consequences being 180°  opposite of what the initiator of action intended have to be that of 19th century Baptist minister and Christian socialist Francis Bellamy and his Pledge of Allegiance.

His pledge, and its prescribed method of recitation, were first published in the weekly The Youth’s Companion, the premier youth-oriented family magazine during the century of its publication, from 1827 to 1929.  Such was this magazine’s reputation that it drew in contributions from such stellar and diverse authors as Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jack London, Booker T. Washington, Emily Dickinson, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Huxley, and others.

The story of Francis’ pledge begins with the Nationalist Clubs of his cousin Edward.

The Nationalist Clubs 

Few Americans today are aware or would believe that the third best-selling American novel in the 19th century, behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur, was a science fiction novel about a future socialist utopian commonwealth in the United States.  Among other things, the novel promoted free public education, an eight-hour workday, equality of the sexes, nationalization of industries, public management of the economy, public ownership of utilities, equal income for everyone, and retirement at age 45.  It even predicted such features of current life as plastic credit/debit cards.

Published in 1887, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was written by Francis’ cousin Edward Bellamy.  It almost immediately spawned a popular political movement.  At the inaugural meeting of its first group in Boston in 1888, the name Nationalist Club was chosen by those dedicated to promoting and realizing the vision in Edward’s book.  Edward suggested the name himself, saying it represented the idea of Nation, meaning its citizens, especially its working citizens, vis-a-vis Capital.  He also rejected the idea of class in America, and therefore of a struggle between classes, leaning more toward Ferdinand Lassalle than to Karl Marx.

In a short time, this first Nationalist Club grew into 167 clubs.  The following year, 1889, Edward’s cousin Francis, a Baptist minister, and Episcopal priest William Dwight Porter Bliss formed the Society of Christian Socialists as an auxiliary organization.

Admittedly, there would have been, and still would be, problems with transforming Edward’s vision of the future into concrete reality.  However, to attack the society in the novel as if it were a plan of action is rather foolish because it is, after all, a work of fiction.  It’s the equivalent of attacking George Lucas over the authoritarianism of the pre-Empire Jedi Order.  Edward’s true ideas lie in The Programme of the Nationalists (1884), and in the sequel to Looking Backward  published in 1897, Equality.  

The Gilded Age

America’s modern industrial economy was born during the Gilded Age that began before Reconstruction of the former Confederate states ended and lasted until the Panic of 1893 that began a depression that lasted three years in the U.S. 

The Second Industrial Revolution began during the Civil War and lasted until the Great Depression.  In a letter to Col. William F. Elkins on 21 November 1864, Pres. Lincoln warned: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

During the Reconstruction period in the aftermath of the Civil War, the North’s economy mushroomed and expanded westward while that of the South, well, reconstructed.  Part of that Reconstruction in the South came at the hands of northern industrialists who stayed or returned South after the War. 

In and to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example.  Chattanooga had previously served as base headquarters for the Union’s Department of the Cumberland, in particular its Quartermaster Corps, after the Battle of Missionary Ridge and the retreat of the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee south to Dalton, Georgia, in late 1863.

Chattanooga was prime for industrial and commercial development, on the Tennessee River and as the hub of several rail lines.  The Union veterans who came and built Chattanooga are more the city fathers than those who came in on the heels of the ethnically-cleansed Cherokee in 1838.  Although they were all members of the Grand Army of the Republic, as the Union’s veteran’s organization was called, more important to these Union veterans was their Society of the Army of the Cumberland.

These SAC veterans organized themselves into two chapters, the Moccasin Point Camp and the Lookout Mountain Camp, which merged in the early 1890’s into a single group named the Mountain City Club, according to a notice in the Chattanooga News.  The Mountain City Club remains the predominant social and dinner club in the city.

The United Confederate Veterans also had two chapters, the Bedford Forrest Camp and the A.P. Stewart Camp, both of which survive in the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  A statue of the former Lt. Gen. Stewart still dominates the Hamilton County courthouse front lawn.

Nearly all Chattanooga’s former leaders fled permanently as the war came to the region, so the incoming former Union soldiers mostly occupied vacant spaces.  Until 1870, the county seat was upriver at Harrison.  By that time, the newcomers had built Chattanooga into the county’s biggest and most important municipality.  A large part of what enabled them to do this was the putting aside of old animosities between former antagonists in the name of pursuing profit, exchanging blue and grey for green if you will.

Though the newcomers dominated, they intermarried with local families and partnered with remaining antebellum residents.  Other assets were recruited from the North, such as John T. Lupton, a carpetbagger in the very literal sense of the term.  A lawyer, Lupton arrived in Chattanooga at the Union Station (where the public library is now) with a carpetbag in hand.  Later he founded a corporation called the Coca-Cola Company.  You may have heard of it.  He also built the thirty-room Lyndhurst mansion in the town of Riverview (now in Chattanooga), naming it after that of industrialist Jay Gould in New York.

Unquestionably, the foremost leader of these men was John T. Wilder, the former brigadier general who before the war had already built his own foundry in Indiana.  His flagship was the Roane Iron Works, which stood to the west of Cameron Hill.  Although he died in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1917 after having left Chattanooga in 1882, he is buried here at Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo in accordance with his will.

The rapprochement that took place in Chattanooga in the late 1860’s did not come to the rest of the country until 1877, with the National Compromise that put Rutherford B. Hayes in office, secured a Republican majority for decades, and left the South in general to the Bourbon Democrats.  The South turned from Reconstruction to “Redemption” and the country as a whole entered the Gilded Age.

The year of the “corrupt bargain”, as newspapers called the backroom political deal, also brought the Great Upheaval of 1877.  It began as a strike by railroad workers that turned into a general strike that spread to areas all across the country.  Federal troops and state and local militias put down the strike with considerable force that presaged future actions against labor.

The First International

One of the chief moving forces behind the Great Upheaval was the Marxist-oriented Workingmen’s Party of America, which had its roots in the International Workers Association (IWA), or First International.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels founded the IWA in 1864 in the aftermath of the January Uprising (1863) of workers in Poland.  Its initial membership was made up of Marxists, Blanquists, Philadephes, trade unionists, Lassalleans, Proudhon’s mutualist anarchists, other socialists, and social democrats.  The first American section was organized in 1867.  In 1868, the anarchists in Europe led by Mikhail Bakunin joined.

Near the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the workers in Paris rose up to overthrow the government and establish the Paris Commune.  Though retaining power for little more than two months, the Commune has often been cited as the model workers republic by socialists such as Marx, Engels, Bakunin, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao.  At the time, disagreements over some of its action led to dissension within the IWA over some of its actions, or rather, lack of actions.

The Paris Commune also had consequences for the American people by virtue of scaring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field and his court reporter, John Bancroft, both of whom were in the pay and pockets of the railroads.  

In 1872, after the contentious Hague Congress in which Bakunin’s anarchists split from the Marx and Engels’ socialists, the IWA moved its offices from Europe to New York City.  The U.S. already had 30 local “sections” in its North American Federation (NAF) of the IWA.  After the IWA dissolved in 1876, the NAF and other socialist groups reorganized as the Workingmen’s Party of America, which ultimately became the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLPA).

In 1882, the SLPA helped organize the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York, the country’s first racially-integrated labor union.  Two years later, the CLU declared that the world’s first Labor Day on the first Monday in September, which remains the official Labor Day for the U.S.A. and Canada.

The same year, 1884, saw the publication of Laurence Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth, an interpretation of Marx’s ideas for Americans since Marx’s magnum opus, Capital, had not yet been translated into English.  That translation came in 1886, which also saw the foundation of the American Federation of Labor, workers around the world launching International Workers Day on 1 May in support of the Eight-Hour Movement in the U. S., and the so-called “Haymarket Riots” in Chicago.  The Statue of Liberty, gift of France to America, was dedicated on 28 October 1886. 

This was the tumultuous atmosphere into which Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward was published in 1887.

It was the Gilded Age, the era of Teapot Dome, Tammany Hall, and the original “robber barons”, industrialists, financiers, and monopoly capitalists such as Jay Gould, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jacob Astor, Andrew Mellon, Leland Stanford, Charles M. Schwab, and John D. Rockefeller. 

It was a time when, according to Edward, 31,000 men held half the wealth of the nation’s 65,000,000 persons: “9 percent of the population of the United States owns 71 percent of the wealth of the country, leaving but 29 percent to the remaining 91 percent of the population; and 4,074 persons or families, being the richest group among the 9 percent mentioned, own one-fifth of the total wealth of the country, or nearly as much as the aggregate holdings of 91 percent of the people.”

Gronlund was so impressed with Looking Backward and its widespread popularity that he withdrew his own book from publication for nearly a decade and a half, though its name, Co-operative Commonwealth, remained for decades the ideal for American socialists when speaking of the goal toward which they were working.

In 1888, the afore-mentioned Justice Field invented the legal but devoid of common sense doctrine that a corporation is a person with all the rights and privileges of a U.S. citizen.  The case was Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Company v. State of Pennsylvania, and was the precedent to which the current Court under Chief Justice Roberts reached for its 2010 decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In 1889, the Socialist (or Second) International was formed in Paris on 14 July, Bastille Day.

The Pledge of Allegiance

Edward’s cousin Francis was a leading and spokesperson for the Nationalist Clubs.  In 1891, Francis and Episcopal priest W.D.P. Bliss organized the Society of Christian Socialists as an auxiliary to the movement.  Publisher David Ford, owner of the Perry Mason Company, recruited Francis to work with his nephew, John Upham, in the premium department of his magazine, The Youth’s Companion.

The Coal Creek War in Anderson County, Tennessee began the same year, when coal companies began trying to replace workers with convicts leased from the state government as virtual slave labor.  Free coal workers attacked company facilities and prisons, destroying much property and releasing hundreds.  Dozens from both sides were killed in small arms skirmishes.  The armed uprising lasted over a year before being ruthlessly crushed by company goons and the Tennessee National Guard, and made headlines world-wide.

The premium department of The Youth’s Companion  sold not only annual subscriptions but ran a thriving mail order business.  One of its more popular items was the U.S. flag.  Partially to increase sales (and partly due to patriotic sentiment the magazine launched a campaign to get every school in the country to install a flag pole on which to fly their flag, preferably purchased from The Youth’s Companion, in 1888.  At the time very few if any schools had a flag pole or displayed the flag in any manner, which up to that time was deemed the province of the government, particularly the federal government.

As part of their campaign, Ford and Upham also lobbied for laws making flag poles at school compulsory.  The campaign spread to target private homes, encouraging people to fly the flag on national holidays.

By the beginning of 1892, the premium department had sold over 26,000 flags at $10 per flag, for a total of $260,000 over the four years.  Seeing an opportunity in the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, the magazine and the National Education Association (NEA) organized a committee promoting the National Celebration of the Public Schools for Columbus Day.  Its chairman was none other than Edward Bellamy’s cousin Francis.

To make the occasion more ceremonial, Francis, composed a pledge to the flag and the republic, choosing words through which he hoped to impart a spirit of comrade citizenship and civic responsibility.  Nation versus Capital, in a subtle way.  The pledge he initially wrote was this: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Justice for all.”

With this wording, the emphasis on Nation and the Republic was clear.  The words “liberty, equality, fraternity” were borrowed from France, which had so recently given us the Statue of Liberty, for whom they were the national slogan, adopted from the Cordeliers Clubs during their own revolution.  The stress on “indivisible” and “one” Nation was twofold: first, that the country would never again be divided, and two, that the time for lingering animosities was long past.

The words “equality, fraternity” were struck out before the Pledge of Allegiance was even published.  It would have been rather embarassing to call for equality at the height of Jim Crow, and part of the goal was to sell flags. 

In September of that year, the magazine issued the final form of the Pledge, along with instruction for its recitation, including what became known as the Bellamy salute:  ‘At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute -- 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 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, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.’

Upham introduced the pledge to adults at the National Liberty Pole and Flag Raising Ceremony at Navesink, New Jersey, on 25 April 1893.  The ceremony was instigated by William Osborne McDowell, founder of the Sons of the American Revolution, who had erected the giant flagpole at the Navesink Light Station.  The occasion was decidedly less egalitarian and more nationalistic in the traditional sense.

The magazine continued its support for the Pledge, school flags, and the flag ceremonies until its demise in 1929.

Tarnished Gilding

The Panic of 1893 that led to four years of serious economic depression had already begun a few months earlier.  A year after introduction of the pledge to an adult audience, the first populist march on Washington took place, by “Coxey’s Army” of unemployed and impoverished men.  Eugene Debs and his American Railway Union conducted the Great Pullman Strike of 1894.

During the 1896 federal elections, the Populist Party supported by the Nationalist Clubs threw its weight behind William Jennings Bryan and the Democratic Party.  That, along with the harder times of a depression worse than any except the Great Depression, led to the Populist Party’s demise and the decline of the Nationalist Clubs.

In 1901, the remaining Nationalists joined with the Debs’ Social Democratic Party, Morris Hillquit’s dissidents from the SLPA, former Populists, and other radicals to form the Socialist Party of America. 

Four years later (1905), former and current contributors to The Youth’s Companionsuch as Walter Lippman, Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Helen Keller joined with others to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which later became the League for Industrial Democracy (LID).  The LID spawned a youth wing, the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which in 1958 became the Students for a Democratic Society.  Also that year, the Socialist Party, Socialist Labor Party, and American Labor Union joined together to organize the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or "Wobblies".


Meanwhile, just as the nation was at last beginning to climb out of the 1893 depression, a new administration took office in Washington.  President McKinley and his Secretary of the Navy, Teddy Roosevelt, brought jingoism (a late 19th century popular term for the extreme bigoted nationalism otherwise called chauvinism) to Washington, D.C., and to the country.

Seizing the reins of the sentiment that had been built around the flag and its ceremonies in the past decade, the two directed its fervor into a hatred for the Spain and anger over its actions in nearby Cuba.  With emotions thus raised, it would have been nearly impossible for a rational reaction when a boiler of the U.S.S. Maine blew up and sank it in Havana Bay.

(Incidentally, the last remaining intact part of the Maine, the front cover of one of its gun emplacements, is in the front of the VFW Post 1289 on Lee Highway here in Chattanooga.)

The explosion of jingoistic hysteria that was beginning to be called “Americanism” led, of course, to the Spanish-American War in 1898, and by extension to the Filipino-American War of 1899-1914.  Critics in the Anti-Imperialist League, with Mark Twain at their forefront, condemned it for what it was.  Ironically, this coincided with the beginning of the Progressive Era in America.

The primary basic training for the waves of recruits took place at Fort Oglethorpe in North Georgia, built specifically for that purpose next to the Chickamauga battlefield section of the new Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, which had been dedicated just three years before.  The park, the first such in the United States, had been established at the instigation and with the funds of the veteran Union officers of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland who had made Chattanooga their home. 

Soldiers suffered far more casualties from training accidents and disease at Ft. Oglethorpe than did the entire U.S. military and navy in the Cuban conflict.

After the “war”, McKinley proved his critics’ charges of imperialism correct by annexing Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippine Islands.  He called this “Benevolent Assimilation” and tied it to earlier ideas of Manifest Destiny.  Over a million Filipinos died while being “benevolently assimilated”, refusing to accept that resistance was futile.

The "Progressive" Era

In 1901, a professor at Princeton University and supporter of the Democratic Party published The History of the American People.  On Reconstruction, he wrote, “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation, until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country”.  Eleven years later, Dr. Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States.

A few years later (1905), a Baptist minister from North Carolina named Thomas Dixon published a book called The Clansman that also became a popular stage play.  Attracted to the story, film pioneer D.W. Griffith made it into a ground-breaking movie in 1915, renamed “The Birth of a Nation”.  It was the first motion picture shown in the White House, after which Wilson is reported to have remarked that, “It’s like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

Almost immediately after assuming office, and only partially at the behest of the newly Democratic Senate, Wilson instituted segregation of the races across the board, even in federal offices and departments which had always been integrated.  Including the Armed Forces, a travesty which wasn’t reversed until Harry Truman was president.

Proving that socialists are not the only ones capable of being swayed into action by a fictional work, William Simmons, a former native of Indiana who migrated to Georgia, and fifteen other men inaugurated the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Unlike its post-Civil War predecessor (the more simply titled Ku Klux Klan), the Knights of the KKK was anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-communist, anti-Jewish, and prohibitionist, their chief declared principle being “Americanism”, with a Bible in one hand and a flag in the other.  The burning cross introduced by the movie and adopted by Simmons had never been a feature of the original postwar group.

A signal feature of their public parades was the ostentatious display of an excessive number of American flags and accompanying ceremonial deference.  During the school flag campaign of Upham and the NEA, the effort had gained little traction in the South because the Stars & Stripes was the flag of their conqueror.  Now, however, that reversed, with Southerners the most ardent proponents of the cult of the flag.

New income for the premium department of The Youth’s Companion.

Meanwhile back in the Old World, a group of men in Italy and another in Germany in the days after the end of the Great War had been paying attention and seeking propaganda tools.  Both groups, one led by Benito Mussolini and the other by Adolf Hitler, adopted several features of “hooded Americanism”, including excessive attachment to symbols and its salute to the flag.

In 1924, the National Flag Conference altered the pledge to read, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”  The change shifted focus to the Flag symbol and downplayed the “Republic for which it stands”.

The apex of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’s power and influence came in 1925, with the march down the Mall of Washington of over 250,000 members in white robes and hoods, nearly all of them carrying aloft an American flag.

The final departure from Francis Bellamy’s vision came in 1954, when the Congress of the United States inserted the phrase “under God” into the Pledge at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church’s Knights of Columbus.  Francis was a strong believer in and advocate of complete separation of church and state, as had been most Baptists in the  U.S. since the inception of the new nation.

To add insult to injury, this action came as part of the Second Red Scare (the first was after the Great War), a campaign against communists, socialists, reformers, labor unionists, civil rights activists, and other reprobates, like Francis Bellamy and his cousin Edward.

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