“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
— “The Pledge of Allegiance,” September 9, 1892
With Independence Day just a week ago and all the statist fervor that’s displayed annually around the holiday, I’m reminded of why I don’t say “The Pledge of Allegiance.” Let’s begin with the sordid inception of this American ritual.
The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy, a 19th-century Christian socialist and member of the Boston-born movement known as the Nationalist Club. The organization urged for the nationalization of private property and exponential growth in social services, especially public education.
So, what we’re talking about here is not the kind of nationalism that seeks political independence for a regional people who share a distinct culture, language, and religion. Rather, this was more about “economic democracy.” In other words, socialism.
Enter Francis’ cousin, Edward Bellamy, a then-famous author of socialist-utopian novels. Edward’s “Looking Backward” was the third best-selling book of the day and greatly influenced none other than progressive public-school advocate, John Dewey. The book also inspired the proliferation of more Nationalist Clubs, where Bellamyites would gather to study Marxism and disseminate anti-capitalist ideas.
The blue-blood’s brand of nationalism coursed its way through the veins of America’s body politic and into many cities beyond Boston. The movement found common cause with reformers of the era, such as the People’s Party, the Social Labor Party, and the Social Democratic Party. And at the club’s height, there were chapters as far away as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Canada, California, and New Zealand.
Back to Francis: in the late 1880s, he was fired from his New England pastoral job for incessantly preaching that Jesus was a socialist. But he went on to become the founding vice president of the Society of Christian Socialists and a frequent contributor to its circular, “The Dawn.”
Francis was then hired by “The Youth’s Companion” (YC), a leading children’s publication that also featured works by Americana greats, like Jack London, Mark Twain, and Booker T. Washington. As content creators in the magazine’s premium department, Francis and James B. Upham began a promotion in 1888 that solicited subscriptions from public schools with the bonus of receiving a U.S. flag.
Up until this point, flying the stars and stripes wasn’t a common custom most anywhere. Remember, this was prior to the country’s ascent into foreign-adventurism during the Spanish-American War and subsequent role as global-policeman via propaganda pushed during both world wars.
But despite 20-plus years of Reconstruction, people still largely identified with their community, state, or region at this time. It’s not that folks weren’t proud of their home, it’s just that their home wasn’t the “nation.”
Plus, Unionism wasn’t (and I would argue, still isn’t among loud and proud Dixie natives) the instinct of most homegrown Americans, so shows of patriotism weren’t really necessary. Hell, Congress didn’t proclaim the 4th of July an official holiday until 1870, and Southern cities, like battle-worn Vicksburg, Miss., didn’t even celebrate it till the early 1900s.
But in just a few short years of YC’s promotion, approximately 26,000 flags had moved into public schools through this ingenious marketing concept. As with most business strategies, though, demand began to stagnate. So in 1892, Upham had another grand idea: increase magazine sales and the numbers of flags into schools by couching the promotion as a way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to the Americas.
A new flag pledge was published in the September 8 issue of YC. Students were encouraged to memorize and recite it, as well as participate in a novel flag-raising ceremony to observe the upcoming Columbus Day in October.
Francis spoke at a national meeting of school superintendents in support of the gimmick, er, I mean, patriotic program. Of course, the educrats were seduced by the campaign and happily obliged at utilizing government education to work the Pledge into the consciousness of the masses.
“Our public school system is what makes this Nation superior to all other Nations,” Sherman Hoar, U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, told Francis in support of the pledge campaign. Pompous populism was at a fever pitch.
The National Education Association became a sponsor, and U.S. Congress and President Benjamin Harrison also participated in the excitement, making a national proclamation about the Columbus Day pledge-and-flag event. And so was born a new American covenant.
Interestingly, the pledge was originally recited while raising a stiff right hand upward. Due to its similarities to the Nazi salute, this practice was discontinued during WWII and replaced with placing right hand over heart. At the urging of the Knights of Columbus, “Under God” was added by Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 as a stance against the threat of atheist communism. Oh the irony.
So, controversies over the Pledge’s words have become an all-encompassing straw man: while leftists fight to have the Pledge taken out of schools (even though they’re the ones who put it there), godly limited-government folks think they’re being both patriotic and faithful in promoting the Pledge’s public prominence (even though it’s a socialist screed). The discombobulation is baffling.
The terminology of the now-lionized Pledge echoed the sentiments that was – and still is – the vanguard of New England meddlesomeness, which spread like wildfire throughout the Progressive Era. It ramped up in the late 1800s and hammered home the wrath of Reconstruction, planting the creeping seeds of post-modern socialism that slowly but surely befell 20th-century America and is today in despondent, dark bloom.
“Republic … is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove,” Francis explained of the terms he used in crafting the Pledge. “To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as [Daniel] Webster and [Abraham] Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches.”
He also wanted the political vow to be “an intensive communing with salient points of our national history … [including] the meaning of the Civil War” and viewed his Pledge as an “inoculation” against radicalism. And as a puritanical populist who once ran for New York governor on the Prohibition Party ticket, you know the “virus” of subversion to which he was referring was states’ rights.
There’s a reason “Happy Secession Day” was trending on social media this 4th of July: many people are coming to realize that Revolutionary colonists
Secession, not oneness, is our heritage, no matter what progressive pundits or public-school propagandists say. Questioning “the republic” and “the flag for which it stands” is as American as apple pie; it is truly in line with our founding as a people of freedom and faith. Our legacy is not that of soulless automatons and empire worshippers.
“I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind,'” C.S. Lewis said. “For independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs and asks nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology.”
Now I know Lewis is a Brit, but I think it’s important to have a strong Christian counterpoint to Francis’ social-gospel message. Lewis may have been a mutton-and-turnip-eating Irishman, but he surely had his Anglican finger on the pulse of what it means to be faithful and free-thinking
Government that’s smaller and closer to home is always better for liberty, and Dixie has been living under an antithetical system for way too long a time. As an unReconstructed Southerner, I see the Pledge’s “one nation” and “indivisibility” mantras as simply reinforcing the central authoritarianism which my Confederate ancestors fought against.
Take the experience of Francis Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key composed what came to be the lyrics of America’s national anthem when witnessing the U.S. flag waving in Baltimore harbor after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
Fast forward not even 50 years to the War of North Aggression, when Howard was arrested without warrant in accordance with the federal government’s policy of jailing dissenters of Lincoln’s wartime policies. Howard’s crime? He had written an editorial condemning Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, implementation of martial law in Baltimore, and imprisonment of the city’s mayor, its police commissioners, the entire city council, and a sitting U.S. Congressman – all without charge.
By imprisoning so many of his political enemies, Lincoln prevented Marylanders from ever having a vote on secession. After all, people can’t challenge the unrestrained power of the nation-state and its usurpation of authority, if their leaders are all locked away.
Howard was originally held at at Fort McHenry, precisely where Key had experienced his pivotal patriotic moment and penned the reverent words honoring the flag and fortitude of his young, struggling country. Obviously, Howard wasn’t feeling the same warm-and-fuzzy sentiments as did his grandfather.
“The flag which then he [Key] so proudly hailed, I saw waving at the same place over the victims as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.”
— Francis Key Howard, 1861
To me, the Pledge is either a socially sanctioned habit that few question at best, or a forced loyalty oath of subordination at worst. Why vow allegiance to something hell bent on crushing self-determination, promoting tyranny, and propping up oligarchs who pay for their socialist schemes on my dime just because it’s the status quo? It’s all just a bit too totalitarian for this rebel.
But I’m not a barbarian, for goodness sake. I respect my family and friends who do participate in the Pledge. After all, I know they see it as a simple act of publicly displaying love of country. But I also see my small resistance as patriotic.
There’s a line in an old Ani DiFranco song that goes, “I am a patriot. I have been fighting the good fight.” I, too, am fighting the good fight for a homeland where “liberty and justice for all” (not special rights for some) and a republic that embraces (not crushes) divisibility can again take root, and against the reconstructed socialism that has foisted ruination and colonization upon my nation: the South.
As author Edward Abbey once wrote: “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” I am that kind of patriot. Deo vindice.