Sanctimonious Congressmen took to the steps of the Capitol to defy the court order. Agitated Americans telephoned their damning threats to the man who filed the suit. Others swamped switchboards of talk shows to vent their anger. But if most of the Americans who are upset that a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled in favor of making the Pledge of Allegiance a godless recitation actually studied its history, they would more likely be rallying to ban it. The 110-year-old verse is not only the work of a lifelong socialist who campaigned against the "evils of capitalism," but it's also the creation of a writer who would have disapproved heartily of the addition of the words "under God" to his text by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954.
Ironically -- and this is a history story full of ironies -- Pledge author Francis Bellamy was a deeply religious person. As a young man he followed his father's footsteps into the ministry of the Baptist church in his native New England. Francis' cousins, Edward and Charles Bellamy, were journalists who founded The Springfield Daily News in their Massachusetts hometown. All three Bellamys were angered by the way new mills and factories arriving in their area were exploiting workers in that era of "industrial revolution."
Charles wrote several books critical of the conditions for workers and decrying the ill effects of industrialization on their idyllic way of life. Edward was particularly concerned with child-labor abuses and the "feudalism" of the factory system, and he became enraged at the hanging of four young activists who participated in the bloody Haymarket Square labor demonstrations in support of a 40-hour work week in Chicago in 1886. Edward expressed his longings for a shift from capitalism to socialism in a best-selling futuristic novel "Looking Backward" (1888), which became the third best-selling fictional book of the 19th century (just behind "Uncle Tom's Cabin").
"Looking Backward" depicted a utopian American society in the year 2000, a place and time in which everyone would work for the government (sort of a giant Peace Corps) and equally share the nation's income, living in peace and prosperity. The book's immense popularity spawned a nationwide network of new socialist clubs, originally called "Bellamy Clubs" but soon renamed the "Nationalist Clubs." Francis Bellamy was among the Boston club's charter members, and he helped launch an auxiliary called the Society of Christian Socialists. It may sound like a strange pairing today, but the Society was dedicated to two principles: temperance (a support of Prohibition against liquor) and nationalization of most of the U.S. economy.
In his highly detailed book "The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892-1992" (Free State Press, 1992), John W. Baer, an economics professor at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, explains how the Christian Socialists' principles reflected Francis Bellamy's personal philosophy: "The principles stated that economic rights and powers were gifts of God, not for the receiver's use only, but for the benefit of all. All social, political and industrial relations should be based on the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Ã? Capitalism was not based on Christian love but on a selfish individualism." (Baer notes that the term "free enterprise" was coined in the 1930s by the National Association of Manufacturers because the word "capitalism" had become so sullied.)
Unfortunately for Bellamy, his church didn't share his view of capitalist economics. After teaching workshops and preaching sermons on such subjects as "Jesus the Socialist" and "The Socialism of the Bible," he was forced out of his church in Boston in 1891.
Baer quotes Bellamy's granddaughter as saying that her grandfather "would have resented" the addition of the words "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance (the result of a campaign by the Catholic Knights of Columbus in the early '50s) because of the way his own church had treated him. Though he always considered himself a Christian socialist, he gradually lost interest in organized religion and, during his retirement years in Tampa in the 1930s, he stopped going to church altogether. According to the granddaughter, he was deeply offended by the racial bigotry he found in Florida churches.
Francis Bellamy never had been tolerant of racism; it didn't fit into his economic or religious vision. In fact, he included the words "fraternity" and "equality" in an early draft of his Pledge -- right between the words "liberty" and "justice." But he was informed that a committee of state superintendents of education with whom he was working wouldn't endorse such language: The educators were opposed to equality for women and African Americans.
Bellamy penned the Pledge of Allegiance after having been fired from his church and taking a public-relations job with the era's premier young person's magazine, "Youth's Companion." The publication was owned by two liberal businessmen who didn't much care about Bellamy's socialist theories. But, while the owners were politically to the left, they were also businessmen. As a promotion for their 500,000-circulation magazine, they began a campaign to sell American flags to the public schools, which historically had not displayed them in classrooms. The timing of the campaign was to be the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in (then called "discovery of") America. The magazine's owners lined up support from federal and state officials, as well as from the National Education Association, for a National Public School Celebration.
Then they turned to Bellamy to come up with an uplifting flag salute for students to recite as the schools unfurled tens of thousands of newly purchased flags on Columbus Day in October 1892. The words, of course, would appear in a September issue of "Youth's Companion."
The campaign was clearly a clever venture designed to make money for the publishers, but Bellamy saw it as an opportunity to make a statement. In press releases and prewritten editorials he sent to newspapers, his theme was that the public-school system was the "one characteristic institution which linked all neighborhoods together in the U.S. and thus furnished a common bond for national celebration," Baer reports. In an address Bellamy wrote and delivered on Celebration Day in Malden, Mass., he hammered away at his belief that the schools were "the embodiment of the American principle of universal enlightenment and equality Ã? and justice for every citizen." He also declared the coming 20th century as "the age of the people; an age that shall develop a greater care for the rights of the weak."
Francis Bellamy's speech was based on the visions of his brother's novel and on Christian Socialist themes. As Baer writes, "Francis' Americanism was not the spirit that looks to commercial gain." Neither was it the Americanism of religious jingoists. In fact, in his speech, he took a major dig at church-sponsored schools. "Washington and Jefferson recognized that the education of citizens is not the prerogative of church or of other private interest," he said. "While religious training belongs to the church Ã? the training of citizens in the common knowledge and the common duties of citizenship belongs irrevocably to the State." It's highly unlikely that Bellamy would have been a supporter of taxpayer-financed vouchers for use at private schools.
Once the Pledge of Allegiance was drafted, his boss at "Youth's Companion," James Upham, suggested a salute to go with the recitation. Upham reportedly stood at attention, snapped his heels together and stretched out his right arm with the palm of his hand held high. He kept the position as he vowed: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands Ã?" The salute was used all over the country until World War II when the Nazis' adoption of it prompted schools to switch to a posture of hand-over-heart.
Bellamy was not happy when the National Flag Conference, spearheaded by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1923 and 1924, changed his wording from "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America." The conservative organizations, which had been trying to limit immigration, fretted that children of immigrants could confuse "my flag" for the flag of their native land. Bellamy didn't buy that argument and preferred the more personal language he had penned. After all, his concept was that the Pledge of Allegiance was about "the aspiration of the people." He long regretted that his original choices of the words "fraternity" and "equality" were not included, because they were the true message he hoped to impart.
As John Baer reports, those two words were more important to Bellamy than "liberty," a concept that he believed had been "run into the ground" by industrialists. Whereas "fraternity" was Bellamy's "recognition that society was not a loose collection of atom-like economic individuals but an extended family," the word "liberty" had come to mean the right of great corporations to oppress the people, [liberty] for fraudulent stock stales; liberty for the economic atoms at the top of the heap to oppress the atoms on the bottom of the heap of society."
So, if you decide to pledge your allegiance this holiday weekend, you might keep in mind the author's original intent and his preferred wording: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty, fraternity, equality and justice for all."