Did you know the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy to be used as a promotional tool to help put American flags in schools. It’s rumored that Bellamy was a socialist and wanted his pledge to be universal—to be used by any person, in any country. The original is the bare bones of the version we use today:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Important difference between my and the. And adding the country name came a little later. And the directions originally asked that those reciting it extended their right hand, slightly upward toward the flag…. That was changed to hand over the heart during WWII, for obvious reasons.
“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.”
We live with this pledge today; it is woven into the character of who we are. People from both sides of the political spectrum say it with pride. It is the ultimate patriot speak (capitalism, political propaganda, ok…). We say it like penance, three Hail Marys, an Our Father, and the Act of Contrition.
What do the words mean?
I pledge allegiance
Pledge: promise, surety, bond, to give one’s word.
Allegiance: loyalty, fidelity, obedience
To the flag of the United States of America
To this flag.
Not this one.
Or this one.
Wait, what? How do you obey a flag? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America? It’s that old sales thing hanging on there…
And to the Republic for which it stands
Republic: From Latin res ‘concern’ + publicus ‘of the people, public’. A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.
So, reaching back to the U. S. Constitution and We the people, or perhaps the Gettysburg Address of the people, by the people… well sort of, that whole elected representatives is important. A republic, as you should have learned in a government or civics class, is not a democracy—it is a state in which the members of the public elect representatives to vote for them. That’s how we roll. And with the average voter turnout historically at 40%… Not so much for the people, by the people. Our government only works if we work it—maybe we could incorporate that into the pledge?
Not North, South—that conversation officially ended in 1865, when were stopped referring to ourselves as these United States – plural to the United States – singular. Important article there. Not East, West (sorry hip hop, you don’t trump nation).
That wasn’t added until Eisenhower had it added in 1954 in reaction to the “godless communists” – Cold War rhetoric. Propaganda, a step up from the original advertising, but still, we can hear its embodiment. But which God? Are we talking God the way Jefferson saw god? As in it doesn’t matter what you call god, it is all the divinity… The god of your understanding. And what about Atheists and Agnostics? Are they, by virtue of their intellectual belief, excluded from Patriotism? I don’t think that’s what Bellamy or Eisenhower intended. I really don’t.
Indivisible: unable to be divided. Say it out loud every time you think to look at your fellow Americans Black, Muslim, Gay, Trans, Hispanic, Women as less than American. Say it…it is in the fucking pledge, indivisible—unable to be divided. Get it?
Liberty: the state of being free within a society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behavior or political views. Different from taking liberty – your liberty stops where mine begins, if this confuses you, please see the definition of indivisible, thank you.
Justice: the quality of being fair and reasonable and the administration of the law or authority in maintaining this. Straightforward and simple – the indivisible population deserves, and gets justice—got it? Good. Moving on…
All: uses to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group. Please see indivisible.
If you cannot say The Pledge with meaning, then don’t say it at all. Just don’t. If your version of The United States doesn’t measure up to this definition of the Pledge, if it is words by rote—you are not a patriot.
If any of this surprised you, buy a dictionary and please, read more widely. Although, if much of this came as a surprise to you, you are probably not part of the audience I usually target.
All definitions from the OED. And if you don’t know what that is, Google is your friend.