A small history of republicanism: the Pledge of Allegiance

The pledge of allegiance, dispised by many young radicals, was once the creation of an early christian socialist. It refered to the republic as an almost unique concept, a revolutionary form of government. But the ascendency of the capitalist class quelled this revolutionary history, turning the pledge into an element of American nationalism.

In 1892 the American Francis Bellamy wrote the so called pledge of allegiance. The pledge was meant to commemorate the 400th to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas. Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister and a cousing of the utopian socialist and novelist Edward Bellamy. This is what his pledge looked like back in 1892: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Only after the Second World War did this pledge conquer the whole of the United States. The Pledge has been modified four times since its composition. Apparantly, Bellamy favoured the inclusion of the words fraternity and equality, yet he reconcidered this because of institutionalised forms of racial discrimination in the United States. Not that Bellamy wanted to discriminate against African Americans; he knew the state superintendents of education wouldn’t agree with these words.

In 1892 the pledge was changed for the first time. “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” As far as I know this has no big significance. But in 1923 something significant did change: “”pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” The reason for this change is clear: immigrants should be loyal to the United States, not their own flag or country.

Francis Bellamy

A year later, in 1924, the words “of America” were added: “”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 people in the USA, once pledging allegiance to the concept of a republic (as symbolised by the flag of the USA), that is: “one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all”, now had show loyalty to their own country and its republic.

Not surprisingly the US Congress officially recognized the Pledge during the Second World War on June 22, 1942. But that wasn’t enough. In the fifties, another change was proposed by president Eisenhower. As a newly baptised Presbyterian, the president favoured the inclusion of the words “under God” and since then the pledge looks like this: “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.”

What’s telling is that the words “under God” were not proposed by the writer – that is the early christian socialist Francis Bellam. He proposed a pledge in support of the concept of the republic and its flag. Back then, the United States together formed – probably – the only genuine republic, a revolutionary form of government. The French so called third republic was originally intended to be a transitional government, yet eternal political disputes made the ruling elite settle with the newly installed republic – even though it was partially the product of the Paris Commune of 1870-1.

The inclusion of words like “under God” and “of the United States of America” gutted out the original intend of Francis Bellamy, making his pledge an element of American nationalism rather than one of (early) republicanism. Remember how Bellamy favoured the words fraternity and equality, linked to the first and revolutionary French republic. So what happened? Most likely this is the price payed for the growth of capitalism since the 19th century and the failure of the working class to change society.

The United States, once an isolated, revolutionary safehaven for radicals, is now the head of the imperialist picking order that dominates the globe. The fact that the most significant changes were made after both World Wars shows how the capitalist class intends to quell this revolutionary heritage. Although even the smallest sign of capitalist reaction can be regarded as the product of genuine fear, both wars meant a defeat of the working class, and another chance for the ruling class to rewrite history according to its own image.

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5 comments on “A small history of republicanism: the Pledge of Allegiance

  1. Pingback: USA: poetess Katharine Lee Bates was feminist, lesbian, Christian socialist, and anti-imperialist | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Great blog, comrade. You should blog more!

    Also, did you check out the constitutional history of the US? The original Pennysylvania constitution is worth looking at for the most radical of the so-called “bourgeois-democratic” constitutions.

  3. Pingback: A small history of republicanism: the American “democratic republic” | Republican Democracy

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