As part of our national debate on the subject, some folks in California are trying to revive a tradition that began back in 1892, when the Pledge of Allegiance was first recited by schoolchildren across America, in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of what was then referred to as Columbus' "discovery" of America.
The Pledge was most probably written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and a Christian Socialist, who was working as a kind of public relations assistant to Daniel Ford, the dynamic editor of one of the most powerful magazines of the time, The Youth's Companion, which by the 1890s had a circulation approaching half a million readers.
The Youth's Companion was interested in promoting a National Public School Celebration to coincide with the Columbus Quadricentennial in order to honor the nation's public schools, which a young politician named Teddy Roosevelt called "the leading form in which the principles of equality and fraternity take shape." Benjamin Harrison, the President of the United States at the time, supported this joint celebration, and in his proclamation of these events he, too, praised America's public schools, noting that they were "in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment."
The Youth's Companion provided all the schools with a program for the ceremony, complete with the texts of speeches to be given. It even recommended how to say the Pledge. The children were supposed to salute and repeat the pledge and "at the words, 'to my Flag,' the magazine instructed, "the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation, whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side. Then, still standing, as the instruments strike a chord, all will sing, "America, My Country 'tis of Thee." -- the unofficial children's national anthem at the time.
Always marching to the tune of its own drummer, New York City adopted the pledge during its own, three-day Columbus celebration held early in October that year. After reciting the Pledge, tens of thousands of schoolchildren paraded down Fifth Avenue past the reviewing stands, while half a million parents, many of them immigrants, watched . . . . and cheered.
Copyright 2002 © John Cech
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