by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Tuesday, June 14th is Flag Day as we present this interesting article on The Pledge of Allegiance by our history writer Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Who wrote the Pledge of allegiance to the American flag? Was it Francis Bellamy, James Bailey Upham, or Frank E. Bellamy? Each of the three have been credited with writing the pledge which first appeared in printed form in the once popular magazine The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892.
James Bailey Upham was born in New Hampton, New Hampshire on December 27, 1845, the son of Rev. James Upham who had become a professor at the New Hampton Literary and Theological Institution in the Spring of 1844. Troubled by theological differences between Calvinist and Free-Will Baptists and facing financial difficulties, the New Hampton Institution moved to Fairfax, Vermont in 1852, taking Professor Upham and his family to a new home. James Upham moved to Boston after the Civil War had ended.
James Bailey Upham’s uncle by marriage, Daniel Ford, was the owner and editor of The Youth’s Companion and gave his nephew the position of manager of the Premium Department of the magazine. Francis Bellamy, who had been a Baptist pastor in Boston, and labeled as a Christian Socialist, was hired as an assistant to Ford. All three men have been described as being very patriotic. As director of the Premium Department, which gave away premiums as incentives for subscribers and sold additional items, Upham promoted the purchase and use of the American flag. His desire was to see the flag flown outside every school building in the country as an activity designed to help bring unity to the country still recovering from the Civil War.
“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Those were the twenty-three words published on September 8, 1892 in The Youth’s Companion that Americans were encouraged to recite while saluting their flag. It was the policy of The Companion to consider the publication a cooperative effort and not to give credit to any one individual for its articles.
Mr. Upham had convinced President Benjamin Harrison to declare October 12, 1892 as a national holiday to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America and Congress passed an act on June 20, 1892 to make October 12th Columbus Day. The day was celebrated with special programs in schools around the country incorporating the reciting of the new pledge and salute to the flag. Twelve million pupils were thought to have participated. The history of the salute has its own story.
Years later a controversy developed concerning who actually wrote the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. Francis Bellamy accepted statements that he wrote the pledge. The Youth’s Companion position was that its personnel under the leadership of James Bailey Upham had written the pledge, while reportedly expressing displeasure with Bellamy for declaring that he was the sole author. Upham himself, while continuing his patriotic pursuits, apparently never publicly addressed the question of the authorship of the pledge. Mr. Upham died in 1905.
In 1939 the United States Flag Association came to the conclusion that Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge, but Mr. Upham is often credited with the idea of the pledge and appears to be the main promoter of having an American flag in every schoolhouse in the country. Some sources pronounce Bellamy as the writer, others say it was Upham, and others present it as a joint effort. Families of both men reportedly found a copy of the pledge in the hand-writing of their relative which they thought to be the original.
Dr. John W. Baer, author of the book The Pledge of Allegiance, A Revised History and Analysis 2007 wrote “Upham is responsible for placing the flag in front of the schoolhouse, placing the flag in the classroom, conceiving the idea of a pledge of allegiance for a flag salute and promoting its adoption in the public school system and in adult patriotic ceremonies.” The New York Times in an article on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Pledge, Oct. 12,1942, credited James B. Upham with writing the pledge. Eight thousand people are said to have honored him on that day at a celebration in Malden, Mass., the town where he lived and where his body was buried.
As relates to the third person claimed to be the author of the Pledge, a Cherryvale, Kansas high school student was said to have submitted the same words as were in The Youth’s Companion as a contest entry sponsored by the magazine which he supposedly won. His name was, interestingly, Frank E. Bellamy: however, no proof was ever produced to substantiate the claim. My research leads me to believe that the final wording of the Pledge to the United States flag was probably reached by joint agreement of James Upham and Francis Bellamy with the approval of the editorial staff of The Youth’s Companion in keeping with its policy.
Several changes have been made to the initial version of the pledge, the most significant being the last, in 1954, when Congress added the words under God. President Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14th. The President said “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty…In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. lives in New Hampton.