"One Country! One Language! One Flag!" The Invention of an American Tradition
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“One Country! One Language! One Flag!” The Invention of an American Tradition

Most people assume that the pledge of allegiance is as old as the Republic. In fact, it was invented in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, director of youth activities for the magazine Youth’s Companion. Bellamy drew up the “pledge to the flag” (as it was then called) and publicized it as part of the activities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. On Columbus Day in 1892, ten million children recited Bellamy’s pledge and it soon became a daily ritual in American schoolrooms. Its widespread adoption reflected both the anxieties about insuring an “American” identity in the midst of a renewed wave of European immigration and a growing nationalistic feeling that would soon help foster American expansionism overseas. The salute to the flag, described below, was dropped in 1942 because of its similarity to Hitler’s fascist salute, and replaced with the “modern” salute (right hand over heart). In 1954—in the midst of another wave of American anxiety (this time about domestic and foreign Communism)—the words “under God” were added to the pledge in an effort to distinguish true Americans from "Godless Communists."

National School Celebration of Columbus Day: The Official Programme

(Prepared by Executive Committee, Francis Bellamy, Chairman)

The schools should assemble at 9 A.M. in their various rooms. At 9:30 the detail of Veterans is expected to arrive. It is to be met at the entrance of the yard by the Color-Guard of pupils,—escorted with dignity to the building, and presented to the Principal. The Principal then gives the signal, and the several teachers conduct their students to the yard, to beat of drum or other music, and arrange them in a hollow square about the flag, the Veterans and Color-Guard taking places by the flag itself. The Master of Ceremonies then gives the command “Attention!” and begins the exercises by reading the Proclamation.


At the close of the reading he announces, “In accordance with this recommendation by the President of the United States, and as a sign of our devotion to our country, let the Flag of the Nation be unfurled above this School.”

2. RAISING OF THE FLAG—by the Veterans

As the Flag reaches the top of the staff, the Veterans will lead the assemblage in “Three Cheers for ‘Old Glory.’ ”

3. SALUTE TO THE FLAG—by the Pupils

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward 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.”

4. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD—Prayer or Scripture

5. SONG OF COLUMBUS DAY—by Pupils and Audience

Contributed by The Youth’s Companion Air: Lyons

Columbia, my land! All hail the glad day

When first to thy strand Hope pointed the way.

Hail him who thro' darkness first followed the Flame

That led where the Mayflower of Liberty came.

Dear Country, the star of the valiant and free!

Thy exiles afar are dreaming of thee.

No fields of the Earth so enchantingly shine,

No air breathes such incense, such music as thine.

Humanity’s home! Thy sheltering breast

Give welcome and room to strangers oppress’d.

Pale children of Hunger and Hatred and Wrong

Find life in thy freedom and joy in thy song.

Thy fairest estate the lowly may hold,

Thy poor may grow great, thy feeble grow bold

For worth is the watchword to noble degree,

And manhood is mighty where manhood is free.

O Union of States, and union of souls!

Thy promise awaits, thy future unfolds,

And earth from her twilight is hailing the sun,

That rises where people and rulers are one.

Theron Brown


“The Meaning of the Four Centuries” A Declamation of the Special Address prepared for the occasion by The Youth’s Companion.


“Columbia’s Banner,” A Reading of the Poem written for the Occasion by Edna Dean Proctor.

Here should follow whatever additional Exercises, Patriotic Recitations, Historic Representations, or Chorals may be desired.

8. ADDRESSES BY CITIZENS, and National Songs.

Source: The Youth’s Companion, 65 (1892): 446–447. Reprinted in Scot M. Guenter, The American Flag, 1777–1924: Cultural Shifts (Cranbury, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1990).