The cultural and political history of the Pledge of Allegiance, how it came to be, what it means to Americans, and why we have battled over it for generations
For more than a century, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has been a central part of the American Experience. And perhaps because of its ubiquity, this simple flag salute has served not only as a unifying ritual but also as a lightning rod for bitter controversy.
Congress's 1954 decision to add "under God" to the Pledge has made it the focus of three U.S. Supreme Court cases and at least one other landmark appellate decision. The debate continues today, but along with it exists a widely held admiration and support for this simple affirmation of our shared patriotism.
As Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer show in their illuminating history, this brief salute to the flag has had an almost magical power to galvanize people's deepest feelings and beliefs about who we are and ought to be as a nation. In that sense, the story of the Pledge of Allegiance is the story of America and the American people.
The late producer, journalist, and teacher Jeffrey Jones partnered with former Life magazine news editor Peter Myer for this well-rounded view of the pledge of allegiance. Beginning with its 1892 composition by clergyman Francis Bellamy, the pledge is understood by Meyer and Jones as a product of unstable times, years shaken by Civil War, changing demographic makeup, and increasing economic disparities. Initially a prayer for "intelligent patriotism," the pledge has worked both to unite and divide Americans, and it is this capricious nature that so interests Jones and Meyer from its original celebratory use as a flag salute at a Columbus Day commemorative hosted by Youth's Companion magazine to its position as a tool to emphasize the principle separation of church and state to its usage as a bulwark against the presumed threat of communism under the Eisenhower administration. Myers and Jones effortlessly pull from their trade, an impressive array of newspapers, magazines and other literature sewing together a book that succeeds admirably in portraying the pledge as a living oath capable of maturing with and reflecting the attitudes of an ever-evolving nation.
A wonderful, accurate, historical account of the pledge of allegiance. Meyer writes with real brio and panache regarding Bellamy's rise in writing our key communal expression of national unity.