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The Evolution of an American Ideology

March 3, 2009

A few thoughts on my lunch hour. . .

The Pledge of Allegience:

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.

(I dare any of you who went to school in the US to be able to type that without hearing it in that rhythm. You know the one . . . )

–written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist.

–originally, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Bellamy chose not to include the terms “equality” and “fraternity”, deeming them too controversial in regards to equal rights for women and blacks. (Dude wasn’t stupid–he realized that all three combined don’t give you Captain Planet, just the French Revolution.)

–in 1923 “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States”—to ensure that immigrants knew which flag was intended. (‘Cause, y’know, the whole moving to a DIFFERENT CONTINENT thing could get confusing.)

–in 1942, on FDR’s suggestion, the appropriate civilian salute during the pledge was changed to the current hand over the heart position. Bellamy’s original ended with the arm outstretched, palm up. (This felt a little creepy to a president engaged in a war with Hitler.)

–the words “under God” were not added until 1954, under the Eisenhower administration.

The Knights of Columbus had begun lobbying for a reference to a deity in 1951, and believed echoing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address phrase was the most appropriate. However, it wasn’t until Eisenhower heard a sermon by Rev. George Docherty (a native of Scotland)—on Lincoln’s birthday—where Docherty emphasized that the pledge should reflect the American spirit and way of life as defined by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address—and endorsed the inclusion of “under God.”

(the cynic inside me is noting that this inclusion happened during the Cold War—when many of the politicians in our government felt that the American spirit was often defined by “Not A Godless Communist”—although even the cynic agrees that much of what is right about America is contained in the Gettysburg Address, and will admit to having memorized it in the third grade.)

–in 2004, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg noted that to Lincoln and his contemporaries, “under God” meant “God willing”—making its use in the pledge (as a quote from Lincoln) ungrammatical. I have, of course, altered the texts below:

“. . . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, God willing, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one nation, God willing, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”

This geek moment has been brought to you by the implementation of Employee Lunch Hours at TWC, with additional funding from the society of It’s Too Bloody Cold to Go Outside.

The Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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3 comments

  1. The Gettysburg Address and the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V never, ever fail to give me chills when I read them.
    Also, I would honestly forget the words of the Pledge if I tried reciting them in anything other than that old plodding cadence. 😉


  2. Seriously! ‘Tis true.
    . . . and, more icon lust. How do you do it?


  3. I find cool people, knock them over the head, and steal their icons. 😀



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