The Pledge of Allegiance turns 130 years old today, a fitting occasion to explore its two significant Illinois connections.
As with much of American history there are disputes over the finer details, but seemingly widespread agreement on some tentpole facts: A pledge written by the Rev. Francis Bellamy appeared in print Sept. 8, 1892, as part of a larger effort to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
Columbus Day observances in October 1892 centered on using the pledge and coincided with a dedication celebration of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (the actual fair took place in 1893). Bellamy’s pledge read as follows:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Illinois can’t take much credit for the next change, when the 1923 National Flag Conference amended the pledge to read “the flag of the United States” to remove ambiguity for immigrants who recited the pledge. Congress didn’t officially recognize the pledge in that form (including “of America”) until June 22, 1942.
Later that decade, though, Oak Park lawyer Louis Bowman, a Rock Island native, suggested adding the words “under God.” As chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, he first led that body in reciting his updated version on Lincoln’s birthday in 1948. It took six years for a formal change, but on Flag Day 1954 President Eisenhower signed a Congressional resolution amending the flag code with the text that remains in use today.
In October 1954, the Illinois American Legion Convention approved a different resolution recognizing the Knights of Columbus for initiating the “under God” movement; the Legion’s National Executive Committee later adopted that resolution.
There’s not nearly enough space here to explore Bellamy’s legacy as a Christian socialist or the widespread opinions about the motives behind and legal wrangling over the “under God” clause – including analysis of whether the phrase simply means “God willing,” as Lincoln scholars insist – but on this notable anniversary it’s worth remembering how the Chicago World’s Fair played a part in the pledge’s first moment of national prominence and the Illinois connections to its current form.
MAILBAG: On Aug. 23, I invited readers to share what questions linger or which factors might prove decisive in the election between Gov. JB Pritzker and state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia. Reader Bob Anderson chimed in with a familiar refrain: “Why is the consolidation/elimination of Illinois’ nation-leading 9,000 units of local government being overlooked by those running for governor, senator and representative? It should be a priority! What are they afraid of?”
My inbox remains open. What may sway your vote?
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September 8, 2022 at 06:01AM