Bill Moeller commentary: Changing allegiances — the unexpected story of America’s pledge


As another election year emerges, one thing we can assume these days is that the various political perspectives are not any closer together than they ever were.

As one who is often accused of leaning to the “left,” I have perceived a feeling that conservatives are convinced liberals are less patriotic than they are themselves. How surprised they would be to learn our most often expressed statement of “American patriotism,” the hallowed Pledge of Allegiance, was written by an avowed and practicing socialist! 

If Paul Harvey was still around, you might hear him say, “Now you're going to hear the rest of the story.” 

The leading socialist in this country in the late 19th century was Edward Bellamy. By 1900, a book of his, “Looking Backward,” was outsold only by “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” But this story isn't about him, it's about his younger brother, Francis Bellamy. 

Edward and Francis were both sons and grandsons of Baptist ministers. Francis, born in 1850, was also a Baptist minister, and, like his brother, he, too, was a socialist. 

This perspective was echoed in his opinions so much that he was eventually removed from his pulpit due to his increasingly liberal sermons. One person who liked those sermons was Daniel Ford, editor of The Youth's Companion, the leading family magazine in the country and sort of the Reader's Digest of its day. Ford hired Bellamy as his assistant. 

Eventually, Bellamy was asked to write something to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day, in 1892. He was chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education, the group which was planning the celebration. Here is what Bellamy came up with: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” He wanted to add the word “equality” to “liberty and justice” but demurred, knowing that others on the committee were still not comfortable with equality for women and African Americans. As you know, there have been additions to the pledge since.

Shortly after it was written, the word “to" was inserted before “the republic.” The words “my flag” were changed to “the flag of the United States of America” by the National Flag Conference in the early 20s, under the leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

Bellamy, who lived until 1931, strongly objected to this change, but his protest was ignored. The most controversial change — one that is still being debated today — came during the height of the McCarthy hysteria in 1954. 

After a campaign by Catholic men's group The Knights of Columbus, the words “under God” were added by Congress. Part of the addled thinking at the time was that, since communists were atheists, anyone who would not say the words “under God” had to be a communist and could then be easily identified. 

It apparently didn't dawn on anyone that, while most communists worldwide are atheists, conversely, in this country, most atheists are not communists. Still, on June 26, 2002, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-to-1 to declare the pledge unconstitutional because of the addition of those words. 

After several legal challenges to the religious oath, in 2015, a major judgment was made and is currently our standard. Judge Bauman of New Jersey stated “As a matter of historical tradition, the words ‘under God’ can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words ‘In God We Trust’ from every coin in the land, than the words ‘so help me God’ from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787.” 

It’s amazing what you can learn by Googling “Pledge of Allegiance history.”


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at