Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A lesson for Danny Dunn on the Pledge of Allegiance

Pittsburgh school children salute the flag in 1933.
The universally used "Bellamy salute" was adopted by the Nazis
leading us to adopt the "hand on heart" gesture in 1942.

After Danny Dunn's tirade at Monday's Plainfield
City Council meeting, he followed me out to my car and continued his harangue over Councilor Rebecca Williams' practice of standing, but not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Dunn's verbal assault on Councilor Williams reminded me that we have been down this road before -- when former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs attempted to deflect questions on her fiscal pranks by citing the pledge matter. At the time, Williams responded on her blog (see here) that her religious beliefs precluded her reciting the pledge and that she shows her respect by standing during the pledge.

Williams is not alone here. Jehovah's Witnesses, many of whom are diligent and loyal employees of the city, do not recite the Pledge. Many Quakers and Adventists also decline to recite the pledge.

Dunn's intemperate rant got me to thinking, though, about the Pledge: where did it come from? Has the custom always been the same?


My earliest memory of reciting the pledge is in grade school, where we began each day with the custom. We were taught nothing of its complicated history.

The first surprise is that for more than forty years, there were TWO pledges of allegiance vying for supremacy.

The older, devised by Civil War veteran George Balch in the early 1880s was very simple --
We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!
In 1892, Baptist minister and Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy contrived a pledge, which President Harrison declared by executive order should be recited by all school children on October 12,1892 -- the 400th anniversary of Columbus arrival in the New World.

Bellamy's original pledge reads --
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The two versions duked it out until 1923, when Bellamy's version was finally agreed upon as the "official" pledge,with a tweaing by replacing "my Flag" with "the Flag of the United States of America".

Balch's concern had been to recover the sense of patriotism from the Civil War era, which he felt had been lost. Bellamy was concerned to "Americanize" the recent waves of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

This 1923 version was the one I was taught in grade school. It wasn't until 1954, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and I was a high school sophomore, that the words "under God" were added. To this day I stumble at this point, because it just does not feel "natural" compared to the version that was originally drilled into kids of my generation.

You can read more detailed histories of the Pledge here, and here.


Dunn would no doubt be surprised to know of some of the customs associated with the Pledge of Allegiance.

The first is that the "hand on heart" gesture is not original.

Originally, children were taught to use the "Bellamy salute" with heels together and right arm outstretched toward the flag, palm down. This gesture was in universal use until 1942, when the "hand on heart" gesture was deemed proper as the Nazis had appropriated the Bellamy salute (for more on the Bellamy Salute, see here).

The second surprise for Dunn would be that the U.S. Flag Code (see here) requires that "persons in [military] uniform should REMAIN SILENT", stand at attention, and salute the flag.

So, Mr. Dunn, active duty personnel do no disrespect when they stand silent and do not recite the Pledge. What do you make of that?
I think it would be appropriate of Danny Dunn to apologize to Councilor Williams for his outburst and personal attack.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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