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.
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On a sultry summer evening in Boston in the year 1892, a thirty-seven-year-old former clergyman named Francis Bellamy sat down at his desk in the offices of a popular family magazine where he worked and began to write:
I Pledge allegiance to my flag . . .
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JEFFREY OWEN JONES worked as an editor, television and film producer, journalist, and teacher. A graduate of Williams College and Middlebury College, he received an Emmy Award for his work in New York local public television and had been published in Smithsonian magazine. He died in 2007.
PETER MEYER is a former news editor of Life magazine and the author of numerous nonfiction books, including the critically acclaimed The Yale Murder, Death of Innocence, and Dark Obsession. Meyer has also won journalism awards from the University of Missouri and the Robert Kennedy Foundation for his reporting and writing for such national publications as Harper’s Magazine, Vanity Fair, New York, Life, Time, and People. He is currently Contributing Editor at Education Next magazine and the Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
Jeffrey Owen JonesPeter Meyer