Who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance? It could be up for debate.

For well over a century, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a pillar of America’s national identity. However, new evidence has emerged suggesting the man who promised he caused it may not have done so.

Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian socialist from upstate New York, went so far as to swear in at least two affidavits that he had formulated the oath on a scorching August night in 1892 at the Boston headquarters of a magazine for young people that he was promotion.

Bellamy’s authorship was acknowledged in the 20th century by the American Flag Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Legislative Research Service (now the Congressional Research Service), and the Library of Congress, among others. He was mentioned again just last year in a United States Senate resolution and a mention in the New Yale Book of Quotations.

In February, however, smoldering doubts about the origin of the oath resurfaced. A history buff from New York spotted a newspaper account that appears to contradict Bellamy’s.

The discovery may also justify a long-standing but controversial claim that the oath actually originated in 1890, when a 13-year-old Kansas schoolboy — remarkably named Frank E. Bellamy — said he submitted it to a contest set up by Francis Bellamy’s own magazine was organized to promote American values ​​such as patriotism.

In February, Barry Popik, a historian and lexicographer who had researched the origin of the promise, was stunned when he found a May 21, 1892 clipping from the Ellis County News Republican of Hays, Kan., on

The article described a school ceremony a few weeks earlier, on April 30, 1892—more than three months before Francis Bellamy swore he had written the pledge—at which high school students in Victoria, Kan., swore allegiance to the American flag by swearing they practically use the same words.

Mr. Popik worked with Fred R. Shapiro, assistant library director for collections and special projects at Yale Law School, who immediately noted the inconsistency in the timeline: How could Francis Bellamy create the August 1892 pledge as he claimed when a almost identical promise had already been recited and published last May?

Mr. Shapiro is also the editor of The New Yale Book of Quotations, the most recent edition of which, published last August, credits the promise to Francis Bellamy. He said that in later editions he would credit Frank Bellamy for the oath instead.

The May 1892 newspaper clipping does not prove that Frank Bellamy wrote the pledge, but it does seem to suggest that Francis Bellamy may not have written it.

“It’s very difficult to explain what you’re seeing in this newspaper,” said Debbie Schaefer-Jacobs, curator of the Department of Cultural and Community Life at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

“I think you can’t rule out that Frank was the author and that Francis came across it and used the words consciously or unconsciously,” she added in an email this month.

Elizabeth L. Brown, a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, agreed: “If Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge in August 1892, how did it come to be published in a Kansas newspaper in May 1892?”

In 1957, the Library of Congress confirmed Francis Bellamy as the author of the pledge based on a 148-page investigative summary submitted by the Legislative Research Service. It was proposed by Representative Kenneth B. Keating, a New York Republican whose upstate district included Bellamy’s birthplace.

But that report focused almost exclusively on determining whether the pledge was written by Bellamy or by his boss, the magazine’s editor James B. Upham, given the September 8 deadline for the Youth’s Companion issue, which to contain the oath was forthcoming in a printed program for schools to follow the following month for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage of discovery.

Their goals were patriotic and promotional: to attract students to the anniversary celebration; to contribute to the Americanization of the immigration wave from Southern and Eastern Europe; to heal still festering departmental divisions widened by the Civil War; and to sell the surplus stock of US flags Bellamy had ordered as marketing director for Youth’s Companion, which had sponsored a campaign to raise “a flag over every schoolhouse” in the nation.

Of course, when Francis Bellamy swore in his affidavits in the 1920s that he had written the pledge in August 1892, it was possible that he misremembered and meant April or earlier – except that he and his colleagues said they remembered so lively at his aha moment.

“I recall in almost photographic detail the circumstances in which you wrote this classic gem of patriotic expression,” said Harold Roberts, the magazine’s advertising executive, in his own affidavit. “It was a hot August day in 1892 and I was in our main office on the third floor of the Youth’s Companion Building in Boston.”

Bellamy himself shared his “clear memory” of struggling for two hours in his office in August before the muse finally landed and inspired the 22 words set to be published in the magazine on September 8: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, an indivisible nation, with liberty and justice for all.”

The 1892 Kansas Gazette said the pledge, recited by schoolchildren, that April 30 was exactly the same except extolled an “inseparable” nation instead of “indivisible” and specified “to” the republic.

Francis Bellamy later said he originally wrote “to the Republic” and restored it in later versions. (It was unclear who originally wrote “inseparable.”)

The official wording of the pledge has since changed: in the 1920s, “the United States of America” ​​was added for “my country” to eliminate any confusion among immigrants, and “under God” was added during the Cold War to indicate the republic to be distinguished from irreligious international communism. The traditional stiff-armed salute was dropped in the 1940s in favor of the hand over the heart to avoid analogies to the Nazi salute.


So far, no written record has directly shown that young Frank Bellamy wrote this oath. But scholars now ask: how else to explain the newspaper report that Kansas students had recited the promise as early as April 1892? No other Kansan has claimed authorship, and Frank says he submitted the pledge to Youth’s Companion before the 1890 contest deadline.

“Our teacher suggested we enter the competition,” Frank was later quoted as saying in The Emporia (Kansas) newspaper. “We did so and each wrote what they felt would best express their opinion of what each boy and girl had in mind when they saluted the US flag.”

When the promise appeared almost verbatim in the September 1892 issue, without attribution, he said he had written to Youth’s Companion, telling them only that all submissions became the magazine’s property.

Adding to the confusion, the local Woman’s Relief Corps, a group formed to serve Civil War veterans, submitted a version of the pledge Frank wrote as part of a high school assignment in 1896 — this time to one “indivisible” nation – as an entry in the 1899 Corps national contest to honor the flag. Frank, who enlisted in the 20th Kansas Infantry shortly after the start of the Spanish-American War, was serving in the Philippines when his deployment won.

In a letter to the Corps in 1918, Frank’s sister Laura said, “We all remember hearing him say many times that he remembered writing the Pledge” in 1896, but she made no mention of that he had previously written one for Youth’s Companion in 1890 or 1892.

The Corps’ accolade led to allegations that he plagiarized Francis Bellamy’s pledge, as well as praise in his home state, including a 2014 resolution by State Senator Jeff King citing Frank Bellamy as the original author.

Nevertheless, Mr. Shapiro of Yale said that the May 1892 newspaper clipping “makes it seem very clear that Francis could not have written it, and less strongly but compellingly that it points to Frank E. Bellamy.”

Even the Legislative Research Service, which stated that Francis Bellamy “told the absolute, literal truth as he saw it,” added, “We recognize that there are still certain gaps.”

Both Bellamys hinted at one point or another that they might have been able to fill in those gaps.

Francis later said he was reconciled to the pledge being published anonymously in the magazine in 1892, and his later advertising career “only reinforced the habit of personal hiding”. When he died in 1931, however, his claim to authorship of the oath was largely intact.

Frank Bellamy contracted tuberculosis while serving in the army. He was retired from the army and relocated to Denver, where he made leather goods. He died in 1915 and was buried in Cherryvale, Kansas. When asked how he felt about winning the Relief Corps contest, he replied, “It didn’t express half of what I was trying to write.” Who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance? It could be up for debate.

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