Teaching With Documents, Volume 2

Contents:

The Pledge of Allegiance

The 23 words of the Pledge of Allegiance, as published in The Youth’s Companion, were recited by schoolchildren for the first time as part of the National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day in October 1892. More than 100 years later, the daily practice of saluting the flag is familiar to most schoolchildren, but the recitation has been marked by change and dispute.

The origin of the pledge is attributed to Francis Bellamy, who organized the National School Celebration as part of the first national Columbus Day holiday. President Benjamin Harrison had declared October 21, 1892, a national holiday to honor "the Discoverer" and to express appreciation of "the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life." Citing the public school system as a "salutary feature" of these achievements, the President urged schools to participate in exercises that "shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship."

In his position as a journalist with The Youth’s Companion, a Boston-based magazine for children, Bellamy organized a national celebration sponsored by the magazine. The official program, published in the September 8, 1892, issue of the Companion, described an order of events that included reading the President’s proclamation, raising and saluting the flag, and singing "America." In addition, the program outlined activities to help communities plan full-day celebrations across the country.

The display of flags in and on school buildings and the daily recitation of a flag salute by schoolchildren were part of the patriotic fervor that increased following the Civil War and the flood of new immigrants. Many states legislated mandatory flag salutes in the schools, and patriotic groups such as the Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and their women’s auxiliary, the Women’s Relief Corps, donated flags to schools and other public buildings. By 1945 Congress had passed a joint resolution adding a set of rules and regulations pertaining to the display and use of the flag. Included in section 7 of this resolution (H J. Res. 359) were the familiar words of the pledge and instructions for saluting the flag. The cold war prompted Congress to add the words "under God" to the pledge in 1954.

The customs and laws governing the public recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance were not without opposition. The most notable objection came from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who opposed the salute on the grounds that it conflicted with their religious beliefs, especially those concerning idolatry. On Flag Day in 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia v Barrette that the First Amendment prohibits the state from compelling the flag salute. In the decision the Court stated in part: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us."

This article features five documents. Document 1, a photograph of elementary school children saluting the flag in 1942, is found in the Records of the Office of Education, Record Group 12. Document 2, a photograph of high school students saluting the flag in 1950, is found in the Records of the U.S. Information Agency, Record Group 306. Document 3, the Presidential proclamation designating Columbus Day a national holiday, July 21, 1892, is found in the General Records of the U.S. Government, Record Group 11. Document 4, the mandate in West Virginia v. Barrette, June 14, 1943, is found in the Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, Record Group 267. Document 5, Public Law396, amending the pledge of allegiance, June 14, 1954, is also found in the General Records of the U.S. Government.


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TEACHING ACTIVITIES

1. Instruct seven pairs of students to read and explain to the class the following parts of the original wording of the pledge:

I pledge allegiance
to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands
one Nation indivisible
with Liberty and justice for all.

2. Direct the rest of the class to research and explain the wording changes made to the original pledge.

3. Circulate the photographs of the students saluting the flag. Discuss with the class the various hand movements that have been used by different groups and at different time periods to salute the flag. Help students account for the differences.

4. Divide the class into three groups, and tell them to investigate the role each branch of the Federal Government has played in the school flag movement. Duplicate and distribute copies of document 3 for the executive branch group, document 4 for the legislative, and document 5 for the judicial. Ask each group to review the duties of their branch as described in the Constitution and to report to the class on Government activity related to the Pledge of Allegiance.

5. Divide the students into groups of five, and ask each group to investigate one of the following topics: the publication of the Pledge of Allegiance in The Youth’s Companion, the National School Celebration for Columbus Day, the distribution of flags by organizations such as GAR and its auxiliary, congressional rules and regulations for displaying and saluting the flag, and Supreme Court decisions (particularly Minersville v Gobitis and West Virginia v Barrette) relating to compulsory flag saluting and recitation. Articles published in the October 1990 and January 1992 issues of Social Education have addressed these topics. Student groups should interpret their findings in sections of a mural or on a time line.

6. For further research, ask for volunteers to investigate and report to the class on one of the following current issues related to the public use, display, or salute of the flag:

* Sherman v Community Consolidated School District 21, 758 F: Supp. 1244 (N.D. Ill. 1991)

* The flag as a Presidential campaign issue in the 1988 election

* Texas v. Johnson, 88-155, June 21, 1989

* The proposed constitutional amendment to give the flag special status.

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Chicago: "The Pledge of Allegiance," Teaching With Documents, Volume 2 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. Wynell B. Schamel (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998), 94–95. Original Sources, accessed August 15, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WGRR1GG9CGKJRI.

MLA: . "The Pledge of Allegiance." Teaching With Documents, Volume 2, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by Wynell B. Schamel, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, 1998, pp. 94–95. Original Sources. 15 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WGRR1GG9CGKJRI.

Harvard: , 'The Pledge of Allegiance' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 2. cited in 1998, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board for the National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Washington, D.C., pp.94–95. Original Sources, retrieved 15 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WGRR1GG9CGKJRI.