Book Review: The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance


by Jeffrey Owen Jones & Peter Meyer

New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2010. Pp. x, 224. Biblio., index. $23.99. ISBN: 312350023

An account of how a statement defining "intelligent patriotism" composed in 1892 by a Christian socialist minister named Francis Bellamy for young people to use in public ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage to the Americas, evolved, with a few changes, into the "Pledge of Allegiance" recited, or not, as the individual choses, millions of times each day, and, in the process become both a symbol of both thoughtful and mindless patriotism, as well as of loyal and radical opposition.

Along the way, the authors, touch upon historical, political, social, and cultural trends from the Gilded Age to the present.  They examine the causes of the popular and ultimately the official adoption of the Pledge, and discuss the evolution of the wording from "I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, with liberty and justice for all," into the longer form familiar today, with a look at the political roots of the changes.  It's a long, and complex story, and the authors do an interesting, often engaging job, perhaps most impressively in their discussion of how, at the height of the Second World War, the Supreme Court ruled that the Pledge can not be made mandatory, a strong testimony to the strength of American liberties, despite which skirmishes over the Pledge are common.

The Pledge is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the evolution of the American system and American popular culture.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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