“My Dear Grandson John: I am glad to reply to your letter asking me to give you the story of how I came to write the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. It was written in 1892, thirty-nine years ago, when I was 37 years old and when your father was only 10 years old. At that time I was one of the associate editors of the Youth’s Companion, in Boston. That popular paper, with a circulation of 500,000 among the boys and girls in the public schools, proposed that the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492, which would occur that year of 1892, should be celebrated in all the public schools, that in every city and village the celebration be given over to the schools, and that it be made an occasion of teaching patriotism to the 13 million school pupils who in a few more years would be grown-up citizens.
“In Feb. of that year, the 48 State Superintendents of Education adopted our idea, and named a Committee of five to carry it out. They named me chairman of the Committee and instructed us to prepare an official program of exercises to be used in all of the schools on the day of that celebration, October 12, 1892.
“The first thing I had to do was to arouse all the schools to take it up, so I sent letters to all the schools. Then I persuaded Congress to make Oct. 12 a National Holiday for this Patriotic celebration. I was asked by the President to write this proclamation for the national celebration, in which in included the words, “On that day let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the land and the exercises be such as to teach patriotism.”
“In preparing the official program it was necessary to have a Salute to the Flag which all of the children should say together. So one night in August 1892, I sat down to write the words to that Salute to the Flag. I worked on it for three hours and a lot of attempts were thrown into the wastebasket.
“The first words I decided on were I pledge allegiance to MY flag. I felt like that was the right beginning. The next idea was Why? I answered that by the thought that the Flag stood for the Republic, so I added the next line And the Republic for which it stands. Then I felt like I must describe the Republic so I added the line One nation indivisible, for the Civil War between the States settled that the States could not be divided. Then we should close by a line telling what the big united idea of the American people was, and so I included that in the last line With liberty and justice for all. When I finished these four lines, I said to myself ‘Now up there is the Flag and I am a public school boy. I bring up my hand to my forehead and salute.’
“That is the story of how I wrote the Pledge. The first time I heard it was on Columbus Day 1892… Gradually I heard of its use growing and … that of its being adopted by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Daughters of the Revolution, and Elks and other fraternal orders, and soldiers in France saluting the Flag with it, and others as well.”
There have been changes to the pledge through the years.
In 1924 my was changed to the and the phrase of the United States of America was added. The reasoning for this was to stress to the many immigrants this was not the flag of their former country.
In 1954, the phrase under God was added, and was recently challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court as to the constitutionality of the phrase.