Sometimes I get inspiration for my blogs from Facebook memes. Sometimes I get it from books that I am reading or from research that I am in the middle of. Sometimes- it is 5:00am and I have been killing time on google since 3:30am and I look up fun trivia in world history for that day. For example, do you know that December 22, 1891 is the birthday of perforated toilet paper (toilet paper that you can rip off)?
Or that today in 1882 is the first time that we saw a Christmas tree with electric lights?
How did electric Christmas lights come before perforated toilet paper?
Today is the 125th anniversary of the x-ray, where Wilhelm Roentgen x-rayed his wife's hand and she proclaimed 'I have seen my death!'.
Today is also the anniversary of the first 'official death' during the Vietnam War- James Thomas Davis- declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson. While he is not the first service member to die in Vietnam (there had been deaths in Vietnam since 1945), he was the first to die after the war was officially declared on December 11, 1961.
But it wasn't any of this that made me stop and do some research. Please take a moment and look at the photo I have included.
Those are American students in school saying the Pledge of Allegiance in 1941.
Got your attention? Lets start at the beginning of the story.
Once upon a time, there was a man by the name of Francis Bellamy from upstate New York. Originally a ordained Baptist minister, Francis one day turned from the life of religion to the life of journalism. He didn't stray too far- he got a job from one of his Boston Congregants, Daniel S. Ford, who owned and was editor of Youth's Companion- a family magazine with over 500,000 subscribers.
Francis was assigned to the promotions department and was working on a project with the schools on a patriotic program to coincide with the opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892. He was by this time not only a Baptist minister but also a prominent member of the Christian Socialist movement, a Free Mason, and a committee chairman of the National Education Association. This was the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival to the New World and Francis thought that it was something to be celebrated. He even petitioned Congress and helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to declare a 'Columbus Day' holiday.
But why all the fuss about a person that never set foot on United States soil? Well, we need to realize that this is only 27 years after the Civil War, and the country needed something to bind it together. Washington Irving had published a book in 1828 entitled A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus that was highly glorified and the stuff of myth's- but it was a major publication for the war torn country when they needed a 'hero'. Side note- it was also this book that was responsible for the incorrect belief that people thought the world was flat until after Christopher Columbus's travels.
We can all agree that it was the Spanish/Florentine explorers that came to the New World consistently with Juan Ponce de Leon's arrival in Florida in 1513, Alonso Alvarex de Pineda docking at Corpus Christi Bay in 1519, and the famous Giovanni da Verrazzano who reached the New York Harbor in 1524.
Side note- the first noted Italian American settler was Pietro (Peter) Cesare Alberti who settled in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (now known as New York State) on June 2, 1635. He had married a Walloon woman named Judith Manje and in 1646 was awarded a land grant from the Dutch of a 100 acres in Brooklyn. Petro and Judith were killed in a Indian raid in 1655, but his memory lives on with a small stone in New York City's Battery Park near the bronze statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano which celebrates his arrival date and June 2nd is still known to be 'Alberti Day".
Another side note, we will all agree that Lead Erikson did arrive in North America about 500 years before Columbus's arrival- but he landed in Newfoundland, Canada- not in the United States. There is a national day of observance for Leif Erikson that is on October 9th, declared by President Obama in 2013.
The proclamation celebrating Christopher Columbus also came right after the largest mass lynching's in the United States in New Orleans (1891), when 11 Sicilian immigrants were lynched after the city's police commissioner was killed and the local Italian community was blamed. Italians had been portrayed by local media as 'short of stature, dark in complexion, cruel and shifty', and blame was easily passed off on them. Sadly the 11 Sicilian's were found not guilty by the court of law, but that did not sway public opinion, and the local community took matters into their own hands. As the New York Times wrote:
"Yet while every good citizen will readily assent to the proposition that this affair is to be deplored, it would be difficult to find any one individual who would confess that privately he deplores it very much."
So we have a Washington Irving writing a tall-tale on Columbus's adventures, a country was recovering from the Civil War, a devastating lynching in New Orleans, and a ordained priest turned journalist...what does this have to do with the Pledge of Allegiance and the salute?
As I mentioned, Francis was a prominent member of the Christian Socialist movement, serving as the Vice-President of the Boston's Society of Christian Socialist and a member of the social gospel movement which was a late 19th century crusade against social, political, and economic injustices. Francis was witnessing the increase of immigration in America and the violence that came with the 'outsiders'. He believed, along with the movement's supports, that a 'well-organized and patriotic public education system' would install immigrants with the American ideals and values. The country did not have a official pledge at that time, so he penned the words:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Originally, the pledge would began with a military salute and when the words 'to the my flag' were spoken- the arm was extended towards the flag.
"At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." At the words, "to my Flag," the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side."
The Youth's Companion, 1892
Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting "to the Flag," the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.
On April 25, 1898 the United States declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. One day later- New York becomes the first state to legislate the requirement for the Pledge of Allegiance. Good time to amp up that patriotic spirit! (The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898.)
This was all fine and dandy until World War II. That is when things get messy. As we all know, Hitler had a VERY similar salute. Richard J. Ellis wrote in his book To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance that “the similarities in the salute had begun to attract comment as early as the mid-1930s...the embarrassing resemblance between the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute and the salute that accompanied the Pledge of Allegiance,” stirred fears among many Americans that the Bellamy Salute could be used overseas for pro-fascist propaganda purposes."
Enter in....the American Legion and the VWF! They are not very happy about this turn of events. European newspapers and films had started using pictures of Americans giving the Bellamy Salute and was cropping out the American Flags, giving the impression that we as a country supported Hitler and Mussolini. So, the two organization petition congress to change the procedures. Of course, it is Congress, so it did not turn out so well. They create a law stating that the Pledge was to “be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart; extending the right hand, palm upward, toward the flag at the words 'to the flag' and holding this position until the end, when the hand drops to the side.”
Well, now that doesn't work either!
So finally, on December 22, 1942- Congress finally realizes the issues with the Bellamy Salute and eliminates it when they passed a law stating that the Pledge should be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart!
There we have it- 5 hours of research, 2 pots of coffee, endless black holes into the dark web on the Bellamy salute to the American Flag. It is time for a shower and to get to work before my boss realizes that I have been MIA for the last 51 minutes.