Seeing Backward to Look Ahead

Bart Schultz

The original 1892 version of the American Pledge of Allegiance, which appeared in the family magazine The Youth’s Companion, read simply “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” The specification that the flag in question was that of the United States of America only came in the aftermath of World War I, apparently out of a reactionary fear that a nation of immigrants might pledge to their home flags rather than their new one, and the addition that this was ‘one Nation, under God’ was added even later, the better to distinguish the U.S. from the regimes of godless communism.

Although the Pledge is no longer a constant of civic education in the U.S., it obviously still has many champions, the latest being President Donald Trump and his followers, who tout it, along with the rituals of the National Anthem, as a litmus test of patriotism. That this invention of tradition had its source in the mind of a nineteenth-century critic of plutocratic capitalism is a fact that, like most facts of political history, seems to have eluded the President. But the original version, for all the patriotic excess of its context, was in fact penned by Francis Bellamy, an ardent social reformer and Christian socialist minister who headed the Boston Nationalist Club, devoted to realizing the utopian ideas of his cousin Edward Bellamy, the author of the wildly popular 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward features a young Bostonian named Julian West who wakes up from a hypnotically induced sleep one hundred and thirteen years, three months, and eleven days later, in the year 2000, and is shown around a transformed Boston by a Dr. Leete, who explains to him how the nationalization of the economy has eliminated inequality, reduced working hours, allowed for early retirement, and liberated women. Apparently, the bit about ‘Liberty and Justice for all’ carried some weight in the family, even if this was mainly on the domestic side, as part of a Nationalist program for the U.S.

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