The Origins of the Pledge of Allegiance

To the Editor:

This is in response to Beverly Pepin’s letter, “Where’s the Patriotism?”. Ms. Pepin rails against the unholy Americans who do not recite the pledge of allegiance. [Your president, by the way, is unable to recite it.]

The pledge of allegiance was composed by minister Francis Bellamy, a former pastor of Boston’s Bethany Baptist Church, in 1891. Bellamy sought to define “true Americanism” against the rising tide of southern and eastern European immigrants who were, in Bellamy’s own words “pouring over our country” in the early 20th century from “races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard.”

Bellamy conceded that “the United States has always been a nation of immigrants,” but he argued that “incoming waves of immigrants … are coming from countries whose institutions are entirely at variance with our own.” He impuned the character and quality of these recent newcomers, saying that “we cannot be the dumping ground of Europe and bloom like a flower garden.” To him, “every dull-witted and fanatical immigrant” granted citizenship threatened the American republic. [By the way, the tide of immigrants that flooded our shores throughout the late 1800s and 1900s were not “legal” immigrants. They didn’t show up on Ellis Island with visas or green cards. They simply showed up. We took them in. Many of them were your grandparents.]

From an article in The Washington Post on the origins of the pledge, Bellamy was tapping into “…the ubiquitous turn-of-the-century nativism that made enemies of the 2.5 million Slavs, Jews and Italians who immigrated to the United States throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Nativists had approved of the mostly white immigrants who came from northern and western Europe in the 1860s and 1870s, seeing them as skilled and industrious just like native-born Americans. But they recoiled at the darker immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, who were less likely to speak English and more likely to be Catholic or Jewish. Such immigrants were considered not fully white and thus virtually unassimilable.” []

Today, we are witnessing the rebirth of nativism on these shores, using the exact same language, and it seems ironic that many 2nd- and 3rd—generation slavs and Italians, and Catholics, stand guard over our borders in their natavistic armor. It stands to reason that the pledge would resurface as the rallying cry for those who reject our darker-skinned brothers and sisters.

I am sorry to burst your bubble, but the pledge of allegiance has a dark and cynical origin.

Jeffrey Reel

St. Johnsbury


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