Every person in the United States of America has probably recited the Pledge of Allegiance at one point in their lives. Whether it be at sporting events, memorials, or most likely a public school, we all know and have said the familiar beginning “I pledge allegiance . . .” However, most of us probably don’t know where the Pledge even originated or that “under God” was not always included when reciting it. How did the Knights of Columbus help have “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance?
The Pledge of Allegiance had its start over a hundred years ago in 1887, when Rear Admiral George Balch composed it’s first form. Five years later in 1892 it was revised by Francis Bellamy, a socialist and Baptist preacher as part a movement to have a salute to the flag on Columbus Day. He said he revised the pledge when “patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb.” His revised version read (bolded is his addition from Balch’s original):
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1942, Congress recognized the Pledge for the first time, but did not make it an official salute to the flag. Three years later it would be officially adopted as the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
The addition of “under God” had its early beginnings in 1951, when the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution that would amend the Pledge of Allegiance recited in their meetings that would mandate “under God” be said after “One Nation.” A year later at their annual meeting, they adopted a resolution to try to affect this change on a national level by sending letters to the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House. While the three did not respond to their initial attempt, they tried again a year later at their next annual meeting. This time, they sent the same letter, but this time sending also to all members of Congress. They received many replies from members of Congress, and seventeen individual bills were made to formally make the change.
In 1954, one of the seventeen bills was adopted and passed by a Joint Resolution of Congress. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law on Flag Day, June 14th 1954. On that day he said:
“From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty… In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
President Eisenhower sent a letter thanking the Knights of Columbus for their instrumental work in having “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance.