The Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance states that we are One Nation under God. Why?
School children used to say The Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis. Perhaps you can remember saying it daily yourself. Today, it is seldom heard. As most Americans know, the Pledge of Allegiance, declares that we are “one nation under God.” Many Americans, however, may not know that the phrase “under God” was not in the original Pledge when it was first written in 1892 by a Baptist minister from Boston named Francis Bellamy in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America.
The addition of “under God” to the Pledge was done by Congressional Act, Joint Resolution 243, which was signed into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. At that time President Eisenhower said,
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 and war.
President Eisenhower had been the military commander of the most powerful force ever assembled in history. Yet in his view, the most powerful weapons for our nation in peace or in war were not economic or military, but spiritual. Consequently, the government had nothing to fear from faith, for the government itself knew of the transcendence of faith in the nation’s past and its need for such trust in its future.
Significantly, The Pledge’s new language of “under God” had its source in Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address. Lincoln knew well that a nation committed to God’s providence was a nation “under God.” Thus in The Gettysburg Address, given on November 19, 1863, he said,
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
But long before Lincoln, President Washington emphasized the necessity of religion and morality for our Constitutional government. In his Farewell Address written over two hundred years ago on September 17, 1796 he declared:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
For Washington, a nation relying upon the protection of Divine Providence is also a nation that knows that religion and morality are necessary supports for its political prosperity. Indeed, with boldness he declared that national morality cannot be maintained without religion.
Certainly, the morality of our nation is at a recognized crisis point. However, in spite of our nation’s many social problems, by God’s Providence, freedom is still America’s birthright. What we do with God’s gift of our civil liberties will profoundly impact our nation’s destiny. As Lincoln observed on January 27, 1838, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”