pledge of allegianceAh, the Pledge of Allegiance: written in 1892 by socialist Baptist minister Francis Bellamy to encourage unquestioning devotion to the Almighty American State preserved at gunpoint by Abraham Lincoln on the corpses of 620,000 Americans (“indivisible”– take that, you unrepentant, disloyal, un-American secessionists!). Bellamy worked with the National Education Association (!) to have the pledge said in all public schools, partly in an effort to undermine the authority of Catholic parochial schools, which dangerously taught devotion to God above State.

If the Pledge’s origins do not trouble you, take a look at the salute that American school children originally rendered to the flag—that is, until World War II, when the similarity to the Nazi “Sieg Heil!” salute made Franklin Roosevelt a tad bit uncomfortable. Of course, the similarity between the salutes is not coincidental, the intent of both rituals being to elevate the State above the individual.

As this Fourth of July approaches, I would like to see more Americans of the traditionalist/localist/ conservative variety reconsider the supposedly patriotic ritual of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance—at school, before city council meetings, at Boy Scout jamborees, etc. The Pledge is nationalistic, not patriotic, encouraging unquestioning loyalty to the State and precluding the basic natural right of revolution upon which the American states asserted their independence and upon which the American confederacy was formed.

My criticism of the Pledge, of course, is not to be confused with that leveled by modern-day secularists who object to the phrase “under God” (added in 1954 after an effort spear-headed by the well-intentioned Knights of Columbus). So, I say to those whose thinking on such issues does not go deeper than FoxNews reporting, please, do not attack me in a kneejerk fashion, but hear me out!

Though I object to the specific wording—and indeed the primary intent—of the Pledge, I value such ritualistic expressions of shared belief as essential to cementing communities. I therefore propose a new pledge, one to liberty, to replace the Pledge of Allegiance:

122-Liberty TreeThe Pledge to Liberty

I pledge allegiance to liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings, in whose defense I will risk my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor, and in whose service government must always remain. May God protect liberty in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania* and across America.

*insert one’s home state, or in a gathering of people from more than one state, insert “in my home state”

Attentive readers will, of course, recognize the phraseology borrowed from the Declaration of Independence. There is also a whiff of Patrick Henry in the description of liberty at the beginning of the Pledge, and a nod to localism/states’ right at the conclusion.

I welcome the input of readers of The Imaginative Conservative as to the quality of my proposed new Pledge. Fire away!

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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11 replies to this post
  1. As a traditionalist I'm all for rituals where they are positive and voluntary. But even a pledge to liberty would surely be co-opted by statists. I don't think there is any place in government schools (a concept which should be eliminated as well) for loyalty oaths.

  2. Bravo, sir. I laud the truth, simplicity and beauty of your proposed pledge.

    We fellow traditionalists must take contant pains to clarify what being a conservative really means, and this is a pledge (and a post) in the right direction.

    Happy Independence Day to all.

    Thank you.

  3. Steve,
    I agree completely about Bellamy and the nationalist imperative. I wonder, however, if a pledge to "liberty" isn't, in its own way, just as much a pledge to an abstraction? If we were to "pledge" to anything, should it not be to the Constitution? As an aside, over the years I have gotten so sick and tired of hearing "patriotic" songs sung or played at almost every public event, while we are allowed to pray at fewer and fewer. And how many people know their school's alma mater, or the local poems and songs that once abounded?

  4. Why insert the name of the state when some places already have separate state pledges? E.g., Texas: "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible."

  5. To John Willson:

    You must read my piece here on TIC, "Let's NOT celebrate Constitution Day" to answer one of your questions. I don't know if liberty is an abstraction; it is a real thing to which one owes allegiance above the abstraction that is "the state." I agree with you in preferring a return to the localist idea of singing school songs and songs about one's town, etc. My idea of creating a new pledge is partly practical. People will be more comfortable with abandoning the Pledge of Allegiance if a similarly-toned pledge is substituted.

    To Anonymous:

    I am uncomfortable with pledging allegiance to one's state/commonwealth also! Note carefully the wording of the Pledge to Liberty, which does not profess unthinking allegiance even to one's home state.

  6. I little surprised that a conservative would want us to pledge allegiance to liberty. I don't think Kirk , BUrke or Roepke would have felt comfortable with doing so and this site is in their tradition.

  7. I gratuitously take exception to your gratuitous slander of Lincoln.

    As for the meat of your post, I am not sure about the particular form of the pledge, but certainly the American Republic is no more an abstraction than the Roman Republic, and the flag as its symbol is worthy of veneration.

    Does a pledge or oath of allegiance encourage unquestioning obedience? Certainly not one in the American tradition, which depends upon God for the guarantee of rights and liberty. Oaths of loyalty held medieval societies together, while everyone understood that unquestioning obedience was out of the question.

  8. Here is my 2 versions from a couple of years ago.

    ***

    As a citizen, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and shall strive to uphold and defend this democratic republic and the Constitution. I will seek liberty, justice and equality for all, as together we strive to be one nation, under God, indivisible and free.

    **

    As a citizen, I pledge my allegiance to the United States of America and shall strive to uphold, protect and defend this democratic republic and the constitution. I will seek to advance liberty, justice and equality for all in practice and in the law. I shall voice my opinions to defend independence and work with all the people of this union, so that together we may strive to make this country one nation, under God, indivisible and free.

  9. As a concerned Catholic, I would like to know what you source is to support the statement that Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge, “partly in an effort to undermine the authority of Catholic parochial schools, which dangerously taught devotion to God above State.”

    Many thanks.

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