The Pledge of Allegiance has been used in the United States for over 100 years, yet the 31-word oath recited today differs significantly from the original draft. The idea of a verbal vow to the American flag first gained traction in 1885, when a Civil War veteran named Colonel George Balch devised a version that read, “We give our heads and our hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag.”
Several schools adopted Balch’s pledge, but it was soon supplanted by a salute composed by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist and former Baptist minister. In 1892, while working for a magazine called “Youth’s Companion,” Bellamy was enlisted to write a new pledge for use in patriotic celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. After puzzling over the project—he initially considered incorporating the French Revolution motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”—he penned an oath that read, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The Bellamy pledge gained popularity in public schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it continued to undergo occasional tweaks and revisions. In 1923 and 1924, the National Flag Conference changed the wording to read, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” In 1942, meanwhile, Congress officially adopted the pledge and decreed that it should be recited while holding the right hand over the heart. Before then, the pledge had included a so-called “Bellamy salute”—extending the right arm toward the flag with the hand outstretched—but with the rise of fascism in Europe, many had noted that the gesture too closely resembled a Nazi salute.
A final revision to the national oath came in 1954 during the Cold War. In response to lobbying by religious groups and fraternal organizations—and with the support of President Dwight D. Eisenhower—Congress passed a new bill that added the words “under God.” Despite occasional legal challenges from students and secular groups, the text of the Pledge of Allegiance has remained unchanged ever since.