I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

This pledge—a mechanically-repeated affirmation of loyalty inculcated in children by rote—is the legacy of the socialist progressive movement in the late 1800s. Its author, Francis Bellamy, was a self-avowed “Christian socialist” (who loved to preach that “Jesus was a Socialist”) whose primary intention in creating the pledge was to encourage children to worship the State and revere centralized authority. Francis’ cousin and co-conspirator, Edward Bellamy, was an author whose utopian novel Looking Backward trailed in popularity at the time only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur. A decade later he published Equality as a sequel, which expanded upon the ideas he has promoted in the first novel.

Looking Backward told of a future America where socialism reigned supreme; eventually surpassing one million copies, the book was translated into 20 languages. The protagonist of the book goes to sleep one night in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000, where American industries have been nationalized and everybody earns the same income. The theories and policies promoted in this book—which were essentially Marxist in ideology—were termed “Nationalism” by Edward and his cousin Francis, who were both key spokesmen for the movement.

The Bellamy cousins were not obscure figures spouting ideas into an echo chamber, but influential advocates of centralized government whose Nationalist movement saw the rise of 167 clubs across the country. John Dewey, father of the current government school system and a socialist himself, once referred to Edward Bellamy as a “Great American Prophet” and wrote:

What Uncle Tom’s Cabin was to the anti-slavery movement Bellamy’s book may well be to the shaping of popular opinion for a new social order. … It accords with American psychology in breathing the atmosphere of hope.

While Edward was the writer, Francis might be termed the “doer”. While Vice President in charge of education for the Society for Christian Socialists, Francis made a connection with one Daniel Ford, editor of a religious publication named The Youth’s Companion. Networking with other advocates of socialism and nationalization, including the then-president of the National Education Association (NEA), William Harris, who himself strongly advocated for the Prussian system of education and a centralized authority requiring the subservience and allegiance of the individual, Francis worked on a program to teach American youth the importance of loyalty to the government.

In 1892, under Harris’ leadership, the NEA supported a National Public School Celebration which promoted loyalty to both the government and its schools. The core agenda was offered up by The Youth’s Companion, and Francis Bellamy was asked to be the chairman of the celebration. Speaking during the event, Bellamy stated that “the training of citizens in the common knowledge and the common duties of citizenship belongs irrevocably to the State.” As part of the program he organized, Bellamy drafted a pledge to be recited by the youth in attendance as a way of encouraging loyalty to the government.

Though it has changed in minor ways since its creation, Bellamy’s pledge is largely what is today called the Pledge of Allegiance. After its introduction at this conference, Bellamy had it published in The Youth’s Companion. The following months and years found the pledge, with Bellamy’s persistent promotion, gaining increasingly widespread adoption through the school system, and later through adult organizations, eventually gaining the blessing of Congress. (Interestingly, during WWII Congress voted to change the hand gesture while saying the pledge from the “Bellamy Salute” to the gesture we now recognize, with hand placed over heart.)

Bellamy had to show some restraint in developing the pledge, as his desires to use language more closely associated with the nationalist and socialist movements would, he feared, meet with resistance. In describing some of his thoughts in creating the pledge, Bellamy stated:

It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people…

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?

Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…

What Edward Bellamy wrote about in his socialist utopian novels, his cousin Francis was determined to implement. As was understood by Marx, Dewey, and by all dictators and despots throughout human history, the best way to implement an agenda is to pursue a generational campaign through influencing and/or controlling the education of children to indoctrinate them with a slow, and at first fairly innocuous, stream of ideas.

To be sure, most school-age children do not even understand the implications of the pledge they are habitually repeating, let alone realize the history and meaning behind what they are doing when reciting it. However, the daily process of making such a pledge surely ingrains in the mind of the growing child an attitude and paradigm that solidifies over time and grooms an individual to offer their allegiance to the government as an adult.

So, history aside, why all the fuss? Let’s contrast the pledge of allegiance with the oath of office mandated by the Constitution as noted in Article VI, clause 3:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

That oath reads as follows:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

This oath has substance, and the Constitution to which the individuals’ loyalty is required is the codification of key principles worthy of our absolute support. The oath inherently has meaning, and the allegiance being affirmed by offering such an oath denotes clear responsibilities. (That so few do indeed fulfill their oath of office says more about them and their constituents than it does about the oath or the Constitution itself.)

In stark contrast we see the monotonous and largely superficial pledge of allegiance, with children throughout the country pointing their gaze to a piece of cloth—a symbol that few understand. Ask the average child (or adult, for that matter) what it means to pledge allegiance to the flag, and you’re likely to get responses that demonstrate a complete lack of understanding. Where no understanding exists, correct action cannot follow. Little wonder that the political landscape is what it is today.

If people wish to cast aside the pledge’s history and instead praise the wording and its meaning—pledging allegiance to the flag and to the Republic, affirming that we are one nation, indivisible, and that liberty and justice exist for all—then children should be taught to learn what a Republic is, what principles led us to become one nation, and why liberty and justice are inherent and God-given rights to be secured—and not provided—by government. But these types of teachings do not generally exist in public schools, and so reduced to its core and repeated on a daily basis, the pledge serves its (and Bellamy’s) purpose; children are indoctrinated with a steady dose of subservience to the State and are, over time, taught the importance of fealty to the federal government.

If a pledge is required or insisted upon by parents, then their children should be taught to pledge their allegiance to the Constitution, modeling their pledge after the oath of office the Constitution itself requires of federal officials. In so doing, children would be pointed towards the source of the Republic, and not a diversion. Symbols can be powerful tools for teaching, but they should not demand our attention and allegiance themselves. Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament with his apostles not to suggest that their minds should focus on the bread and water He gave them, but to make clear that these symbols were to be used to encourage the individual to remember His body and sacrifice; we worship Jesus Christ, and not the symbols that represent him. Similarly, we should not pledge our allegiance to the flag—a symbol of this Republic—but to the object it represents, namely, the written Constitution and the principle of liberty it exists to protect.

The idea for Bellamy’s pledge came from the “loyalty oaths” imposed on Southerners after Lincoln’s bloody war between the states. Southerners were forced upon penalty of death to affirm their allegiance to the federal government as a condition for receiving a presidential pardon. This action hardly seems like one we should be inculcating into our children, especially given the abusive, corrupt, and outright tyrannical actions being adopted by many within our federal government in recent decades.

When I am in a meeting where the pledge is being recited, so as not to ruffle too many feathers and immediately have others call into question my patriotism, I simply say a modified version of the Pledge of Allegiance which satisfies my problems with Bellamy’s version:

I pledge allegiance to the flag Constitution of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Where appropriate, I simply abstain from making any such pledge (or wearing any lapel pins or buttons or any other outward, superficial demonstration of one’s patriotism), preferring to let my words and actions speak for themselves in showing to whom and to what my allegiance is given.

The Bellamy cousins had in mind a project to teach American youth loyalty to the government, realizing that the then-predominant strain of individualism and passionate love of liberty inspired by the founding fathers of this country ran afoul of the socialist utopia envisioned in Looking Backward. The fact that hundreds of millions of Americans have embraced the pledge as a token of Americanism and patriotic duty, while ignoring its origins, context, and original intent, and in light of the worship of and trust in government that has permeated our society, indicates that the Bellamys were at least in some significant amount successful.

My children will be taught not to affirm their allegiance to the government, to a symbol such as the flag, or to anything but the underlying and enduring principles that created this nation to begin with. Those principles are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and our allegiance to these documents (and, more importantly, the principles and ideas themselves) is the correct action that should be taken by every concerned citizen, ardent patriot, and free-thinking individual.