A Sentimental Education

Many Americans probably think that the Pledge of Allegiance dates to the time of the American Revolution, but it was written more than a century later, in 1892.  They might be shocked to learn that it was written by a Christian socialist, and the sanctifying words “under God” were not added until 1954.  But they would be downright baffled if told that earlier Americans would have regarded a pledge of fealty to the flag as an affront to their patriotism and an invasion of the sphere of private and local liberty their constitutions were meant to secure.

There are some Americans who still feel that way.  Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a proposed state law that would have required all public schools to have a flag ceremony and pledge recitation every morning.  “Patriotism is voluntary.”  That was in 2002.

The strength of this book lies in its careful recounting of why the Pledge was written, how it has changed, and what it has meant to Americans over the last 120 years.  The story begins with the Youth’s Companion, a popular children’s periodical of national circulation published in Boston, Massachusetts.  In 1888, the magazine launched the “Flag Over the Schoolhouse” program.  It was the idea of James B. Upham, head of the Companion’s premiums department, whom the authors describe as combining “patriotic zeal with a genius for...

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