Of Masonic Interest for Flag Day

On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, I attended an OSI (Officer’s School Instruction) meeting at the Pomona Masonic Lodge #246. I’m not yet on the line, but I intend to, so I have become involved as much as I can without compromising my family. As is heard often in the lodge and among Masons, “Family First!” During the instruction, our district’s inspector asked of the brethren in attendance whether the Pledge of Allegiance was ritual.

Since my first time in the lodge (after my initiation), the Pledge of Allegiance has always been made just after opening the lodge. I assumed this was a part of American Freemasonry, but it turns out that it’s not a part of ritual at all. The next day, while I listened to the Masonic Rountable Podcast Episode 21: ‘Murica, I heard Bro. Nick “The Millennial Freemason” Johnson declare that the Pledge had been added by lodges after the fervor of World War I and thereafter has remained as a tradition. TMR also discussed the origins of the Pledge and how the author was a Freemason, Rev. Francis J. Bellamy.

When I heard that I remembered that the Scottish Rite of Pasadena gave me a swag bag after receiving my 32nd degree and in it was a pamphlet called The Pledge of Allegiance “Its Author and Origin” by John R. Nocas, 32° KCCH (at the time of publication). As soon as I returned home from dropping my kids off at school, I found this brochure and read through it. It begins with an image of the original 1892 Pledge in Bellamy’s handwriting

The majority of the pamphlet can be read here. More information can be found here and here.

Here are Bellamy’s own words on how the Pledge of Allegiance was written and what it meant:

Mr. Upham and I spent many hours in considering the revision of this salute. Each one suggested that the other write a new salute. It was my thought that a vow of loyalty or allegiance to the flag should be the dominant idea. I especially stressed the word ”allegiance. ” So Mr. Upham told me to try it out on that line.

It was a warm evening in August, 1892, in my office in Boston, that I shut myself in my room alone to formulate the actual pledge.  Beginning with the new word “allegiance,” I first decided that pledge was a better school word than “vow” or “swear”; and that the first person singular should be used, and that ”my” flag was preferable to “the” When those first words, “I pledge allegiance to my flag” looked up at me from the scratch paper, the start appeared promising. Then: should it be “country,” “nation,” or ”Republic?” “Republic” won because it distinguished the form of government chosen by the fathers and established by the Revolution. The true reason for allegiance to the flag is the ”Republic for which it stands.”

Now how should the vista be widened so as to teach the national fundamentals? I laid down my pencil and tried to pass our history in re-view. It took in the sayings of Washington, the arguments of Hamilton, the Webster-Hayne debate, the speeches of Seward and Lincoln, the Civil War. After many attempts, all that pictured struggle reduced itself to three words, “One Nation, indivisible. ”

To reach that compact brevity, conveying the facts of a single nationality and of an indivisibility both of states and of common interests, was as I recall, the most arduous phase of the task, and the discarded experiments at phrasing overflowed the scrap basket.

But what of the present and future of this indivisible Nation here presented for allegiance?  What were the old and fought-out issues which always will be issues to be fought for? Especially, what were the basic national doctrines bearing upon the acute questions already agitating the public mind? Here was a temptation to repeat the historic slogan of the French Revolution, imported by Jefferson, ”liberty, equality, fraternity. ” But that was rather quickly rejected as fraternity was too remote of realization, and equality was a dubious word. What doctrines, then, would everybody agree upon as the basis of Americanism? ”Liberty and Justice” were surely basic, were uneatable, and were all that any one Nation could handle. If these were exercised ”for all” they involved the spirit of equality and fraternity. So that final line came with a cheering rush. As a clincher, it seemed to assemble the past and to promise the future.

That, I remember, is how the sequence of ideas grew and how the words were found. I called for Mr. Upham and repeated it to him with full emphasis.

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all. ”

I found this very interesting, especially given the discussion on the Pledge of Allegiance in lodges on the TMR episode I had been listening to. The original Pledge of Allegiance was written with universality and inclusivity in mind, drawing upon tenets we find in Freemasonry and ideas that framed many thoughts of our founding fathers: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Justice for all. Though Bro. Nick Johnson of The Masonic Roundtable Podcast admitted to having difficulty with the modern version of the Pledge being in a lodge where Religion, Politics, (and Borders or Nationalities) should not be discussed as they cause division and disharmony, of the more universal original Pledge he said, “I could totally be behind that kind of pledge,” and so could I.

For your enjoyment, here is a final thought on the Pledge of Allegiance by a great comedian and Mason, Bro. Richard Bernard (Red) Skelton of Lodge #1, Vincennes, IN:

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