Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

Three Lions/Hulton Archive
Three Lions/Hulton Archive

Various people had their hands on it, adding as little as a word or two, but the credit for the bulk of the pledge goes to Francis Julius Bellamy (May 18, 1855 – August 28, 1931), a Baptist minister from New York. Bellamy had some interesting political ideas—he was a Christian Socialist who believed in the equal distribution of economic resources in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, but not the distribution of voting rights to women or immigrants.

By 1891, Bellamy was tired of his ministry and accepted a job from one of his congregants, Daniel S. Ford, owner and editor of Youth's Companion, a nationally circulated magazine for adolescents. Bellamy was hired to help the magazine's premium department, where he worked on a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a way to solicit subscriptions. By the end of the year, the magazine had sold flags to some 26,000 schools. But there were still more than a few holdouts.

They gave the campaign a shot in the arm by arranging a patriotic program for schools to coincide with the opening of the 1892 Columbian Exposition in October, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World. Part of the program would be a new salute to the flag that schoolchildren would recite in unison. That August, just a few weeks before the exposition and mere days from his deadline, Bellamy sat down and composed the pledge. He approached it in part as a response to the Civil War, which was still fresh in the national memory, and decided to focus on the ideas of allegiance and loyalty.

Bellamy's pledge was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of Youth's Companion as follows:

American schoolchildren doing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1915.
American schoolchildren doing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1915.
New York Tribune via Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Initially, the pledge was accompanied with a salute (seen above). According to Bellamy's instructions, "At a signal from the Principal, the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it." The pledge would then be recited, and at the words "to my Flag," the "right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side."

After the pledge had taken root in schools, people started fiddling with it. In 1923 a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, decided that "my flag" should be changed to "the flag of the United States," so newly arrived immigrant children would not be confused about exactly which flag they were pledging to. The following year, the Flag Conference refined the phrase further, adding "of America."

By 1942, the pledge's 50th anniversary, the pledge was ingrained in schools and many states required their public school students to recite it each morning. Around this time, people decided that the extended-arm salute looked a little too much like the Nazi salute, and began to simply keep the right hand over the heart throughout the whole pledge.

One Last Tweak

By the next decade, the Knights of Columbus—a Catholic fraternal organization—had adopted a modified pledge that mentioned God for use in their own meetings and soon began lobbying Congress with calls for everyone to do the same. Other fraternal and religious organizations backed the idea and pushed the government hard. In 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut (D-Mich.), proposed an alteration to the pledge in a Congressional bill. Congress approved the addition of the words "under God" within the phrase "one nation indivisible" in an Act of Congress, and President Eisenhower got on board the next year at the suggestion of the pastor at his church.

The act was signed into law in 1954. Its sponsors, anticipating that it would be challenged as a breach of separation of church and state, wrote a disclaimer into the act explaining that the new phrase was not, in fact, religious. "A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," they wrote. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs." Of course, not everyone bought the line, and a succession of people all over the country have been challenging the language in the courts for the last half-century.

This story was republished in 2019.

What’s the Difference Between a Pirate and a Buccaneer?

geniebird/iStock via Getty Images
geniebird/iStock via Getty Images

Talk Like a Pirate Day is returning to port on September 19th and you can bet your boots that a few celebrants will be using the terms pirate and buccaneer interchangeably. Most people do. Nevertheless, these two words aren’t actually synonymous.  

Four hundred years ago, if you were a seafaring thief, the label that you received said a great deal—mainly about whoever it was doing the labeling. Anyone who called you a "pirate" probably hated your guts. But those who cited you as a “buccaneer” might have had a very different attitude. Within certain contexts, the latter group may have even embraced you as a national hero.

Time for a swashbuckling semantics lesson. In article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy is defined as "any illegal acts of violence or detention ... committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship." UNCLOS also states that, to be considered piracy, a crime must occur within international waters. If the event in question takes place within a particular country’s territorial waters, the aggressors will be deemed armed robbers rather than pirates.

Historical definitions tended to be a lot broader. During the 17th and 18th centuries, England regarded piracy as any criminal act committed on the high seas or below the low tide mark around shores, rivers, and estuaries. Hundreds of years earlier, in the year 100 CE, Plutarch—a noteworthy Greek scholar— talked about pirates as anybody who attacked a ship or maritime city without legal authority.

Just what did he mean by “legal authority?” Plutarch was probably alluding to warships. Nowadays, these are generally owned by national governments, but this wasn’t always the case. From medieval times through the early 20th century, it was common practice for a nation at war to recruit private vessels to assault its enemy’s ships, steal their goods, and plunder their ports. Mariners who engaged in such state-approved mischief were called “privateers.”

Usually, a privateer vessel was allowed to operate under a license that was granted by the country it served. Dubbed the Letter of Marque, this document laid out a code of conduct and payment policy for the crew. (Privateers almost always got to keep a percentage of whatever they took.)

Essentially, privateers were independent contractors, acting as hostile, government-commissioned, seafaring mercenaries. Therefore, they technically weren’t pirates because real pirates didn’t behave in accordance with any national laws or regulations. But the dividing line here was pretty blurry. Many privateers eventually became pirates and vice versa. Also, a captured privateer would sometimes be tried as a pirate by the country he or she was victimizing.

This brings us back to buccaneers: Throughout the 16th through 18th centuries, Spain more or less controlled the Caribbean. However, in the 1600s, she started to get some not-so-friendly competition. By the middle of that century, settlers from various other European countries—including England, France, and the Netherlands—had colonized parts of the Leeward Islands and Hispaniola. Among these newcomers, transplanted Frenchmen were especially common. The Gallic colonists would frequently smoke their meat over a wooden platform that they called a boucan. Thanks to this cooking technique, the frontiersmen were given the nickname “buccaneers.”

Before long, many turned to piracy. Because of Spain’s huge colonial presence in the Caribbean, buccaneers more or less exclusively targeted Spanish ports and ships. This turned plenty of heads across the Atlantic. In an attempt to cripple Spain’s empire, the English, French, and Dutch began issuing Letters of Marque to buccaneer vessels.

Eventually, the word buccaneer came to possess its current—and very specific—definition, which is: “any of the piratical adventurers who raided Spanish colonies and ships along the American coast in the second half of the 17th century.” (Told you it was specific.)

The most famous buccaneer of them all was undoubtedly Sir Henry Morgan. Little is known about his early life, although most historians believe that he was born in Wales at some point in 1635. Nearly 20 years later, he set sail for Barbados as a member of an expedition that saw England seize Jamaica from the Spanish.

Morgan quickly emerged as a leading buccaneer, and as England’s most ruthlessly effective privateer. In 1668, he seized the heavily guarded city of Porto Bello, Panama, holding it for ransom until the Spanish coughed up an amazing 250,000 pesos. Three years later, Morgan raided and sacked Panama City, which promptly burned to the ground. Such exploits did not endear him to the Spanish, but in England, Morgan was a widely beloved figure. Knighted by King Charles II, he was made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674. Following his death on August 25, 1688, Morgan received a grandiose state funeral, complete with a 22-gun salute.

And, yes, that rum was named after him. Clearly, buccaneering had its perks. 

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Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?

iStock
iStock

Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

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