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A Modest Proposal for Columbus Day

A Modest Proposal for Columbus Day
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Welcome to the October 2013 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

 

A Modest Proposal

Might we consider changing the name of Columbus day?

It seems to me that in recent years, Columbus Day has lost a little of its historic significance. After all, how could we say Christopher Columbus “discovered” America when there were actually thousands of people already living here?

So how about celebrating this coming Monday, October 14th as “The Pledge of Allegiance” Day?  After all, “The Pledge of Allegiance” was written in August of 1892 for the first Columbus Day celebration on October of that year. The author was a Rome, New York, man by the name of Francis Bellamy who worked in the Boston office of The Youth’s Companion. He wrote it at the request of his editor, James Bailey Upham, who had gone to Washington, D.C., earlier that year to persuade President Benjamin Harrison to ask Congress to declare October 12th a national holiday in honor of “the discovery of America” exactly 400 years before. On June 20, 1892, the Congressional resolution passed and our official Columbus Day holiday was born.

But James Bailey Upham wanted to do even more. “The flame of patriotism is dying out in this country,” he said to Francis Bellamy on his return to Boston, “and I believe the place to revive that intense spirit is among America’s school children.”

So, through the pages of the Companion, Upham and Bellamy initiated a national program to have America’s flag flying over every schoolhouse in the country in time for the first Columbus Day celebration in October. Then one evening in August, as the two editors were having supper at the Thorndyke Hotel in Boston, they began to discuss the idea of printing in the Companion some sort of patriotic loyalty vow for schoolchildren across America to recite as they raised their new flags.

“I can’t seem to come up with the right flavor,” Upham told Bellamy and suggested that Bellamy return to the Companion office that evening and try his hand at it. Bellamy agreed and a few hours later had the following 23 words on paper: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

And those are the exact words, unsigned by Bellamy that appeared in the September 8, 1892 edition of The Youth’s Companion. A month later, on October 12th, those are the words that were roared by over 12 million schoolchildren across the land.

Later, the wording was revised to read “the flag of the United States of America”, and in 1954 the words “under God” were added between “nation” and “indivisible”.

A rather remarkable postscript to the story is that for a number of years it was generally thought that the author of the Pledge of Allegiance was a man in Cherryvale, Kansas, who, in 1896, lifted the pledge from the old 1892 Youth’s Companion and entered it as his own work in a school essay contest. This bit of chicanery not only won his the school first prize for the best essay, but it also established him as the author of the Pledge of Allegiance. And here’s the really remarkable part. The Cherryvale, Kansas, man’s name was none other than Frank Bellamy! Talk about coincidences!

It was only through years of research in the 1930’s by one Margarette S. Miller of Portsmouth, Virginia, that enough evidence was gathered to persuade the United States Flag Association to conduct a formal investigation of the confusing facts. Their final report, rendered by three outstanding historians of the day, was completed in 1939 and it conclusively established the Francis Bellamy of Rome, New York and The Youth’s Companion as the true author of the Pledge of Allegiance.

But will we ever change Columbus Day to Pledge of Allegiance Day? Nah!  For one thing, it’s nowhere near as easy to say.

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