University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Francis Bellamy's Pledge

Volume XIII · Autumn 1957 · Number 1
Francis Bellamy's Pledge

When Mr. David Bellamy presented the collection of his father's papers about the writing of the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag" to the Library in 1952, the question of the authorship of this pledge presumably had been settled, for a committee of scholars appointed by the United States Flag Association had rendered a unanimous decision in May, 1939, affirming that Francis Bellamy, '76, was the author. Recently, however, the question was reopened, and it seemed desirable to have another study made.

At the request of Congressman Kenneth B. Keating the Library of Congress undertook this study. The Bellamy Papers in the University of Rochester Library were microfilmed and the microfilm sent to the Library of Congress. Later some of the most pertinent original documents in the collection were loaned to the Library of Congress. Mr. John T. Rodgers of the History and Government Division of the Legislative Reference Service conducted the research on this problem and prepared a 148-page report which was published July 18, 1957. The "Summary and Conclusion" section of this report was published in the Congressional Record of September 11, 1957, as the extension of remarks by Hon. Kenneth B. Keating, under date of August 8, 1957.

A copy of the full report, presented to our Library by the Library of Congress, and a copy of the Congressional Record for September 11, 1957, presented by Congressman Keating, have been added to the Bellamy Papers in the Library and are available for the perusal of anyone using this collection. While the full report is too long to be reproduced here, the following excerpts will give one an idea of the problem and the conclusion that was reached.

The first paragraphs of the report show the difficulties Mr. Rodgers faced:

"The question of the authorship of the now famous 'Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag' presents a peculiarly difficult and delicate problem to the investigator, fraught as it is with the dangers and pitfalls offered by what has recently developed into hotly contested claims in behalf of two men long since dead.

"It might be well, therefore, at the outset to state clearly just what constitutes the precise point at issue-the real crux of the dispute.

"What, then, is this precise point at issue? It is simply this: Did the late James B. Upham, one of the editors and part owner of the now defunct Youth's Companion, write the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag in the month of August, 1892, or was that pledge composed by the late Francis Bellamy, then one of the junior editors of The Youth's Companion? Both sides disdain compromise, each demanding that its principal be accorded full and entire credit. This is the point in dispute, dealt with in the following pages.

"As to the factors which render this problem so difficult to investigate, they may be thus briefly summarized: both principals have been dead for many years; there are no documents available which prove beyond dispute the case for either party. No participating witnesses are known who are alive and could testify for either side; those who have left affidavits behind them are too vague to carry positive conviction. There can be no cross-examination, no further correspondence. It will be readily seen, therefore, that in such a set of circumstances the investigator is badly crippled from the start. His only hope of arriving at a correct conclusion is by the path of reason—and that path continually skirts lacunae which seemingly can now never be filled. This point should always be borne in mind by the reader."

The final conclusion of the report follows:

" 'A man is presumed innocent until proved guilty.' For at least thirty-two years the claim of Francis Bellamy to the authorship of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag has been universally recognized.

"No adequate proof, in our judgment, has been adduced to overthrow this claim.

"In its report of May 23, 1939, the Committee of the United States Flag Association, printed elsewhere in this paper, stated:

" 'In view of this strong contemporary evidence it is the opinion of the members of this committee that the author of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag was Francis Bellamy of Rome, New York, and not James B. Upham of Malden, Massachusetts.'

"In the language of the courts,

 'Judgment affirmed.' "