No, George Washington Did Not “Pledge Allegiance to the Flag”

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had resolved to say nothing about Sarah Palin — really I had.  But since I was sent home from school in Junior High for eliminating the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance when it was my turn to read it over the school intercom, I just couldn’t let this go.  Palin was asked in 2006, during her gubernatorial campaign, whether she was offended by the Pledge’s “under God” phrase.  She responded:

“Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its [sic] good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”

As Steve Benen points out at the Political Animal, and as I knew when I was 14, the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 and didn’t include the phrase “under God” until 1954.

Ah, the empty rituals of patriotism…

One Response

  1. Her answer can also reasonably be read as meaning: ‘The phrase was used in reference to our country by the Founding Fathers, it is not offensive to me, and I will work to keep it in the Pledge of Allegiance.’

    The question focused on the controversial phrase ‘under God’.  She answered asserting that ‘it was good enough for the Founding Fathers . . .’ 

    And indeed it was. 

    George Washington used the phrase ‘under God’ in reference to ‘this country’ when ordering that the just-passed Declaration of Independence be read aloud to the troops:

    The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective parades at six o’clock, when the Declaration of Congress, showing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice. The General hopes that this important event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer and soldier to act with fidelity and courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of this country depends, under God, solely on the success of our arms.  [italics added.]

    Benjamin Franklin (hardly an evangelical) also used the phrase ‘under God’ in reference to ‘our country’, along with others of the founding era.  Abraham Lincoln was obviously not there at the founding, but many including Gary Wills argue that Lincoln accomplished a re-founding of the republic.  Lincoln famously used the phrase ‘under God’ in concluding the Gettysburg Address: ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’

    The question itself, missing from the original post, is focused on the phrase ‘under God’: ‘Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?’ 
    I construe the antecedent of ‘it’ to be the phrase ‘under God’ as referenced in the question, while you appear to construe ‘it’ to refer to the pledge.

    A reasonable, intelligent meaning is available.  It is legitimate to argue that the phrase ‘under God’ (as well as the ideas it carries) has a long history of use in reference to the U.S., including by the Founders, and that it should be included in the more-recent pledge of allegiance.  Many Founders and Framers, including authors of the Bill of Rights and its source documents, strongly believed that the U.S. was a nation ‘under God’, without being explicitly Christian, nor even explicitly Judeo-Christian (some were Deists and Unitarians).

    Where there are reasonable meanings available, or even understandable, why do we refuse to acknowledge them?  Both sides are guilty of this ‘gotcha’ game.  Few think that Sen. Obama actually believes there are 57 states in the union–he misspoke, as everyone does at times.  He probably meant to say he had visited 47 or so, but 50 states was on his mind, and so ’57’ came out of his mouth. 

    Aside: When Gov. Kaine was considered a strong contender for the Dem. V.P. pick, the experience criticisms of Gov. Palin ring hollow.

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