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From Child's Fare to National Rite

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During its 96-year history, the Pledge of Allegiance frequently has been caught up in the political currents of the day.

The patriotic oath made its debut in 1892 in The Youth's Companion, a Boston-based weekly magazine. It was written as part of a campaign by the publication to get every school in the nation to install an American flag, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World.

The flag campaign and pledge also had a deeper purpose, though, according to Whitney Smith, director of the Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass. Its aim, he explains, was to foster a sense of national unity in a country still suffering from the emotional scars of the Civil War.

The pledge quickly became a part of life in America. But its use became even more popular in the years after World War I, when many people saw it as a weapon against international communism.

In 1924, the words "my flag" were2p4changed to "the flag of the United States of America," in order to prevent subversives from reciting the pledge before some other flag.

The threat posed by Hitler's Germany led to another change during World War II. The salutation to the flag--a straight-armed gesture many people thought disturbingly similar to the Nazi salute--was abolished.

The most recent change in the pledge came in 1954, when Congress inserted the words "under God." The addition was seen by many people as a way of strengthening both religious feelings and the fight against atheistic communism, Mr. Smith explains.

The question of the authorship of the pledge remains the cause of a small but ardently fought controversy. While experts at the Library of Congress and elsewhere credit Francis Rufus Bellamy, a staff writer at the Companion, a hardy band of partisans continues to hold out for James Bailey Upham, the magazine's editor.--jw

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