I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Francis Bellamy wrote this pledge of Allegiance in 1892. He was an author, editor, and Baptist minister who identified as a Christian Socialist. This makes him much like Martin Luther King Jr. who was also a Baptist Minister, writer, and worker for the common good, accused of being a socialist, though the charge was false. Of the Pledge of Allegiance Francis Bellamy wrote, “It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution… with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people…
“The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands’…What does that last thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation, which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches, and its future?”
“Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…”
As Catholics, we also have clear understandings as to what a republic is. St. Augustine quotes Cicero, who quotes Scipio, the great Roman General who conquered Carthage, “Now Scipio, at the end of the second book, says:
As among the different sounds, which proceed from lyres, flutes, and the human voice, there must be maintained a certain harmony, which a cultivated ear cannot endure to hear disturbed or jarring, but which may be elicited, in full and absolute concord by the modulation even of voices very unlike one another. Where reason modulates the diverse elements of the state, there is obtained a perfect concord from the upper, lower, and middle classes as from various sounds. What musicians call harmony in singing, is concord in matters of state, which is the strictest bond and best security of any republic, and which by no ingenuity retains where justice has become extinct.
There are no magic formulas here. The bass player continues to own his bass, the cello player his cello, and the timpani owner his timpani. The orchestra conductor owns only his baton. The conductor is no different from the musicians in the orchestra, simply a human being fulfilling a role. His public enterprise is no different from private enterprise. The republic is comparable to a baseball game where one child provides the balls, bats, gloves, and other related tools of the game and 17 other children join him in the game. While the children play the game, they own the game, but not the tools of the game. When who owns what becomes an issue, the game must stop until the issue is resolved. The idea is to play the game or play the song.
In Book 19, chapter 21, Augustine argues:
If we are to accept the definitions laid down by Scipio in Cicero’s De Republica… he briefly defines a republic as the good of the people. If this definition be true…The people, according to his definition, is an assemblage associated by a common acknowledgment of right and by a community of interests.”
When we pledge allegiance to the republic, it is assemblage of people with a common understanding of right and who have a community of interest, the common welfare of all. That is what Catholics mean by republic.
It is interesting to note that Emma Lazarus wrote her sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883, engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty in 1903. Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” just 40 years earlier. All three, the Pledge of Allegiance, the New Colossus, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic were written in reaction to the Civil War. The feet on the Statue of Liberty carry broken chains to remind us of slavery.
“Nation” comes from the same root as “Nativity.” We are all born together, by common heritage if not by blood or location of birth. When we say “One Nation, we say everyone else living here, regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, what they did in the past, what they may do in the future, how they speak or how they dress or do not dress, or their state of health, is our brother and our sister.
Under God, who is Abba, Father, who is the Haba, the one who is to come, who is Ahabba, love. We live in relation to God, as related in the Shema, and who is in all of us. This proximity to God makes us indivisible, and causes us to look for liberty, and justice for all who is in all. That is what Christians mean when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance.