The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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A Study Guide to

The History of United States Symbols and Mottos

October 31, 2001: In this time of our country's peril, it seems appropriate to take a look at the symbols of the United States, their history and their meaning.

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by Jim Allison

The United States National Mottos:

The U. S. National Mottos: "E Pluribus Unum" & "In God We Trust": History, debate, origins, controversy

United States (Overview) and Section II. E Pluribus Unum: The American Experience

The Great Seal Motto: E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)

In God We Trust

Madison's Arguments Against Special Religous Sanctions of American Government (1792)

Religious Measures in Congress 1888-1949

The Flag

On June 14, 1777, Congress resolved "that the flag of the thirteen united States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation." In 1794, on the admission of Vermont and Kentucky, the number of stars and stripes was increased to fifteen. Then in 1818 Congress, seeing the dilemma the nation was facing by the addition of new states, wisely adopted the plan suggested by Samuel Chester Reid (1783-1861), a naval hero of the War of 1812, to have the number of stripes reduced to thirteen to perpetuate forever the states that formed the original union, and to add a new star for each new state. This gives the history, traditions, and ideals of the "old thirteen" a place of enduring recognition, while at the same time calling to mind by the stars the importance of every state in the Union.

The design of the flag was evidently taken from the coat of arms of the Washington family. As to the origin of this there is some doubt. Some authorities trace its ancestry back to the blue, scarlet, and white cloth on the table of shewbread before the ark of the covenant. They believe that these colors of the early Jewish Church were taken over by Christendom and used for the main colors of the flags of Christian nations. In this connection Zollmann quotes the superintendent of naval records and librarian of the United States Navy Department as saying:

The flag may trace its ancestry back to Mount Sinai whence the Lord gave to Moses the Ten Commandments and the book of the Law, which testify of God's will and man's duty, and were deposited in the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle whose curtains were blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen. Before the Ark stood the table of shew breads, with its cloth of blue, scarlet and white. These colors of the Jewish church were taken over by the early Western Church for its own and given to all the nations of Western Europe for their flags. When the United States chose their Rag, it was of the colors of old, but new in arrangement and design.

This is merely a matter of opinion. It is a case where proof is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Red has always been the color of sacrifice; blue the symbol of constancy, the color of the heavens, and consequently of the glory of God; and white of purity. Whether it is possible to go beyond this in the identification of the colors of our flag, seems doubtful.

Professor Charles Beard has called my attention to the fact that the United States was probably the first great nation to leave out from the design of its flag any specific religious or authoritarian symbolism. For example, it does not contain the cross on the one hand, or the fasces or sword on the other. It is inspiring because of its intrinsic beauty of design and color; its historic representation through its stripes of the formation of the government by the thirteen original states; its representation by the white stars in the blue field of the diversity in unity of the forty-eight existing states; and its reminder of the family of George Washington by its adaptation of the general design of his family's arms.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that nearly all our historic patriotic songs and anthems have a spiritual note and refer to the Deity. I have in mind the "Star-Spangled Banner," inspired by the American flag in the War of 1812 and adopted as the national anthem in 1931; "Once to every man and nation," "O God, beneath Thy guiding hand," "God bless our native Land," "God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand," the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "America the Beautiful," and "America," "My country, 'tis of thee." The last named, which is still by far the most popular, was written in 1832 by Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895), then a young theological student.

Source of Information:

Church and State in the United States, by Anson Phelps Stokes, D.D, LL.D. Volume I, Harper & Brothers Publishers, N.Y. (1950) pp 469-470.

Great Seal

Section 5. The Adoption of the American Seal and Other National Symbols (1776 ON)

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson "a Committee to prepare a device for a Seal of the United States of America." It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the omission of Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, this was the same committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Source of Information:

Church and State in the United States, by Anson Phelps Stokes, D.D, LL.D. Vol. I, Harper & Brothers Publishers, N.Y. (1950) pp 467.

The Great Seal of the United States

The Great Seal of the United States

A Mason discusses the Great Seal and the legend of Masonic influence. How the Great Seal got onto the back of the one dollar bill.[As of 2/19/03, this article is no longer on the website, however the site is still available.

State Department of the United States discusses how the Great Seal may be used.

The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History

This article was originally found at
We thank Dr. Baer for his gracious permission to reprint it here.


The Pledge of Allegiance
A Short History

by Dr. John W. Baer

Copyright 1992 by Dr. John W. Baer

Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931), a Baptist minister, wrote the original Pledge in August 1892. He was a Christian Socialist. In his Pledge, he is expressing the ideas of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, author of the American socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897).

Francis Bellamy in his sermons and lectures and Edward Bellamy in his novels and articles described in detail how the middle class could create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all. The government would run a peace time economy similar to our present military industrial complex.

The Pledge was published in the September 8th issue of The Youth's Companion, the leading family magazine and the Reader's Digest of its day. Its owner and editor, Daniel Ford, had hired Francis in 1891 as his assistant when Francis was pressured into leaving his baptist church in Boston because of his socialist sermons. As a member of his congregation, Ford had enjoyed Francis's sermons. Ford later founded the liberal and often controversial Ford Hall Forum, located in downtown Boston.

In 1892 Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. As its chairman, he prepared the program for the public schools' quadricentennial celebration for Columbus Day in 1892. He structured this public school program around a flag raising ceremony and a flag salute - his 'Pledge of Allegiance.'

His original Pledge read as follows: 'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' He considered placing the word, 'equality,' in his Pledge, but knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. [ * 'to' added in October, 1892. ]

Dr. Mortimer Adler, American philosopher and last living founder of the Great Books program at Saint John's College, has analyzed these ideas in his book, The Six Great Ideas. He argues that the three great ideas of the American political tradition are 'equality, liberty and justice for all.' 'Justice' mediates between the often conflicting goals of 'liberty' and 'equality.'

In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference, under the 'leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge's words, 'my Flag,' to 'the Flag of the United States of America.' Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored.

In 1954, Congress after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, added the words, 'under God,' to the Pledge. The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.

Bellamy's granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change. He had been pressured into leaving his church in 1891 because of his socialist sermons. In his retirement in Florida, he stopped attending church because he disliked the racial bigotry he found there.

What follows is Bellamy's own account of some of the thoughts that went through his mind in August, 1892, as he picked the words of his Pledge:

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.' ...And what does that vast 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...

If the Pledge's historical pattern repeats, its words will be modified during this decade. Below are two possible changes.

Some prolife advocates recite the following slightly revised Pledge: '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, born and unborn.'

A few liberals recite a slightly revised version of Bellamy's original Pledge: 'I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty and justice for all.'


Baer, John. The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892 - 1992, Annapolis, Md. Free State Press, Inc., 1992.

Miller, Margarette S. Twenty-Three Words, Portsmouth, VA Printcraft Press, 1976.

For more information about the history of the Pledge, be sure to also read the three online chapters of The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892 - 1992 by Dr. Baer:

    • Dr. John W. Baer <>
      10 Taney Ave.
      Annapolis, MD 21401
      (410) 268 - 1743
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