Pledging allegiance: A common but important tradition
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.
The flag of our nation has been loved and hated with equal intensity over the years, not because of the fabric that it is made of or the colors it bears, but because of what it represents. And it seems to represent many things to many people. But what it really represents is this nation that fought its way to independence from Great Britain, and then established itself under a new form of government in 1789 when the Constitution went into effect. Not a perfect nation, but an amazing nation, with features not found in any previous nation, nor fully realized in any other nation since.
The founders did not give us a direct democracy, which would be too subject to the whims of the majority and provide too little representation and protection for the interests of the minority. Instead, as our pledge states, they gave us a representative republic, with constitutional checks and balances written right into the fabric of the government itself. They gave us not a king, but a president, who would act as chief executive for the nation, with a limited term of service, so that, if he or she doesn't do a good job, someone else can be voted into the office in the next election. They gave us a bicameral legislative body, one part, the House of Representatives, composed of direct representatives elected by the people, and answerable directly to them. The other part, the Senate, was originally elected by the state legislatures, and answerable to the states. This was changed by the 17th Amendment, and now both parts are directly elected by the people of each state. And they gave us a federal judiciary system to ensure that the laws were enforced equitably and justly.
Instead of designing a loose confederation of individual countries, like the European Union, the founders designed our country to be one nation. The states would retain rights over many aspects of their own governance, but all agreed to be united as regards to contributing to the national defense and being under overarching federal laws, ensuring a large amount of uniformity in what was legal and illegal across the whole country.
The description of our nation as "indivisible" was written many years after the nation was torn apart during the Civil War, which threatened to completely destroy the unity that was to be the hallmark of our land. It was a terrible time, and many doubted that our nation could ever be made whole again. But despite the pain and loss, the people of our country did find a way back to unity. Some still see many divisions in our nation, and those divisions are real. But the secret of our unity has never been that we all pledged to agree on everything, but that we need to face any problem realizing that we are all in this together, and, even if we disagree, we need to work together to forge the best solutions that we can to those problems.
Our pledge promises liberty and justice for all. To some that seems like an impossible dream. But we have made great strides as a nation, often through devastating battles, both ideological and literal. We still have a ways to go, but the foundation that the framers of the Constitution laid for us provides us with a framework that really does give the best possibility of both of those outcomes if we will stay true to its principles.
The words "under God" have caused a lot of discussion and dissention. Those two words were not originally in the pledge when it was adopted by Congress in 1942 but were added on Flag Day in 1954. At the time, our nation had recently fought and won World War II, and the people who lived through those fearsome years realized that it was the prayers of the people and the grace of God himself who had seen us through that terrible war. Thus it seemed entirely appropriate to memorialize in our pledge that we are not only one nation, but one nation under a God who had guided and directed us, and ultimately helped us to win.
We do not have a perfect nation. No nation that has real people living in it will ever be perfect. But we do live in the best, most amazing nation on the face of the earth. And, with God's help, it will remain so for centuries to come.