Baltimore mayor John Preston
The Nationwide Contest to Create an ‘American Creed’
By Ken Zurski
In April 1917, shortly after President Woodrow Wilson announced his intentions to enter the protracted war in Europe, the New York Commissioner of Education at the time, Henry Sterling Chapin, advertised a nationwide contest to come up with an American Creed, or short paragraph that represented a U.S. citizen’s beliefs and principles.
Capin’s idea, inspired by his own patriotic pride, was supported by Baltimore mayor John Preston who gave the contest instant credibility by offering a $1000 grand prize.
More than three-thousand entries were received.
A year later, a government worker named William Tyler Page was declared the winner. Page’s three sentence submission borrowed words and phrases from the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of independence, Preamble of the Constitution, and ended with a pledge: “I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its constitution, to obey its laws, to respect the flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”
Many liked it. “As creeds go this embodies what the leaders of America has said and attempted to put into practice,” one newspaper writer expressed. While others thought it was inessential. “No one American can write creeds for all Americans,” the Indianapolis Star reported. “The real American creed is in the heart.”
Page defended his work, accepted the prize money, and eventually became a clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives. His creed, while still recognized, was never officially adopted by the federal government. Instead many years later, in 1942, Congress chose a one-sentence composition written in 1892 for a children’s magazine to honor America’s symbol of freedom.
It begins with these words: I pledge allegiance to the Flag…