Remembering The Founders’ Honor

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” – Last line of the Declaration of Independence signed by 56 Founding Fathers July 4, 1776.

I try to imagine having the nerve to sign my name to that pledge. What a brave bunch of men who risked all so I can live free!

In the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson enumerated a list of grievances, among which were that King George’s men “plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

Armed British troops were allowed to commit murder without punishment. Citizens were “transported beyond Seas to be tried for pretend offences.” Each signer was acutely aware of what mayhem would rain down upon him and his family as soon as the ink dried on the page bearing his name.

Still these men pledged boldly, in solidarity, saying in essence to the most powerful nation in the world, we’re fed up, by George, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Lives and fortunes are quite a sacrifice, but what about “sacred honor”?

In 1776, a person’s honor meant everything. Personal integrity, respect, reputation, justice, trust, dignity, ethics – all components of honor. The word sacred added a divine exclamation point.

Despite the silliness of dueling in those days (woe to Alexander Hamilton, victim of a duel with Aaron Burr), there was still something special about holding fast to one’s honor even to the death.

I was raised by an honorable father. He was a World War II Marine and a country lawyer in West Texas who believed his word was his honor. To him, no legal contract was more binding than a handshake looking a person squarely in the eye.

One day I visited his law office in the Central National Bank building. It was a rather large space. The walls, painted in neutral tones, were bare as was his desk, save a legal pad and a sharp No. 2 pencil. I knew mother had orchestrated photos taken of his daughters – my sister and me – and I wondered out loud where his family pictures were like those hung on the walls in his partners’ offices.

His answer, “Susan, people pay me for my time. Those pictures might distract them, wasting their time and money. I don’t believe in that.”

Dad was brave, stoic, chivalrous, patriotic and humble, but most of all honest. I miss him every July 4 because of his love of this country founded on the ideals of honor.

Rarely do I live up to his standard, but at least I have his example (which apparently has something to do with my choice of husbands, who were military men).

Despite a culture in which honor is slipping into extinction, our military still engenders that “American Revolution” attitude of duty, honor, courage and sacrifice. Over the long course of two wars, we’ve gotten to see our Marines, Special Forces, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and National Guardsmen and women perform acts of heroism and honor comparable to any generation. And now, our wounded warriors, despite daunting injuries, astound us with their resilience, fortitude and positive attitudes.

Sacred honor. In today’s culture, fame supplants honor and reliance on government supplants faith in a Creator – ideas that would’ve been repugnant to the Founding Fathers.

Can honor be revived?

It depends on how we educate the coming generations on the cause for which our Founders made the ultimate pledge. It depends on the example we set for them.

Is it possible to reverse selfish into selfless?

Of course, this is America. I think our Founders, on their honor, would say that with freedom and faith in “Divine Providence,” anything is possible.