Those words are recited every Fourth of July. But, on this day, let us recall the last line of the country's birth certificate. “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.”
What sounds heroic to some is ho-hum to others. The King was not impressed. The British officer corps laughed. Nobody was saying, “I'll take the Colonists and give you ten points.” The smart money was not on the United States of America.
Despite the odds, the long shot paid off. The world was turned upside down. But how was such a thing even remotely possible?
The man who led his troops in the field knew his neck would be in a noose, if he failed. Yet George Washington was totally committed to the mission. “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all,” according to the man who moved ideals toward reality. And he was determined that the United States would be a republic. After the war, when Benjamin West, an American artist, informed George III that the Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces was going to resign and not take power, the King replied, “ If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
The greatest man in the world showed us what it means to honor an oath. With his left hand on the Bible and his right hand raised, Washington was sworn-in as President of the United States. He added four words: “So help me God”—an acknowledgement of something beyond self. “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.” Thus, the end of the country's birth certificate is wedded to the Constitution which begins: “WE THE PEOPLE…” For the only time “I” appears is in the oath to uphold the supreme law of the land; the “I” acts on behalf of the “WE.”
President Washington had Secretary of War Knox send a report to Congress in support of Universal National Service. In that message, the former artillery officer in the Continental Army stated:
Although the substantial political maxim, which requires personal service of all the members of the community for the defense of the State, is obligatory under all forms of society, and is the main pillar of a free government, yet the degrees thereof may vary at the different periods of time, consistent with the general welfare. The public convenience may also dictate a relaxation of the general obligation as it respects the principal magistrates, and the ministers of justice and of religion, and perhaps some religious sects. But it ought to be remembered that measures of national importance never should be frustrated by the accommodation of individuals....
If wealth be admitted as a principle of exemption, the plan cannot be executed. It is the wisdom of political establishments to make the wealth of individuals subservient to the general good, and not to suffer it to corrupt or attain undue indulgence....
Every State possesses, not only the right of personal service from its members, but the right to regulate the service on principles of equality for the general defense. All being bound, none can complain of injustice, on being obliged to perform his equal proportion. Therefore, it ought to be a permanent rule, that those who in youth decline or refuse to subject themselves to the course of military education, established by the laws, should be considered as unworthy of public trust or public honors, and be excluded therefrom accordingly. (Emphasis added.)
Discipline is indeed the soul of an army. But discipline is essential to success in all endeavors, whether civilian or military. Every citizen does not need to be a soldier. But every citizen needs a practical reminder that WE are all in this together. And Secretary Knox expressed confidence in the result.
If the United States possess the vigor of mind to establish the first institution, it may reasonably be expected to produce the most unequivocal advantages. A glorious national spirit will be introduced, with its extensive train of political consequences. The youth will imbibe a love of their country; reverence and obedience to its laws; courage and elevation of mind; openness and liberality of character; accompanied by a just spirit of honor…. While habit, with its silent, but efficacious operations, will durably cement the system....
Is it asking too much of our fellow citizens to do their fair share?
Now, there is a tendency to take things for granted. But then, during “the glorious cause,” nothing was guaranteed. The inevitable is an illusion, the appearance of what had to happen, after the fact—and from a safe distance. But from the time of Washington to this very moment, veterans have been in the vanguard making a difference.
May God bless all the members of the Armed Forces, the Intelligence Community, and the Diplomatic Corps.
(c)2015 Marvin D. Jones. All rights reserved.