Why did the signers willingly subject themselves to such sacrifices? They gave three reasons: (1) Integrity, (2) Patriotism, and (3) Duty.
Signer Benjamin Rush noted:
I have observed that integrity in the conduct of both the living and the dead takes a stronger hold of the human heart than any other virtue… By integrity I mean… fidelity to promises and a strict coincidence between thoughts, words, and actions.
What did the Founders see as the source of this virtue? According to Justice JOSEPH STORY (“The Father of American Jurisprudence,” whose father was one of the “Indians” in the Boston Tea Party):
To secure integrity, there must be a lofty sense of duty and a deep responsibility to future times as well as to God.
John Adams agreed, explaining:
[C]ompliances [compromises]…of my honor, my conscience, my friends, my country, my God, as the Scriptures inform us must be punished with nothing less than hell-fire, eternal torment…. The duration of future punishment terrifies me.
Samuel Adams gave similar reasons. In fact, when the British tried to bribe him, he recoiled at the possibility, exclaiming:
I have long since made my peace with the King of Kings. No personal consideration shall induce me to abandon the righteous cause of my country.
Benjamin Rush explained that patriotism was nothing more than a selfless love for the welfare of others:
Patriotism… is both a moral and a religious duty. It comprehends not only the love of our neighbors but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations.
George Washington concurred:
[P]atriotism... sacrifice[s] all the comforts of social and political life in support of the rights of mankind and the welfare of our common country.
The word "duty"—rarely used today—was frequently invoked by the Founders:
And let us play the man for our God... And having secured the approbation of our hearts by a faithful and unwearied discharge of our duty to our country, let us joyfully leave our concerns in the hands of Him Who raiseth up and pulleth down the empires and kingdoms of the world as He pleases.
All that the best men can do is to persevere in doing their duty to their country and leave the consequences to Him who made it their duty, being neither elated by success, however great, nor discouraged by disappointment, however frequent and mortifying.
— John Jay
The patriot, like the Christian, must learn that to bear revilings and persecutions is a part of his duty; and in proportion as the trial is severe, firmness under it becomes more requisite and praiseworthy.
— Thomas Jefferson
The man who is conscientiously doing his duty will ever be protected by that righteous and all-powerful Being; and when he has finished his work, he will receive an ample reward.
— Samuel Adams
The sum of the whole is that the blessing of God is only to be looked for by those who are not wanting in the discharge of their own duty.
— John Witherspoon
Integrity, patriotism, and duty carry their own rewards, not only for those who practice those virtues but also for those who benefit from their actions.
<< Return to the July/August 2010 Index of Fusion