The Formation of American Honor and the Path to Revolution

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:50 AM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Craig Bruce Smith, Brandeis University
Abstract: The Formation of American Honor and the Path to Revolution

            In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, British legislation and policy began to infringe on many Americans— both personally and collectively. These slights of British tyranny became understood in the colonies as an affront to the people’s honor. Initially the matter was inherently personal, but over time, debate, and discourse, this conception of dishonor became collectivized. This paper will show how a fundamentally American understanding of honor was formed in direct relation to British legislation. Furthermore, it will also illustrate how inter-colonial communication and interaction through letter writing, publications, travel, and organizations spurred individuated resentment to become a united desire to reclaim their honor. Through this collective sense of honor, national identity developed as a direct relation to British slights. As a result, honor became more readily accessible to those traditionally outside its confines. It also became less personal, in that national honor took precedence over personal honor. This new American conception of honor also directly influenced the coming of the American Revolution. Using the personal progression of prominent individuals such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John and Abigail Adams, as well as those of less exalted status, this paper will show how honor evolved from being an Anglo-European imposition into a new form that was purely American.