It’s that time of year again. The time when many people resolve to do something they believe will benefit them personally: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier foods or achieve more balance in their lives.
Go beyond that. Resolve — take an oath, vow or make a pledge — to perform acts and say words that could benefit your neighbors, your community and your nation as well.
We Americans have a long history of committing ourselves to fellow Americans and America itself.
When the Continental Army was created in 1775, soldiers and officers took oaths to “support, maintain and defend the United States” and “bear true allegiance” to it. Members of the Armed Forces take oaths today to do the same.
A year later, delegates to the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, wrote the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States” and issued a resolve to “Adopt such a government as shall, in the opinion of the people, best conduce (lead) to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular and America in general.”
In 1787, as 55 delegates from the 13 colonies to the Federal Constitutional Convention again cloistered themselves in Independence Hall to form a truly national government — not a democracy but a Constitutional Republic — by and for the people, they first decided to require an oath be taken by future federal and state officials. It was left to the first Congress to determine the exact words. However, they set forth in the Constitution the oath the president of the as-yet-United States must take upon taking office. Government officials continue to take an oath before assuming their office. Since 1966, the oath ends with the words “So help me God.”
The Constitution’s Preamble declares, “We the people … do ordain…” — decree — that we are “to form a more perfect Union.” This is a charge to which we Americans should commit and perpetuate daily.
Our history has yet another oath, one more well-known but not recited as frequently as it ought to be: The Pledge of Allegiance. Written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, it originally read, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, with liberty and justice for all.”
The words were meant to symbolize the post-Civil War union of a nation with different nationalities, religions and regions into a strong and cohesive whole. In 1923, the words “my flag” were deleted in favor of “the flag of the United States of America.” In 1954, Congress added “under God,” in response to the then-threat of “godless” communism. (This is a pledge students ought to say frequently if not daily. The local school system does not require recitation of the pledge; that is up to individual school principals.)
Oaths and pledges constitute personal commitments. Promises that begin with “I.” As you determine your resolution to yourself, also decide make a personal commitment to help others and further the promise of our nation in 2018 and in the years beyond.
Bratz, of Williamsburg, is a retired career Army officer who taught at the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy while on active duty.