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Each week at In The Past Lane, the American history podcast, host and Historian-at-Large, Edward T. O’Donnell, brings you news, stories, interviews, and special features on all things U.S. history. His aim is to be both engaging and thought-provoking, inspired by the notion that history explains the world we live in and provides insights into how to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and just future. So come along with us as we journey In The Past Lane.  

Oct 30, 2018

This week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, I speak with historian Craig Bruce Smith talks about his new book, American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals during the Revolutionary Era. Throughout the era of the American Revolution, Americans spoke of honor all the time, most famously in the Declaration of Independence, the last sentence of which reads, “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” But what did the Founders mean by “honor”? Craig Bruce Smith explains that honor was a crucial concept that shaped the way Americans came to understand their struggle for independence and to establish an enduring republic. 

In the course of our discussion, Craig Bruce Smith:

What honor meant in 18th century American political culture – and why it was such an important concept in the era of the American Revolution.  

How GW and the patriots framed the Am Rev as a struggle to defend the honor of the Americans against a dishonorable attempt by the British to oppress them.

And how GW likewise depicted the treason of Benedict Arnold as evidence of the dishonorable nature of the British cause.

How women and the enslaved, and not just elites, appealed to honor to gain greater respect and rights.

How at the end of the war, Washington defused a potential mutiny of Continental Army officers by invoking their sense of “sacred honor.”

How honor in the young republic was gradually transformed from something tied to high birth and status, into something one could earn by honorable conduct.

Why honor, in the era of the Revolution, denounced dueling as a thoroughly dishonorable practice – and then how that changed as a very different definition of honor emerged in the early 1800s.

Recommended reading

Craig Bruce Smith, American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals during the Revolutionary Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2018)

More info about Craig Bruce Smith - website


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Related ITPL podcast episodes:

014 The Declaration of Independence

023 Stephen Knott on Alexander Hamilton and George W

028 Carol Berkin on the fractious politics of the 1790s and how they led to the formation of an American nationalism

041 Saratoga – tipping point of the Am Rev

065 Andrew O’Shaughnessy on why the British Lost the Revolution

079 Mitch Kachun on the life and legend of Crispus Attucks

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

Philipp Weigl, “Even When We Fall” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting

Podcast Editing: Wildstyle Media

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© In The Past Lane, 2018

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