The Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va., recently held an essay contest for high school students on the topic: ”What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?” Over 50,000 students participated from all 50 states and U.S. territories. The winners and runners-up received cash prizes, with $5,000 awarded to each regional first-place winner. Eagle Publishing was proud to be one of the sponsors. HumanEvents.com will be publishing the top nine winning essays over the next two weeks. Every Saturday we will be spotlighting a winning entry. This is the third essay.
Patriotism is devotion to your country: to love your country is to love its institutions and values. Patriotism is inherent to good citizenship because all other civic values have their root in the desire to better the country. Patriotism has a special place in the American identity- from the Enlightenment ideals of the Revolution, through Manifest Destiny, through Reagan’s musings on patriotism in his Farewell Address, Americans have always held patriotism in high esteem for good reason. It is patriotism that unites Americans as a nation and as a people.
One of the greatest documents professing patriotism in American history is The American Crisis, a series of essays by Thomas Paine. In his first essay Paine states, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” He concludes the series by stating “And when we view a flag, which to the eye is beautiful, and to contemplate its rise and origin inspires a sensation of sublime delight, our national honor must unite with our interest to prevent injury to the one, or to insult the other.” The American Crisis is a call to patriotism; Paine’s purpose in writing The American Crisis was to encourage American solidarity against Britain in the early and uncertain days of America. Were it not for American patriotism, America would not have won the Revolution. The first essay of The American Crisis was judged so inspirational that Washington read it aloud to his demoralized troops before the attack on Trenton.
Thomas Paine was a great admirer of George Washington; he described Washington as a “cabinet of fortitude.” Washington was quite possibly the greatest American patriot. At a meeting of his officers, after they had urged him to march on Congress, Washington put on a pair of glasses to read a letter. General Washington asked his men to “permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” The officers were touched; any thoughts of a march on Congress died there. Washington’s service to America was not for personal gain- it was for the betterment of his nation and his countrymen. Washington had everything to lose in the American Revolution; by being a leading Revolutionary, he put his property, life, and honor on the line, with little chance of personal betterment. This is patriotism at its finest. Americans can look to Washington as an example of the greatness of selfless patriotism.
All citizens should try to demonstrate patriotism in their actions. I hang a flag outside my house to show patriotism. I follow national events, and will vote when I’m of age. And I’m an Eagle Scout. Whenever a Scout recites the Scout Oath, he begins with "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty, to God and my country…" Patriotism is promoted by Scouting, because Scouting, as a youth development organization, seeks to make better citizens of boys. By being an Eagle Scout, I hope to demonstrate patriotism and encourage others to do the same.
Patriotism is the source of other civic virtues: a patriot is industrious, persistent, respectful, and courageous, because actions that exemplify these and other virtues uplift the country, making it better for everybody. Americans are unlike other nationalities in that we do not share a common ethnicity or religion. Rather, we are united by ideals. We are united by patriotism, devotion to a country that has brought freedom to millions of people. What other country can boast of a Revolution based on the ideals of liberty and freedom that did not fall into despotism and chaos? Americans should be patriotic, because patriotism is the force that holds our country together and advances our nation. Patriotism is, ultimately, selflessness for the benefit of other citizens. It is for the benefit of our countrymen and our nation that every American should strive for the highest patriotic ideal.