Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



As delegates gathered in Philadelphia in May 1775 for the start of the Second Continental Congress, many of the gentlemen present understood that independence was one possible solution to the growing problems with Parliament and King George III. Congressmen in the summer of 1775 created new revolutionary institutions to address the political crisis and they turned to the eighteenth-century culture of honor to provide guidelines for their conduct and decision-making during those turbulent times. The legislative structure of the Continental Congress and the hierarchy of the Continental Army were shaped by the honor code. The eighteenth-century culture of honor constituted a system of defining cultural assumptions and behavior that helped to create social identity, structure social interactions, and govern behavior in the political and military spheres. Although there was no consensus in the 1770s on the exact definition of honor and its role in American society, the idea of honor did provide the “social glue” that held the colonists together as they contemplated and fought for independence. I argue that personal constructions of honorable behavior caused many of the problems between Congress and the army because gentlemen in those two institutions operated under different interpretations of the honor code. When difficulties arose between Congress and the army over promotions, pensions, or congressional privilege, revolutionaries in both institutions turned to the guidelines of the honor code to resolve the disputes. The honor culture provided three options to address the tensions between the Continental Congress and the Continental army: meditation, resignation, or affairs of honor. Mediation was the most commonly used option and reveals the large friendship networks that developed between Congress and the army. A concern for honor helps to explain why disputes involving people’s intentions and reputations occupy a significant proportion of the official records of the Continental Congress. Moreover, the honor code and its application by soldiers and politicians had a profound influence on the course and ultimate success of the Revolution.



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Committee Chair

Paskoff, Paul



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History Commons