Do Your Duty

Obedience to the commands of duty, and the ruling desire to be useful, are cardinal elements of success. It is at the trumpet call which duty sounds, that all the nobler attributes of manhood spring into life; and duty is something that must be done without regard to discomfort, sacrifice, or death. It must be done in secret, as well as in public; and according to the measure of our faithfulness in this respect, will be the real measure of our manhood…

An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith

Entry #29 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!







The path of duty is the way to glory.


A sense of duty pursues us ever and everywhere.


The consciousness of duty performed “gives us music at midnight.”

–George Herbert

I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty.
I woke and found that life was Duty.

–E. S. Hooper

Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that
faith let us dare to do our duty as we understand it.

–Abraham Lincoln


Samuel Smiles, who has written a most excellent book upon this subject, says, “Duty is the end and aim of the highest life; and it alone is true.” It is certain that of all the watchwords of life, duty is the highest and best. He who sincerely adopts it lives a true life; he is really the successful man. It pertains to all parts and relations of life. There is no moment, place, or condition where its claims are not imperative.

Obedience to the commands of duty, and the ruling desire to be useful, are cardinal elements of success. It is at the trumpet call which duty sounds, that all the nobler attributes of manhood spring into life; and duty is something that must be done without regard to discomfort, sacrifice, or death. It must be done in secret, as well as in public; and according to the measure of our faithfulness in this respect, will be the real measure of our manhood.

History and biography are fairly crowded with examples of the faithful performance of duty, and the glorious results which have followed; such as Nelson at Trafalgar, Luther at the Diet of Worms, General Grant in the Civil War; and scores of other instances of note. But equally valuable are the cases of ordinary life. The engineer on the locomotive; the pilot at the helm of the storm-tossed vessel; the mother in her daily routine of work; the merchant upholding laws of trade in honor; the schoolboy plodding through studies in a manly thoroughness; the reformer of slums letting her little candle of service shine in the dark;–all these and similar instances are full of guidance and inspiration.

There are two aspects of duty; namely, cheerful duty and drudging duty. One says, “I want to do something;” the other says, “I must.” Our New England forefathers were followers of duty, but they found very little joy in it, as we understand that word. We should endeavor to improve upon their methods, but we shall find it difficult to improve upon their faithfulness.

The life of Sir Walter Scott affords an interesting illustration of strict obedience to the line of duty. His whole life seems to have been governed by that sense of obligation which caused him, when a young man, to enter a profession which he heartily disliked, out of affection for his father; and, later in life, to set himself to paying off the debt incurred by the publishing house of which he was a silent partner. His sense of duty was expressed in his declaration that, “If he lived and retained his health, no man should lose a penny by him.”

Just what is meant by faithfulness to duty may be clearly seen in the following incident. During the famous dark day of 1780, in Connecticut, candles were lighted in many houses, and domestic fowls went to their roosts. The people thought the day of judgment had come. The legislature was then in session in Hartford. The house of representatives adjourned. In the council, which corresponds to the modern senate, an adjournment was also proposed. Colonel Davenport objected, saying, “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjourning; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.”

Upon the world’s great battlefields, this matter of faithfulness to duty has always been deemed of the first importance. Previous to the battle of Lutzen, in which eighty thousand Austrians were defeated by an army of thirty-six thousand Prussians, commanded by Frederick the Great, this monarch ordered all his officers to attend him, and thus addressed them:

“To-morrow I intend giving the enemy battle; and, as it will decide who are to be the future masters of Silesia, I expect every one of you, in the strictest manner, to do his duty. If any one of you is a coward, let him step forward before he makes others as cowardly as himself,–let him step forward, I say, and he shall immediately receive his discharge without ceremony or reproach. I see there is none among you who does not possess true heroism, and will not display it in defense of his king, of his country, and of himself. I shall be in the front and in the rear; shall fly from wing to wing; no company will escape my notice; and whoever I then find doing his duty, upon him will I heap honor and favor.”

Another great military commander was the Duke of Wellington. He once said to a friend: “There is little or nothing in this life worth living for; but we can all of us go straight forward and do our duty.” Whether serving at home in his family, or serving his country on the field, his sense of duty was the one high and noble purpose that inspired him. He did not ask, Will this course win fame? Will this battle add to my earthly glory? But always, What is my duty? He did what duty commanded, and followed where it led. It was his firm adherence to what he thought was right, that brought down upon him the violence of a mob in the streets of London, assaulting his person and attacking his house, even while his wife lay dead therein. But the memory of few men is now more greatly honored; and his example is worthy of careful study and close imitation.

The foregoing facts show, far better than argument, both the nature and place of duty in the work of life. We see it in practical operation, always timely, honorable, and attractive. It cannot be discounted or even smirched. It stands out in bold relief, supported by a clear conscience and strong will. It demands recognition, and it always secures it.

More than sixteen hundred years after an eruption of Vesuvius had buried Pompeii in ashes, explorers laid bare the ruins of the ill-fated city. There the unfortunate inhabitants were found just where they were overtaken by death. Some were discovered in lofty attics and some in deep cellars, whither they had fled before the approaching desolation. Others were found in the streets, through which they were fleeing in wild despair when the tide of volcanic gases and the storm of falling ashes overwhelmed them. But the Roman sentinel was standing at his post, his skeleton-hand still grasping the hilt of his sword, his attitude that of a faithful officer. He was placed there on duty, and death met him at his post.

No man has a right to say he can do nothing for the benefit of mankind. We forget that men are less benefited by ambitious projects, than by the sober fulfillment of each man’s proper duties. By doing the proper duty, in the proper time and place, a man may make the entire world his debtor, and may accomplish far more of good than in any other way.




Horatio Nelson was born at Norfolk, England, September 29, 1758. He reached his manhood at a time when the nations of Europe were engaged in deadly strife. A love of adventure and a daring spirit, which developed during his earliest years, inclined him to follow the sea. From his first entrance into this calling, genius and opportunity worked together to make him the leading factor in Great Britain’s prominence as a naval power.

For several centuries, previous to the time of Nelson, Great Britain had been rapidly advancing her commerce. In the protection of this commerce many a naval hero won renown; but the tide of influence and of power found in Nelson its perfect fulfillment. He was a man of extraordinary genius. He saw clearly; acted vigorously. He felt that it was his business and his duty to watch over England’s interests upon the sea; and both men and women felt perfectly safe while Nelson had command. The pure flame of patriotism burned brightly in his heroic soul. He believed, with Lord Sandon, that nothing could be nobler than a first-rate English sailor; and he acted in strict accord with this belief. He attained one victory after another, until the battle of the Nile, one of his most brilliant successes, made the navy of England a terror even to its bravest enemies. The superiority of the English fleet was mainly due to his genius; and the dread his name inspired was one of the principal causes, that, a few years later, kept Napoleon from carrying out his threatened invasion of England.

His high sense of duty, and what he expected of those under his command, is well illustrated by his signal to the English fleet, when they were about to engage the French in the great naval battle at Trafalgar. When all were ready for the attack, Nelson said, “I will now amuse the fleet with a signal.” Turning to the signal officer he exclaimed, “Send this message,–‘England expects every man to do his duty.'” When the signal was comprehended by the men, cheer after cheer rang out upon the air, and under its inspiration they won a glorious and a decisive victory.

This message was characteristic of Nelson. Upon his entering into this engagement, which proved to be his last, he is said to have remarked, “I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty.” While in the thick of the engagement, Nelson was struck down by a cannon ball, and lived but a few hours afterward; but long enough to hear the English shouts of triumph. He had left to the world a type of single-minded self-devotion that can never perish.

This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.

Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.

You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.

Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.

Also available through in quality trade paperback and Kindle e-book download editions.


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