“Respectfully, It is my honor to be, your humble and obedient servant…” History & Context

– Opinion –

In times past, this is how people signed their letters to each other. It seems very obsequious, huh? We would certainly find it ridiculous today.

In fact, being a history buff, awhile back I decided to use it as the closing on my emails. That did not last very long. Very few of the recipients got it, and the jokes about my being obedient were plentiful.

The signature was not in any way servile…In it’s time it was similar to “respectfully” or “sincerely.”

As with the correspondence between Union General Sherman, Confederate General Hood and local Southern politicians about Atlanta, the narrative could be quite heated, and still close the same way.

One might call the recipient a low-life SOB, threatening to gut them and hang their entrails from the nearest tree…and still close with “I have the honor to be your obedient servant.”

It is similar to the southern colloquial “Well, bless your heart…” If you are from the south, you know you are not being blessed…quite the opposite.

I had a co-worker who used this with me…unaware I knew what they were saying each time they said it. There were other things I knew that they did not…confidences I could not share. So I put it on context and let it slide.

Here is my point…”your obedient servant” has to be viewed in the context of the times in which it was used…and not judged by modern standards.

The people who lived in centuries past should be judged in context of the times they lived in also. Of course there are events and actions which are timeless…Benedict Arnold would be a traitor today also.

America has its sins, and thankfully we are changing. We cannot blame someone who was born a sod buster in 19th century Louisiana for not being able to fix the world’s evils around them.

A hundred years hence, we too will be judged.

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