What Jimmy Stewart said about the Scout Oath

Jimmy Stewart had given acceptance speeches before — after winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, for example.

But this one was different. This one was all about Scouting.

In May 1980, inside a crowded ballroom in one of Los Angeles’ fanciest hotels, Stewart received the Los Angeles Area Council’s Distinguished Scouter Award.

As a youngster, Stewart was a Boy Scout in Troop 3 in Indiana, Pa. As an adult, he was a dedicated friend of Scouting.

The night’s highlight was Stewart’s stirring speech about the Scout Oath, which he called “40 words … that can make an awfully big difference.”

Find the speech in its entirety below, as printed in the October 1980 issue of Scouting magazine.

Jimmy Stewart on the Scout Oath

“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

I learned those words as a very young man. Most of you men in this room learned them when you were very young.

They have stayed with me through a lifetime, as I know they have with you. For many of us, those words have changed the world, and yet, the Scout Oath has only 40 words in it.

Forty words that can make an awfully big difference in the way the boy who becomes a man lives out his life. Let’s take just a minute to talk about these 40 words and what they mean to all of us. Scouts and non-Scouts alike.

“On my honor.” Honor — There’s a good word to start out with. It comes from the French, and its origins indicate dignity, without which none of us is a whole or complete person. Honor means worth, and has been known to escalate to reverence and higher to veneration. We honor the Lord. By living well, we honor each other. A man honors his flag, his family, his wife and children. Honor. As fine and decent a word as could be found to begin an oath.

“I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” Now there’s a mouthful you could talk for years about. Just listen to some of the words contained in that simple phrase: best, duty, God, country. Every Scout should always try to do his best, long after he hangs up the uniform and goes out to shake hands with the adult world.

“Best” is what Scouts are trained to be. It’s as simple as that.

“To do my duty.” Duty — that implies a moral or legal obligation to follow a certain code of conduct. Duty means playing by the rules, reaching deep into your own conscience for the meaning of these rules and giving just a little beyond and doing just a little bit more than is expected.

“To God and my country.” Duty to God — means a lot more than saying a prayer every time you need a favor. A lot more. Duty to God is simply that voluntary gesture you must make and remake a million times in your lifetime as a statement of your recognition that there is someone above this universe who watches over this universe and to whom each of us is a favorite son. Duty to God is a lifetime thank-you note our hearts send out in appreciation for the life that has been loaned to us here on earth.

“And to obey the Scout Law.” Obey Scout Law — That’s a pretty good combination of words. For any boy who promises on his honor to obey the Scout Law will do so as a Scout, as a grown-up, as a husband, father, worker, no matter how far he ever gets from his neckerchief. Obeying the Scout Law isn’t something we hang up when we graduate.

“To help other people at all times.” That’s sort of a combination of unselfishness and love thy neighbor.

“To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Those words are pretty self-explanatory. To keep yourself physically strong goes without saying. It’s something natural to do for your own good, for your family, for your country.

“Mentally awake.” That’s another thing. That means you’ll stay on the ball and carry some of the dreams of your teens into the later years — the arthritis years, I call them. To remain receptive to ideas, aware of life around you, cognizant of the blessings showered upon you. Appreciative of the love of God and family who surround you.

“Morally straight.” Without these two words, none of the other 38 mean much. All the good talk in the world won’t help if you don’t keep yourself morally straight. You can make your whole life worthless unless you grab on to these two words and live by them. Live by them every hour of every day of your lifetime. I hope that’s what the Scout Oath means to every boy who’s ever worn the uniform, or wanted to wear the uniform, or who will wear the uniform.

I happen to believe that the man who was a Scout is a better man for it. And the world is a better world because of this organization called the Boy Scouts. Thank you and God bless you all.

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29 Comments

    • This eagle scout(1977) doesnt believe that “morally straight ” has as much to do with sexual identity or preference as it does with being a decent human being. I think Jimmy Stewart would have agreed with me.

    • It is shameful how the BSA has made a concerted effort to scrub any negative feedback. This lack of leadership is embarrassing.

    • My son has his Eagle. When they passed the transgender he decided not to renew his membership. There was a lot of adult leaders and boy scouts that didn’t renew either. He just gotten his first car and wants to put on the back window ” I got my Eagle when it was all boys.”

  1. Hey Brian…if you’re going to block other people’s comments, like mine, please block Charlie’s as well, he’s very annoying and taking away from the rest of your posts.

  2. Thanks, Bryan! James Stewart, award-winning actor, military man, family man, and–among many other things–Scout just helped us all re-ground ourselves in why we volunteer to mentor and coach young people into being the best they can be and, for the youth we’re here to serve, it’s a good thing to know that the values we may struggle with today have been around and in one place for more than a hundred years!

  3. “Morally straight. — Without these two words, none of the other 38 mean much. All the good talk in the world won’t help if you don’t keep yourself morally straight.”

    — I agree, sadly the Boy Scouts of America is all “good talk” now while accepting gays and transgenders into the organization, lifestyles and behaviors that are immoral and contradict the Scout Oath of being “Morally Straight” and “To God and my country.”

    Perhaps the Boy Scouts of America should honor their own oath of being Morally Straight and doing their duty to God. As a Scout it saddens me to say that the Boy Scouts of America is a hypocritical organization that puts the safety of children at risk in order to not offend those that live immoral lives. While at the same time telling their Scouts to lie when taking the Scout Oath.

    The Scout Oath means nothing to the BSA anymore, and when I have children I will sadly not allow them to participate in a morally bankrupt and hypocritical organization.

    • Real Scouting happens at the unit level. The best thing everyone can do is ignore BSA National and provide the best leadership they can to the Scouts they serve. That is what matters. You know what the Oath and Law mean, keep teaching it no matter what BSA National does. Enjoy the game of Scouting with the boys and the rest is just background noise.

    • The BSA allows chartered organizations to set their own rules about membership. just go to a troop sponsored by a church that believes in the sanctity of marriage and that believes homosexuality is a sin. they don’t have to let gay or transgender people into their troop.

    • Please do not have any children Stephen. If you are that frightened that children are at risk from gay people doing harm to them, then boycott schools, churches, sports teams, any thing you do you potentially come in contact with HOMOSEXUALS. You are an idiot. Please castrate yourself now so your DNA is never passed on.

  4. The great thing about Mr. Stewart’s speech is that he never defines which God to follow – it’s a personal decision. Each scout must be true to their own beliefs. This is very consistent with the BSA’s policies.

    In the same way, neither Mr. Stewart (nor the BSA) define a specific set of morals that meet the criteria of “Morally Straight”, because again each scout must be true to their own beliefs and faith.

    To suggest that there is only one set of correct morals that the BSA must obey is, in my opinion, inconsistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

    • Thank You dwgsp!!! To suggest that there is only one set of correct morals that the BSA must obey is, in my opinion, inconsistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law!
      Thank you so much for putting that out there! Excellent!!! I’ve been trying to say the same thing on here for a long time.

    • In other words, no one can ever be objectively right or wrong? So the Scout Oath and Law, they’re not really about moral truths so much as they are antiquated and inconvenient notions that are fun to recite at parties? Which point/s of the Scout Law do you prefer we throw out because they are misaligned with the fads of the day and which part of the Scout Oath do you feel does not meet your ethical predilections? Do we throw out those points when they become socially inconvenient or, God forbid, make us feel uncomfortable? How about the Scout who comes from an environment where theft is the norm: do you plan to accept that behavior, or will you impose your set of morals and address the behavior? How about the Scout who wants to play catch with a hatchet: he claims his credo is YOLO, You Only Live Once? After all, his personal set of morals must be correct, right? I humbly suggest that you do a little research on the term “moral relativism.” Our Chief Scout Executive should do the same.

  5. Thanks for this Bryon. It’s truly inspiring. I’ll use this in a Scoutmaster minute soon. Thanks for sharing this valuable message. I hope that your readers will see some parts of the oath as I do and share with my scouts. Morally Straight means: ” to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.” I tell my scouts that It’s about doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

    All of the noise here from the trolls about gender identity and homosexuality has nothing to do the last two words of our oath. I’m glad to hear that they wont participate in our program, and poison the minds of our young people with hate and phobia.

  6. We are supposed to stand on, and by, our convictions, on our honor, however, at times, our, BSA, convictions seem to be flexible and easily moved by public opinion.

    If I recall, in the Eagle Charge there is a part about standing by your convictions even when it is not popular.

    In this day and age, when our, BSA, convictions seem to be fluid, how can we hold onto them and still be taken seriously?

  7. Are you a bunch of grown men bickering about Boy Scouts? What happened to friendly, courteous, kind, and cheerful from The Scout Law?

  8. Once again, I see the words “morally straight” being interpreteted to mean that the BSA was wrong to change its membership policies. In NONE of the editions of the Scout Handbook throughout the years can anyone find any OBJECTIVE support for that premise.

    Years ago, as a new Scout, a Jewish and Roman Catholic Scout were discussing the meanings of the Oath and Law with me (I am a Protestant). We had some disagreements; and after the meeting I went home and asked my father (a veteran Scout and Scouter, and soon to become my Scoutmaster) which one of us was right, or most nearly so. Dad’s only reply was to tell me to read my handbook for half and hour, and then come talk to him again.

    At the appointed time, I walked up to Dad and said “it looks to me like the Scout Oath and Law give us general guidelines, and it’s up to each individual Scout to fill in the details with input from our parents, families, communities, state, country and religious faith.” Dad smiled and said “that’s exactly it!”

    • You were one smart kid to figure that out when many grown adults can’t! Thank you for your post!!!

      I am a Catholic. I have my personal opinion on the subject, but I whole-heartedly recognize that it is not for me to make my personal opinion known to the scouts. That is up to their parents and their church to help them form their opinions. My job as a Scouter is to encourage them to consciously form their own moral compass and use it to guide themselves rather than blindly following the masses. Kind of like teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish. Don’t tell them what to think, teach them to think!

  9. Great explanation of the Scout Oath…. I’m going to go over each part with my Patrol… It’ll be something for each scout to think about. Thank you!

  10. With all due respect. I like to post these things to my units facebook page but have to read comments first to make sure I am not posting anything that may offend the families in my unit. Is there anyway to get them without comments.

  11. we all need to remember that Baden Powell was a military man and the military has all sorts of personalities and who believe in God or not. He established the Oath as a guide to be something a boy could keep in the back of his mind and use as a guide in his day to day life. I have always felt this way about it, and we all need to forget the politics and focus on the boy h ok myself and make sure that boy is getting the most out of the vast knowledge that is Scouting before he leaves the program.

  12. This is a tremendous article. I have always tried to live the Scout Oath. The best compliment I could get, while going through high school and college in the 70s, was “oh yorue such s Boy Scout”. My response would be, “Why yes I am, thanks”. I loved scouting! I would have had my Eagle Rank before I was 13 because I was really in to working hard and enjoying it. My Scoutmaster, Troup 84, Columbia Pacific Council, asked me to slow down and get some experience under my belt. I did so and then received my Eagle Rank with a Bronze Palm in July 1973. My Eagle Rank status was discussed at every interview I ever had for any position, including the review Board to become an FBI Special Agent. Scouting means somerhing and being an Eagle Scout the rest of your life hold real value and responsibility. One has to conduct oneself in accord with the rank you hold because it reflects on the rank should you not behave properly. I vividly remember the old scouting tv commericals where the slogan was “Scouting Rounds A Guy Out”. I saw those before I became a scout and so wanted to become a scout. The organization has taken to do some things I very much disapprove of in the last few years, but this is not the forumn. I also disapprove of church sponsored troops that push a particular religion where you meet with disapproval if you are not a member of THAT particular sect/church.

    All in all, I have always been proud to be a scout. I have seen the benefits for my life and friends who took a similar path.

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