Character Building - Civic Responsibility
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
EVERY lad, as he approaches manhood, should be imbued with the idea that fitting himself for citizenship is a patriotic duty. As he shares in the protection and other benefits which the organization of society and the government of the country afford, so he must feel, under our republican institutions, a responsibility for their maintenance and good conduct. The government is "of the people" and "by the people" as well as "for the people." It is what the people make it; but the danger is that too many may forget or neglect their duty and leave to others, who may be thinking more of their own than of the public advantage, the whole control of affairs.
Every citizen has a share in the responsibility of the nation, or any part of it, as his State or city or rural district, to be well governed. He cannot escape it. Unless he informs himself as to questions of policy, and exerts his influence toward what he is convinced is the best policy; and unless, when he can vote, he gives his ballot to the best man or set of men, so far as he can ascertain those best calculated to carry out that policy in the conduct of public affairs, he is wronging his neighbors and his country. He cannot, in a republic, delegate that responsibility to "the politicians" nor to any one else. It is his business to get all the light he can on each public question, and then to do what he can, by influence and by vote, to put his convictions into effect.
The girls should be taught that they, too, bear a similar responsibility, from which they are not exempted because they cannot, in most cases, cast a vote. They can study public questions, and arrive at conclusions, and instruct others, and bring to bear a powerful influence upon the voters of their family or acquaintance. For failure to do so they are equally answerable with the men. But boys and girls should be taught to realize that for every shortcoming in either local or general government they are responsible to the extent that they might have spoken and worked against it.
Civic duties, or the duties of citizenship, are numerous. Perhaps most of them may be considered by the boy or young man along the following lines: I. Obedience to law. 2. Honor in taking an oath, and the avoidance of perjury. 3. Fidelity in office, doing full duty and avoiding bribery and "graft." 4. Duty involved in the ballot, registering, primary elections-honor in voting. 5. The dignity and honor of citizenship.
In the Library will be found (Volume VII, beginning page 374) admirable articles on the duties of citizenship by the late President Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Cardinal Gibbons, and many others. In Volume XI the poems under "Country and Flag" should be read, and we suggest that at least two of the poems be committed to memory. Perhaps "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "The American Flag" will appeal strongly to most boys and girls. "Defending the Fort" in Volume IV is a good story for the little folks. The story of William Tell in Volume II bears strongly on the question of civic duty. A great deal of profit may be had by a close perusal of the biography of Thomas Jefferson in Volume IX.