WHAT CONSTITUTES GOOD CITIZENSHIP.
From: The True Citizen How To Become One
A great nation is made only by worthy citizens.--Charles Dudley Warner
Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong.--O'Connor
The noblest principle in education is to teach how best to live for
one's country.--G. T. Balch
The good citizen will never consent that his voice and vote shall
sanction a public wrong.--A. M. Gow
Let our object be, our country, our whole country, and nothing but
our country.--D. Webster
An old English picture represents a king, with the motto beneath, "I
govern all;" a bishop, with this sentence, "I pray for all;" a soldier,
with the inscription, "I fight for all;" and a farmer, who reluctantly
draws forth his purse, and exclaims with rueful countenance, "I pay for
all." The American citizen combines in himself the functions of these
four. He is king, prophet, warrior, and laborer. He governs, prays, and
fights for himself, and pays all expenses.
It is neither desirable nor possible, however, for men to be wholly
independent of one another. Their very nature reveals the fact that they
are intended to be associated in the bonds of mutual intercourse and
affection; and such forms of associated life we see all about us, in
the life of the family, the community, and the nation.
For a body of human beings to attempt to live together without regard
for each other's interests, would be certain to lead to confusion, if
not to disaster. There would be no security for life or property; no
recognized standard of values; no ready and certain means of
communication; nor any of the higher conveniences which mark the life of
our own land and age. That which is needed to insure these necessary
benefits, is some common understanding, or some such generally accepted
agreement, as finds expression in those forms of government which have,
for these very reasons, become common to all civilized lands.
It is in this idea of associated life that citizenship finds its real
beginning. But between the formulation of the idea, and such citizenship
as we now enjoy, there have been long centuries of slow growth and
steady development. Each of these succeeding centuries has marked a
decided improvement in the condition of mankind; and the outlook for the
future of the race is more hopeful at the present than in any period of
Men like to praise old times. They are fond of telling about "the good
old days," when there was simplicity, and a rude but rugged virtue, and
men were gay and happy. But if you were to take these men up, and carry
them back there, and let them sleep where men slept then, and let them
eat what men ate then, and let them do what men had to do then, and take
from them what men did not have then,--you would hear the most piteous
whining and complaining that ever afflicted your ears.
Do not be misled by such of our empty-headed reformers as would tell you
that the workman's lot is harder at the present than in the far-away
centuries of the past; for their statements cannot be verified, but are
untruthful and pernicious in the highest degree. The sober, industrious,
self-respecting artisan of to-day has the privilege of entrance to many
places and families which were closed against the merchants and
manufacturers of one hundred years ago; and he stands possessed of
opportunities such as were not possible even to the men of the last
Citizenship stands inseparably connected with the family. The family is
practically a little state in itself, embodying on a smaller scale, all
those vital and fundamental principles which make up the larger life of
the nation. It is in the family that we first come under government. Our
earliest lessons in obedience are those which arise from the authority
of our parents and guardians. It is in the home that we discover that we
cannot do altogether as we please, but that others, as well as
ourselves, must be regarded. And it will not be difficult to discern
that, in the various phases of home life, we have represented almost all
the forms of government which have become embodied in the various kinds
of national administration now prevailing in the various parts of the
In a well-ordered home, the authority would be such that every one could
have the largest freedom of action consistent with the general good.
When the freedom of any one made itself a cause of annoyance to the
rest, it would have to be curtailed. As fast as the children grew to
deserve more liberty, it would be given them; but always on condition
that they prove themselves worthy to be entrusted with this larger life.
But with this increase of freedom and privilege, comes the increase of
responsibility. Every member of the family who is old enough to
appreciate its privileges, is old enough to share its burdens. Some
specific duties should be assigned to each, however simple these may be;
and for the performance of these duties, each should be held to be
personally responsible. Precisely this is needed in the larger sphere of
the state; and when this can be attained and maintained, the good of the
state will be both effectually and permanently assured.
A true lover of his country will have, as his ruling idea, that the
state is for the people, and that America has been made to make and
sustain happy Americans. No nation is in a satisfactory condition when
large portions of its population are discontented and miserable. The
comfortable classes will generally take care of themselves; but they
need to know that their own prosperity is bound up with the condition of
the uncomfortable classes. And even if it were not so, it would be their
duty to advocate such social reforms as would tend to raise men
intellectually, morally, and circumstantially. The carrying into effect
of all this opens up a vast realm of service for the public good; and
the proper performance of this service, in all its several branches,
constitutes good citizenship.
Speaking in general terms, we may say that a citizen of a country is one
born in that country. If you were born in the United States, then you
are a citizen of the United States. This one simple fact endows you with
all the privileges of our great nation, and, at the same time, lays upon
you a measure of responsibility for the nation's welfare.
In addition to those who are trained for American citizenship in
American homes, we have among us a large body of men who are "citizens
by adoption." Millions of people have emigrated to America; and to these
it has become the country of their own free choice.
We are sorry to observe, in certain quarters, a growing disposition to
regard all immigrants as "a bad lot"; for while we concede that many of
those who come here, might certainly be much better than they are, we
would yet remind you that these "citizens by adoption" have repeatedly
proved their loyalty to our national institutions, and their
willingness to die in following our national flag.
Every good citizen will give attention to public affairs. He will not
only vote for good men and good measures, but he will use his personal
influence to have others do the same. Ours is a government of the
people, and is neither better nor worse than the people make it. We
should study the needs of our country, and keep ourselves well informed
on all the current questions of the day, and then, by an honest and
intelligent exercise of the privileges which the nation grants us, prove
ourselves citizens of the very highest type.
Next: THE CITIZEN AND THE HOME.
Previous: THE IDEAL MAN.