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 #15 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Truth needs no color, beauty no pencil.
An honest man’s the noblest work of God.
The basis of high thinking is perfect honesty.
Nature has written a letter of credit on some
men’s faces which is honored whenever presented.
If there were no honesty, it would be
invented as a means of getting wealth.
There are certain virtues and vices which very largely determine the happiness or the misery of every human life. Prominent among these virtues are those of truth and honesty; and to these are opposed the vices of lying and cheating.
Society is like a building, which stands firm when its foundations are strong and all its timbers are sound. The man who cannot be trusted is to society what a faulty foundation or a bit of rotten timber is to a house.
It is always mean for a man or boy “to go back,” as we say, on a friend. It is still worse, if possible, to “go back” on one’s self. A brave man or boy will manfully take the consequences of his acts, and if they are bad, will resolve to do better another time. The worst sort of deceit is that by which one lets another bear the blame, or in any way suffer, for what one has one’s self done. Such meanness happens sometimes, but it is almost too bad to be spoken of.
There are certain kinds of cheating that the law cannot or does not touch. The man who practices this kind of dishonesty is even worse than if he were doing that which the law punishes. He uses the law, which was meant to protect society, as a cover from which he can attack society.
Lying is a form of dishonesty, and a very bad form of it. What would become of the world if we could not trust each other’s word? A lie is always told for one of two ends; either to get some advantage to which one has no real claim, in which case it is merely a form of cheating; or to defend one’s self from the bad consequences of something that one has done, in which case it is cowardly.
The Romans arranged the seats in their two temples to Virtue and Honor, so that no one could enter the second without passing through the first. Such is the order of advance,–Virtue, Toil, Honor.
The solid and useful virtue of honesty is highly practicable. “Nothing is profitable that is dishonest,” is a truthful maxim. “Virtue alone is invincible.” “I would give ten thousand dollars for your reputation for uprightness,” said a sharper to an upright tradesman, “for I could make a hundred thousand dollars with it.” Honesty succeeds, dishonesty fails. The honesty and integrity of A. T. Stewart won for him a great reputation, and the young schoolmaster who began life in New York on less than a dollar a day, amassed nearly forty million dollars, and there was not a smirched dollar in all those millions.
We do not count ourselves among those who believe that “every man has his price,” and that “an honest man has a lock of hair growing in the palm of his right hand.” No! There are in the world of business many more honest men than rogues, and for one trust betrayed there are thousands sacredly kept.
As a mere matter of selfishness, “honesty is the best policy.” But he who is honest for policy’s sake is already a moral bankrupt. Men of policy are honest when they think honesty will pay the better; but when policy will pay better they give honesty the slip. Honesty and policy have nothing in common. When policy is in, honesty is out. It is more honorable for some men to fail than for others to succeed. Part with anything rather than your integrity and conscious rectitude. Capital is not what a man has, but what a man is. Character is capital.
For example: A man wishes to succeed in business. His studies and his practical training have fitted him to do this. He seeks out all the methods by which he may reach success. He shrinks from no labor of mind, or, if need be, of body, for this end. In all this he is right. We admire skill, industry, and pluck. There is, however, one kind of means that he may not use. He may not stoop to fraud of any kind. He may desire and seek wealth; he must desire and seek honor and honesty. These are among the ends that morality insists upon, and that should not be sacrificed to anything else.
What contempt we have for a man who robs another, who picks his pocket, or knocks him down in some lonely place and strips him of whatever articles of value he may have. But the man who cheats is a thief, just as truly as the pickpocket and the highwayman.
There is nothing that improves a boy’s character so much as putting him on his honor–trusting to his honor. We have little hope for the boy who is dead to the feeling of honor. The boy who needs to be continually looked after is on the road to ruin. If treating your boy as a gentleman does not make him a gentleman, nothing else will.
There are many incidents in Abraham Lincoln’s career which illustrate this virtue; and from these we select the following: While tending store, Lincoln once sold to a woman goods to the amount of two dollars, six and a quarter cents. He discovered later that a mistake had been made, and that the store owed the customer the six and a quarter cents. After he had closed the store that night, he walked several miles in the darkness to return the amount.
At another time a woman bought a pound of tea. Lincoln discovered the next morning that a smaller weight was on the scales. He at once weighed out the remainder, and walked some distance before breakfast to return it.
He was once a postmaster in New Salem; but the office was finally discontinued. Several years after, the agent called at his law office, and presented a claim of about seventeen dollars in the settlement of the New Salem affairs. Mr. Lincoln took out a little trunk, and produced the exact sum, wrapped in a linen rag. It had lain there untouched through years of the greatest hardship and self-denial. He said, “I never use any one’s money but my own.”
Honor lies in doing well whatever we find to do; and the world estimates a man’s abilities in accordance with his success in whatever business or profession he may engage. The true gentleman is known by his strict sense of honor; by his sympathy, his gentleness, his forbearance, and his generosity. He is essentially a man of truth, speaking and doing rightly, not merely in the sight of men, but in his secret and private behavior. Truthfulness is moral transparency. Hence the gentleman promises nothing that he has not the means of performing. The Duke of Wellington proudly declared that truth was the characteristic of an English officer, that when he was bound by a parole he would not break his word; for the gentleman scorns to lie, in word or deed; and is ready to brave all consequences rather than debase himself by falsehood.
When any one complains, as Diogenes did, that he has to hunt the streets with candles at noonday to find an honest man, we are apt to think that his nearest neighbor would have quite as much difficulty in making such a discovery. If you think there is not a true man living, you had better, for appearance’s sake, not say so until you are dead yourself.
A few years since, a manly boy about nine years old stepped up to a gentleman in the Grand Central Depot, New York, and asked, “Shine, sir?” “Yes I want my shoes blacked,” said the gentleman. “Then I would be glad to shine them, sir,” said the boy. “Have I time to catch the Hudson River train?” “No time to lose, sir; but I can give you a good job before it pulls out. Shall I?” “Yes, my boy; but don’t let me be left.”
In two seconds the bootblack was on his knees and hard at work. “The train is going, sir,” said the boy, as he gave the last touch. The gentleman gave the boy a half dollar, and started for the train. The boy counted out the change and ran after the gentleman, but was too late, for the train was gone.
Two years later the same gentleman, coming to New York, met the bootblack, but had forgotten him. The boy remembered the gentleman, and asked him, “Didn’t I shine your shoes once in the Grand Central Depot?” “Some boy did,” said the man. “I am the boy, and here is your change, sir.” The gentleman was so pleased with the lad’s honesty, that he went with him to see his mother, and offered to adopt him, as he needed such a boy. The mother consented, and the honest bootblack had after that a good home. He was given a good education, and, when a man, became a partner in the gentleman’s large business.
At eleven years of age George Peabody had to go out into the world to earn his living. His promptness and honesty won for him the esteem of his employer. At the age of fifteen he was left fatherless, without a dollar in the world. An uncle in Georgetown, D. C., hearing that the boy needed work, sent for him and gave him employment. His genial manner and respectful bearing gained him many friends. He never wounded the feelings of the buyer of goods, never seemed impatient, and was strictly honest in all his dealings. His energy, perseverance, and honesty made him a partner in the business when only nineteen years of age. At the age of thirty-five he became the head of a large and wealthy business, which his own industry had helped to build. He had bent his life to one purpose, to make his business a success.
Having visited London several times in matters of trade, he determined to make that city his place of residence. In 1837, there came a great business panic in the United States. Many banks suspended specie payments. Many mercantile houses went to the wall, and thousands more were in great distress. Faith in the credit of the United States was almost lost. Probably not one half dozen men in Europe would have been listened to for a moment in the Bank of England upon the subject of American securities, but George Peabody was one of them.
He became a wealthy man, honored at home and abroad. He loved his fellow-men and set himself the task of relieving their wants. He gave ten thousand dollars to help fit out the second expedition for the relief of Sir John Franklin. The same year, his native town of Danvers, Massachusetts, celebrated its centennial. The rich London banker was of course invited. He was too busy to be present but sent a letter. The seal was broken at dinner, and this was the toast it contained: “Education–a debt due from present to future generations.” In the same envelope was a check for twenty thousand dollars for a town library and institute. At another banquet given in his honor at Danvers, years afterward, he gave two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the same institute. Edward Everett, and others, made eloquent addresses, and then the kind-faced, great-hearted man responded.
“There is not a youth within the sound of my voice whose early opportunities and advantages are not very much better than were mine. I have achieved nothing that is impossible to the most humble boy among you. Steadfast and undeviating truth, fearless and straight forward integrity, and an honor ever unsullied by an unworthy word or action, make their possessor greater than worldly success.”
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.