Be A Good Citizen

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.”…

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 #34 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!







A great nation is made only by worthy citizens.

–Charles Dudley Warner

Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong.


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 association 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 human race is more hopeful at the present than in any period of the past.

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 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 today 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 generation.

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 earth.

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 immigrated to America; and to these it has become the country of their own free choice.

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.

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.

Also available through in quality trade paperback and Kindle e-book download editions.


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