Take life like a man—as though the world had waited for your coming. Don’t take your cue from the weak, the prejudiced, the trimmers, the cowards;–but rather from the illustrious ones of earth. Dare to take the side that seems wrong to others, if it seems right to you; and you will attain to an order of life the most noble and complete…
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 #32 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Keep out of the crowd, if you have to get above it.
–M. C Peters
The freedom of the mind is the highest form of independence.
–G. B. Fisk
A country cannot subsist without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
The spirit of independence is not merely a jealousy of our
own particular rights, but a respect for the rights of others.
The love of independence is not only instinctive in man,
but its possession is essential to his moral development.
A great many persons carry in their minds a very mistaken idea as to what constitutes a truly noble life. To live is not merely to exist; it is to live unbiased and uninfluenced by low and belittling human influences. It is to give breadth and expansion to the soul; first through a clear discrimination between right and wrong; and then in living up to the right. Full manhood, the full realization and fruition of all that is best and greatest in man, depends upon freedom of thought and independence of action.
Some countries have given especial attention to the cultivation of this trait. For example: It has been pointed out that “among the best products of Scotland has been her love of independence. A ruggedness of spirit has marked her children. Strength stamps her heroes. The gentle Burns was as strong as Knox,–not in character, but in the assertion of ‘A man’s a man for a’ that;’ and a great many of Scotland’s noblest sons have been brought into public notice through the manifestation of their strong personality.”
Vast numbers of men and women ruin their lives by failing to assert themselves. They sink into the grave with scarcely a trace to indicate that they ever lived. They live and they die. Cradle and grave are brought close together; there is nothing between them. There have been hundreds who could have rivaled the patriotism of a Washington, or the humanity of a Howard, or the eloquence of a Demosthenes, and who have left behind them no one memorial of their existence, because of lack of lofty courage, sublime moral heroism, and the assertion of their individuality.
The world’s greatest things have been accomplished by individuals. Vast social reformations have originated in individual souls. Truths that now sway the world were first proclaimed by individual lips. Great thoughts that are now the axioms of humanity sprang from the center of individual hearts. Do not suffer others to shape your lives for you; but do all you can to shape them for yourselves.
Sydney Smith insisted upon this quality of manhood and womanhood as indispensable. He said: “There is one circumstance I would preach up morning, noon, and night, to young persons for the management of their understanding: Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your own line of talent. Be what Nature intended you for, and you will succeed; be anything else, and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing.”
It is a good thing for a boy to wait upon himself as much as possible. The more he has to depend upon his own exertions, the more manly a fellow will he become. Self-dependence will call out his energies, and bring into exercise his talents. It is not in the hothouse, but on the rugged Alpine cliffs, where the storms beat most violently, that the toughest plants grow. So it is with man. The wisest charity is to help a boy to help himself. Let him never hear any language but this: You have your own way to make, and it depends on your own exertion whether you succeed or fail.
Sherman once wrote to General Grant, “You are now Washington’s legitimate successor, and occupy a position of almost dangerous elevation; but if you continue, as heretofore, to be yourself, — simple, honest, and unpretending,–you will enjoy through life the respect and love of friends, and the homage of millions of human beings.”
Of course we must guard against the error of carrying our sense of independence too far. Wordsworth hit the truth when he said: “These two things, contradictory as they may seem, must go together,–manly dependence and manly independence,–manly reliance and manly self-reliance.”
Still, after all is said, we do need more healthy independence. Looking out upon society, we see how slavish men and women are to fashion and frivolity. Society life is largely a surface life, spoiled by fear of gossip. Young people need to take clearer views of this matter, and to stand by their own convictions at any cost. The question to be settled by most of us is, Shall I steer or drift? Our advice is, by all means have a lofty purpose before you, and then remain loyal to it.
Some boys think independence consists in doing whatever they please. They think it is smart to be “tough.” A story told by Admiral Farragut about his early boyhood, aptly illustrates this phase of young America’s independence. He says: “When I was a boy, ten years of age, I was with my father on board of a man-of-war. I had some qualities that I thought made a man of me. I could swear like an old salt; could drink as stiff a glass of grog as if I had doubled Cape Horn; and could smoke like a locomotive. I was great at cards; and fond of gaming in any shape. At the close of dinner one day my father turned everybody out of the cabin, locked the door, and said to me: ‘David, what do you mean to be?’ ‘I mean to follow the sea.’ ‘Follow the sea! yes, to be a poor, miserable, drunken sailor before the mast; be kicked and cuffed about the world; and die in some fever hospital in a foreign clime.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I’ll tread the quarter-deck, and command as you do.’ ‘No, David; no boy ever trod the quarter-deck with such principles as you have. You’ll have to change your whole course of life if you ever become a man.’
“My father left me and went on deck. I was stunned by the rebuke, and overwhelmed with mortification. ‘A poor, miserable, drunken sailor before the mast!’ That’s my fate, is it! I’ll change my life, and change it at once! I will never utter another oath; I will never drink another drop of intoxicating liquor; I will never gamble! I have kept these three vows to this very hour. That was the turning point in my destiny.”
A great many men begin to lose their individuality of conviction the moment they begin life’s business. Many a young man has sacrificed his individuality on the altar that a profligate companion has built for him. Many a young man who knew right, has allowed some empty-headed street-corner loafer to lower his own high moral tone lest he should seem singular in the little world of society surrounding him. And many a lad whose life promised well at the beginning, has gone to the bad, or lost his chance in life, because he never learned to say “No!”
In the Revolutionary War, after the surrender of General Lincoln, at Charleston, the whole of South Carolina was overrun by the British army. Among those captured by the redcoats was a small boy, thirteen years of age. He was carried as a prisoner of war to Camden. While there, a British officer, in a very imperious tone, ordered the boy to clean his boots, which were covered with mud.
“Here, boy! You young rebel, what are you doing there? Take these boots and clean them; and be quick about it, too!”
The boy looked up at him and said: “Sir, I won’t do it. I am a prisoner of war, and expect proper treatment from you, sir.” This boy was Andrew Jackson, who afterward became president of the United States. Boys with such a spirit make noble men.
Exaggerated individuality makes a man impracticable. But the danger of our times is to copy after others, and thus destroy our force and effectiveness. Live, then, like an individual. Take life like a man—as though the world had waited for your coming. Don’t take your cue from the weak, the prejudiced, the trimmers, the cowards;–but rather from the illustrious ones of earth. Dare to take the side that seems wrong to others, if it seems right to you; and you will attain to an order of life the most noble and complete.
For the last one hundred years, one of the first historical facts taught the youth of American birth, is that Thomas Jefferson wrote our famous Declaration of Independence. His bold, free, independent nature, admirably fitted him for the writing of this remarkable document. To him was given the task of embodying, in written language, the sentiments and the principles for which, at that moment, a liberty-loving people were battling with their lives. He succeeded, because he wrote the Declaration while his heart burned with that same patriotic fire which Patrick Henry so eloquently expressed when he said: “I care not what others may do, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
In all nations men have sacrificed everything they held dear for religious and political freedom. Their names are justly written in the book of fame; but in the front rank of them all, we place the brave signers of the Declaration of Independence, with Jefferson in the lead.
The acceptance and the signing of this document by the members of the Continental Congress was a dramatic scene, seldom, if ever, surpassed in the annals of history. As John Hancock placed his great familiar signature upon it, he jestingly remarked, that John Bull could read that without spectacles; and then, becoming more serious, he began to impress upon his comrades the necessity of all hanging together in this matter. “Yes, indeed,” interrupted Franklin, “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The Declaration of Independence placed the American colonies squarely upon the issue of political freedom. Its composition was a master-stroke which will continue as a lasting memorial to the head and heart of its author.
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.