The motto of every good citizen should be, “the best means to promote the greatest good to the greatest number.”…
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 #36 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
THE CITIZEN AND THE COMMUNITY
Municipal government should be entirely divorced from party politics.
–C. H. Parkhurst
Too many of our citizens fail to realize
that local government is a worthy study.
Every citizen should be ready to do his full part
in the service of the community in which he lives.
–E. O. Mann
Each separate township needs men who
will inspire respect and command confidence.
–W. A. Mowry
Let the man who, without good excuse,
fails to vote, be deprived of the right to vote.
–W. H. H. Miller
Whenever men live in a community, they are placed under certain mutual obligations. Unless these obligations are carefully regarded the community life will be sure to prove a failure. Man is selfish as well as social. The weak must, therefore, be protected from the strong; and in this important work there are common interests which require united action. This united action may be for the common defense of the community, or for the general welfare of all.
The unit of government is generally the town, or as it is called in many parts of our country, the township. A town includes the people who are permanent residents within a certain limited and prescribed territory, usually occupying but a few square miles.
The government of a town, or township, is in the hands of the people permanently residing within the limits of that township. These people combine together for the protection and mutual good of all. This is the fundamental principle of government. To carry on this government and make the necessary provisions for the mutual good of the inhabitants of the town, taxation is resorted to. The people, therefore, come in contact with the government first of all at this point.
Taxes are levied by a majority vote of the citizens assembled in town meeting, such meetings being usually held once a year, in order that the moneys necessary to be raised, and the business to be done for the welfare of the people, may receive regular and careful attention.
Where the population is dense and houses are placed close together, so that within a small area there is a large body of inhabitants, the government is generally under the form of a city.
Our republican government, which, after making all due allowances, seems to work remarkably well in rural districts, in the state, and in the nation, has certainly been far less successful as applied to cities. Accordingly our cities have come to furnish topics for reflection to which writers and orators fond of boasting the unapproachable excellence of American institutions do not like to allude.
Fifty years ago we were accustomed to speak of civil government in the United States as if it had dropped from heaven, or had been specially created by some kind of miracle upon American soil; and we were apt to think that in mere republican forms there was some kind of mystic virtue which made them a cure for all political evils. Our later experience with cities has rudely disturbed this too confident frame of mind. It has furnished facts which do not seem to fit our theory, so that now, our writers and speakers are inclined to regard our misgoverned cities with contempt.
It will best serve our purpose here, to outline the relation of the citizen to the township rather than to the city, because its management is less complex and, in most cases, is more complete and perfect.
Money is ordinarily raised by taxation for the following purposes, namely: the support of the public schools; making and repairing highways; the care of the poor; maintaining the fire department; paying the salaries of the town officers; paying for the detection and punishment of offenders against the law; maintaining burial grounds; planting shade trees; providing for disabled soldiers and sailors and their families; and, in general, for all other necessary expenses.
To carry on the work of a town, several officers are usually appointed. A town clerk keeps accurate records of all business transacted; records all births, marriages and deaths; makes the necessary returns to the county and the state, and serves as the agent of the town in its relation to the country at large. Officers usually known as selectmen or supervisors, attend to the general business of the town. The town treasurer receives and pays out all moneys raised for the carrying on of the town’s affairs. A school committee, or board of education, is also needed to superintend all matters relating to our public schools. A surveyor of highways must be provided, in order that the streets and highways belonging to the town may be kept in proper condition; and an assessor and collector of taxes, to attend to the raising of supplies. A board of overseers of the poor is also needed, their duties being to provide for the support of paupers and the relief of the needy poor.
We do not profess to have fully covered the ground in this brief statement; but only to show that life, even in the smallest communities, must necessarily make heavy drafts upon the time and attention of a large number of individual citizens. But we desire to emphasize the fact, that each of these several offices furnishes opportunity for the employment either of a competent or an incompetent official, according to the care with which the selection is made. It therefore becomes the duty of every citizen to give personal attention to such matters, for if these places are filled by corrupt or even careless men, the interests of the community will be seriously imperiled, while if they are filled by honest and patriotic men, the success of the town and its affairs is practically assured.
Our one supreme object should be to raise the tone of our citizenship. The town or city will not become permanently better except as we who live in it become better. There are large sections in all our towns that yield to the guidance of corrupt and designing men for the reason that they are unreached by influences of a finer and more generous kind. Plans must be formulated by which we can come into touch with these lower quarters, and raise them quickly and surely to a higher level.
We all need to become better acquainted with the machinery of our local governments and with certain principles and statutes by which the motion of that machinery requires to be regulated. We cannot properly regulate the doings of our public servants except as we are familiar with the laws to which they are subject.
This question of obedience to law, can only be efficiently controlled by the continued watchfulness of the law-abiding portion of the community; and the situation in this respect is far more grave than most people imagine.
A recent writer speaking of the lack of a proper enforcement of the law says: “I was in a considerable Western city, with a population of seventy thousand, some years ago, when the leading newspaper of the place, commenting on one of the train robberies that had been frequent in the state, observed that so long as the brigands had confined themselves to robbing the railway companies and the express companies of property for whose loss the companies must answer, no one had greatly cared, seeing that these companies themselves robbed the public; but now that private citizens seemed in danger of losing their personal baggage and money, the prosperity of the city might be compromised, and something ought to be done,”–a sentiment delivered with all gravity, as the rest of the article showed.
This makes plausible the story of the Texas judge who is said to have allowed murderers to escape on points of law, till he found the value of real estate declining; then he carefully saw to it that the next few offenders were hanged.
We must not take too narrow a view of public life. All civilized governments consider themselves bound to perform other duties of an entirely different character from those which pertain to peace and justice. When our fathers framed the constitution of the United States, they gave in the preamble to that instrument an admirable definition of the province of government. This preamble reads as follows:
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”
The motto of every good citizen should be, “the best means to promote the greatest good to the greatest number.” The ends to be sought are the most healthy development, the highest and largest happiness to the whole people; for only in this manner can we accomplish our full duty.
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.