Only YOU Can Save America

The crying need of today is for men of public spirit; for men who will seek the highest welfare of their fellow-citizens in general; men of broad and generous views; men who look out upon life with an absence of that littleness and near-sightedness which cannot distinguish between public good and private interest…

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







Love your country and obey its laws.

–Noah Porter

The sum of individual character makes national character.

–E. C. Mann

The true defense of a nation lies in the moral qualities of its people.

–Edwin C. Mason

Everything learned should be flavored with a genuine love of country.

–E. Edwards

Noble ideas of citizenship and its duties strengthen the will of all patriots.

–Merrill E. Gates


We are accustomed to say that our American government is “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It is largely in this, its broad, comprehensive, and democratic character, that we so often venture to hold it up to view as a model which might be copied by the surrounding nations to their very great advantage. And certainly no thinking person will deny that we have much to be justly proud of in this respect; for our nation has neither parallel nor equal upon the face of the green earth.

But in a land like this, where the government is formed by its citizens, it can only be maintained by its citizens. Offices thus created must be filled, and the ship of state must be manned, and manned with a careful, honest, and patriotic crew, or it will be in danger of total wreck. In our times of peril we have been quick to see and to acknowledge this; and, more than once or twice, the nation has been saved by the prompt and patriotic action of the people. But it is not so easy a matter to keep our patriotism up to its noblest and its best when there is an absence of unusual or exciting causes to call it into play. We must therefore glance briefly at both these aspects of the case.

It is a requirement of long standing that, in case of war, every able-bodied citizen must go forth as a soldier, if the government shall so demand. He must, if really needful, help to save the state, even at the risk, or at the positive loss, of his own life. Such calls have been made by our government; and the manner in which our people have responded has been the glory of our nation and the wonder of the world.

The citizen must share the risks of his country, as well as its benefits. He must be willing to give protection to the rights and interests of his fellows, or he cannot rightly expect protection for his own. In this we are all so far agreed as to render anything like an argument entirely unnecessary; and we do not hesitate to brand all who fail us, under such circumstances, as unpatriotic and unworthy of the sympathy and esteem to which faithful citizenship entitles men.

Now look at the other aspect of the case. The public service is not only for times of war and tumult, but also for times of prosperity and peace; and the claims of the nation are no more to be slighted or shirked in the latter case than in the former. The ship of state must be manned, we say, and the public offices necessary to prosperity and progress must be filled. Many of these suffer unless filled by able and patriotic men; and the interests, for the preservation and forwarding of which these offices have been created, cannot be properly served.

The crying need of today is for men of public spirit; for men who will seek the highest welfare of their fellow-citizens in general; men of broad and generous views; men who look out upon life with an absence of that littleness and near-sightedness which cannot distinguish between public good and private interest.

Those men who will take no position in the service of their country, unless it is accompanied with a monetary compensation, are after all, very closely akin to the men who waited until bounties were offered before they would take service in connection with the Civil War; while, on the other hand, the men who are truly public-spirited, take pleasure in serving the public and are liberal beyond the requirement of the law.

It has been well said that “A public office is a sacred trust.” Whoever engages in any duties of a public nature, is under the most solemn obligation to do those duties honestly and well. There are some public officials who, because they aid in the making of the laws, appear to think themselves higher than the law, and therefore at liberty to obey or to neglect its requirements, according as their personal inclinations shall direct. But this is not so; and it should be made clear to all such persons that they are in error.

The legislator is but a citizen, after all; and, as a citizen, he stands in precisely the same relation to the law as does his brother of the rank and file. Of all men, he should be obedient, and should labor to surround the law with every possible safeguard; for it is among the most precious and sacred of our earthly possessions. It is the charter of all true freedom. It is a power before whose awful majesty every man must bow, irrespective of outward position or personal influence. It must be reverenced, honored, and obeyed by all.

Now the facts show that there is a strange ignorance, or else a strange lack of conscience, in this matter, and that this is so widespread as to be almost universal. It seems to be a common opinion that there is no particular harm in cheating the government. If a politician secures a high government position, or a business man is fortunate enough to secure a large government contract, it seems to be expected that he will secure from these sources larger profits than would be possible anywhere else. In other words, it seems to be expected that the government will pay more for any service than can be obtained from an individual or from a private corporation, and that men will charge prices, and use deception and fraud when they work for the country, which if practiced upon private parties, would send them to prison and brand them with lifelong disgrace.

One of the most ominous signs of the times is that good men stand aloof from politics. They do this either because they do not fully appreciate the importance of their influence, or from the false conviction that their votes will do no good, or, in many other instances, because they consider their private business to be of more importance than the matters of the state. But, in point of fact, the uplifting of the moral tone of our country is a service of the most importance; and, even if we consider ourselves alone, it is still true that we cannot afford to pass it lightly by.

As citizens of the United States we stand possessed of a most wondrous heritage; and what the civil authorities require of us, within their own proper sphere, should be considered in the light of a binding duty. As Professor Dole has pointed out, “We have seen magnificent cities rising on the borders of the streams, and pleasant villages dotting the hills; a flourishing commerce whitens the ripples of the lakes; the laugh of happy children comes up to us from the cornfields; and as the glow of the evening sun tinges the distant plains, a radiant and kindling vision floats upon its beams, of myriads of men escaped from the tyrannies of the Old World and gathered here in worshiping circles to pour out their grateful hearts to God for a redeemed and teeming earth.”

Surely all that is worth preserving. Surely we will not allow so rich a heritage to run waste. Surely we will support a nation whose past is bright with glorious achievements, and whose future glows with the light of a promise so radiantly beautiful. We need only remind you, therefore, that the truest and most useful citizens of our country are those who invigorate and elevate their nation by doing their duty truthfully and manfully; who live honest, sober, and upright lives, making the best of the opportunities for improvement that our land affords; who cherish the memory and example of the fathers of our country, and strive to make and keep it just what they intended it to be.

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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