Chapter XIII

As To Public Life

Optin Page: Goal Mastery For Personal And Financial AchievementThe relations of the citizen to the state, and of the state to the citizen, are reciprocal. Every man who becomes a member of an established government, whether it be voluntary, as where an oath of allegiance is taken to obey the laws, or involuntary, as by birth, which is the case of a majority of all citizens, he surrenders certain natural rights in consideration of the protection which the government throws about him.

In a state of nature, man is free to do as he pleases, without any recognition of the rights of others; and his power to have his own way is entirely dependent on the physical strength and courage which he has to enforce it. This is why, in a savage state, war is the almost constant business of the men, and the strongest and the bravest of the lawless mob, tribe, or clan usually becomes leader.

When through either of these agencies a man finds himself a member of an established government, he owes to that government implicit obedience to its laws, in consideration of the protection to life and property which that government throws about him.

In consideration of the protection which the banded many, known as the state, gives to the individual, the individual pledges implicit obedience to the laws of the state.

Horace says : "Dulci et decorum est pro patria mori"...meaning that it is brave and right to die for one's country. Old Dr. Sam Johnson, like his successor, Carlyle, was apt to sneer at the grander impulses of humanity. He said on one occasion: "Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel." And yet we know that the noblest characters of all history have been the men who felt, with Horace, that it was noble to die for one's country.

Americans, perhaps more than any other people in the world at this time, have an intense appreciation of this spirit of patriotism.

From the days of the Revolution to the present time, our most prominent and most respected characters have been the men who, in the forum or in the field, have devoted their lives to the preservation and elevation of the Republic.

Public life has its rewards, but they rarely come to the honest man in the form of dollars. Franklin, Jackson, Taylor, Johnson, Grant, Garfield, and Lincoln were all the sons of poor men, and they died poor themselves; but who can say that their lives were not grandly successful.

An interest in politics should be the duty of everyone, but the young man who enters public life for the sake of the money he may accumulate from office, starts out as a traitor to his country and an ingrate to his fellows.

Public life should be an unselfish life.

The service of the public requires the strongest bodies, the clearest brains, and the purest hearts, and the man who devotes his life to this great purpose must find his reward in a duty well performed, rather than in the financial emoluments of office.

Duty is the spirit of patriotism, and while this spirit should run through every act in every calling, it must particularly distinguish the man who has entered the public service as a soldier or civil official. It is duty that leads the soldier to face hardships and death without flinching, and the same high impulse should stimulate the conduct where there is no physical danger.

Samuel Smiles, to whom we are indebted for much that is valuable in
this work, has the following to say in this connection about duty:

"Duty is a thing that is due, and must be paid by every man who would avoid present discredit and eventual moral insolvency. It is an obligation--a debt--which can only be discharged by voluntary effort and resolute action in the affairs of life.

"Duty embraces man's whole existence. It begins in the home, where there is the duty which children owe to their parents on the one- hand, and the duty which parents owe to their children on the other. There are, in like manner, the respective duties of husbands and wives, of masters and servants; while outside the home there are the duties which men and women owe to each other as friends and neighbors, as employers and employed, as governors and governed.

"'Render, therefore,' says St. Paul, 'to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.'

"Thus duty rounds the whole of life, from our entrance into it until our exit from it--duty to superiors, duty to inferiors, and duty to equals--duty to man, and duty to God. Wherever there is power to use or to direct, there is duty. For we are but as stewards, appointed to employ the means entrusted to us for our own and for others' good.

"The abiding sense of duty is the very crown of character. It is the upholding law of man in his highest attitudes. Without it, the individual totters and falls before the first puff of adversity or temptation; whereas, inspired by it, the weakest becomes strong and full of courage. 'Duty,' says Mrs. Jameson, 'is the cement which binds the whole moral edifice together; without which, all power, goodness, intellect, truth, happiness, love itself, can have no permanence; but all the fabric of existence crumbles away from under us, and leaves us at last sitting in the midst of a ruin, astonished at our own desolation.'

"Duty is based upon a sense of justice--justice inspired by love, which is the most perfect form of goodness. Duty is not a sentiment, but a principle pervading the life: and it exhibits itself in conduct and in acts, which are mainly determined by man's conscience and free will."

Sir John Packington, one of England's most famous men, said in speaking of his public life:

"I am indebted for whatever measure of success I have attained in my public life, to a combination of moderate abilities with honesty of intention, firmness of purpose, and steadiness of conduct. If I were to offer advice to any young man anxious to make himself useful in public life, I would sum up the results of my experience in three short rules--rules so simple that any man may act upon them. My first rule will be, leave it to others to judge of what duties you are capable, and for what position you are fitted; but never refuse to give your services in whatever capacity it my be the opinion of others who are competent to judge that you may benefit your neighbors and your country. My second rule is, when you agree to undertake public duties, concentrate every energy and faculty in your possession with the determination to discharge those duties to the best of your ability. Lastly, I would counsel you that, in deciding on the line which you will take in public affairs, you should be guided in your decision by that which, after mature deliberation, you believe to be right, and not by that which, in the passing hour, may happen to be fashionable or popular."

Another author equally eminent writes in the same vein:

"The first great duty of every citizen is that of an abiding love for his country. This is one of the native instincts of the noble heart. History tells of many a devoted hero, reared under an oppressive despotism, and groaning under unjust exactions, with little in the character of his ruler to excite anything like generous enthusiasm, who yet has shed his blood and given up his treasures in willing sacrifice for his country's good. In a country such as this we live in, it is the duty of every man to be a patriot, and to love and serve it with an affection that is commensurate both with the priceless cost of her liberties, and the greatness of her civil and religious privileges. Indeed, however it may be in other lands, in this one the youth may be said to draw in the love of country with his native air; and it is justly taken for granted that all will seek and maintain her interests, as that the child shall love its mother, on whose bosom it has been cradled, and of whose life it is a part.

"In no other country more than this is it important that all should rightly understand and faithfully fulfill the duties of citizenship. While ignorance is the natural stronghold of tyranny, knowledge is the very throne of civil liberty. It is the interest of despotism to foster a blind, unreasoning obedience to arbitrary law; but where, as with us, almost the humblest has a voice in the administration of public affairs, more depends upon the enlightened sentiments of the masses than upon even the skill of temporary rulers, or the character of existing laws."

A generation ago, when the integrity of the Union was threatened, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, particularly in what were known as the Free States, gave up all for the defense of the Republic. It should be said, in justice to those who fought on the opposite side, that no matter how much mistaken, they were in their own hearts as honest, and by their heroic sacrifices proved themselves to be as brave and unselfish, as the gallant men who won in the appeal to arms.

If to-day the honor or the integrity of the Republic were assailed, every man capable of bearing arms, irrespective of the past differences of themselves or their fathers, would answer the country's call in teeming millions, and prove the truth of the Latin poet's adage, that it is right and noble to die for ones country.

A manly people should cultivate a manly spirit, and be prepared, if need be, to defend their rights by force, but in the better day, whose light is coming, we believe that nobler and more equitable means of adjusting internal and international differences can be found than by an appeal to arms.

Believing then that every young man who is worthy his American citizenship would willingly risk his life in defense of his nation's flag--which, after all, is simply the emblem of what his nation stands for--he should be willing, if duty requires it, to serve his country with equal fidelity in times of peace.

It is to be regretted that men of the stamp of those who gave their lives or risked them and have poured out their wealth with unstinted hand when the life of the Republic was in danger, should, in days of peace, regard "politics"--which means an interest in public affairs-- with something like contempt.

It may be argued that politics has fallen into the hands of a rough and unprincipled class, who make it a profession for the sake of the gain it offers. To a certain extent this is true; but the men who are responsible for this state of affairs are not the professional politicians, but the good citizens, who are in the majority, and who could control, if they would, but who unpatriotically neglect their duty to the public, or ignore it in the presence of their individual interests.

One of the best signs of the times is the fact that civil service has come into our politics to stay. Through this service, the young aspirant for office, irrespective of his politics, stands an examination before impartial commissioners, and is rated according to his qualifications. Once he enters the public service, he cannot be discharged except for incapacity, and this must be proven before a proper tribunal.

The rewards of public office, excepting in a few cases where the positions depend upon the votes of the people, are never great. And, unfortunately, under our system the aspirant for an elective office usually spends as much as the office will pay him during his term, if he depends upon its honest emoluments.

But to the young man who is not ambitious and who will live contentedly a life of routine with a limited compensation, a public life has many advantages. The salary continues, irrespective of the weather or seasons, and there is connected with the place a certain respect. No matter how humble the position of a man in the public service, a certain dignity must always attach to him who is at once a servant and a representative of the people.

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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