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Civics Education and
Home Schooling

Textbook Review #1: The Young Citizen

(Charles F. Dole, The Young Citizen, Boston, MA:
D. C. Heath & Co., 1899, 194 pp.) 


Dole’s textbook was published in the Progressive era, about four years after Charles Parkhurst’s municipal-reform campaign ended, as described in our review of A Battle for the Soul of New York. Because Dole apparently wrote his book for young readers in New York State, one would think he would have referred at least once to some of the Tammany Hall depredations that Reverend Parkhurst exposed a few years before the publication date of The Young Citizen. Though no such reference is made, Dole commends one of the people favorably referred to in A Battle, Abram S. Hewitt, “Ex-mayor of New York,” for offering support in “preparing this book.” Dole also commends Hewitt for “his earnest and strongly expressed concern in behalf of the multitudes of the children of his own city, whose circumstances cut them off from completing their school course or taking any thorough training in civics.” Another reference to Abram S. Hewitt in A Battle suggests that he might have welcomed the reform efforts of Charles Parkhurst. In these words from Chapter XIII, “The Mayor, or the Head Servant,” Dole refers to the courage a mayor must have to protect a great city from corruption. The following passage from The Young Citizen might well have been written by Reverend Charles Parkhurst: 

It may be that the men who own saloons desire freedom to sell liquor, while other men and women wish to forbid all selling of liquor in the city. The mayor must hear both sides, and he must obey and enforce the laws, even if men speak against him and threaten to turn him out of office.… Men will come to the mayor seeking to get work from the city and to have places and salaries. The mayor’s friends will wish him to favor them, or to help their sons and daughters with his influence. Men who have voted for the mayor will think that he owes them something, and that he may get them a job from the city in payment for their help in electing him mayor. He must not be the mayor for his friends or for his own party, but for the whole city and all the people. He cannot honestly appoint any person to an office, unless he really thinks that person is fitted to do the best kind of service for the city. Would the captain of the base-ball nine appoint his best friend to be catcher unless his friend was also the most skilful boy on the nine for that place?

The Young Citizen reveals nothing about its author, nor does it identify exactly who the deprived young citizens were who Mayor Hewitt was concerned about. However, in his preface, Dole acknowledges “The devoted efforts of … the Patriotic League [of New York City]” for sharing Mayor Hewitt’s concern about a lack of civics training in that city.” Dole describes his “little book … as a reader for the school and home.” In his “Foreword To The Children Who Read This Book,” Dole comments that, as beautiful as America is, even grander is “that which is better than riches,” namely, “freemen who possess the precious inheritance of liberty and just laws.” 

Each of the 25 chapters in this textbook averages about ten pages in length. No structural or organizational logic is apparent as one reviews chapter titles: To some extent, the book seems to be a collection of occasionally unrelated moral tracts. Several titles pertain to roles of certain public officials, such as “The Policemen, and What They Are For” (Chapter X), “The Courts and Judges” (Chapter XI), “Our Public Servants” (Chapter XII), “The Mayor, or the Head Servant” (Chapter XIII), “The City Fathers, Or Keeping House for the People” (Chapter XIV), and “Our State and our Governor” (Chapter XXI). Scattered among these and other titles are chapters such as “What Schools and Teachers Are For” (Chapter III), “The Laws of the Land” (Chapter IX), “Voting, or Choosing our Leaders” (Chapter XVI), and “The City Beautiful” (Chapter XIX). 

One unusual feature of the book are two chapters about “Dangerous People” (Chapter VI) and “Traitors” (Chapter VII). “Ignorant people,” “loafers,” and “dishonest men” are examples of “hurtful people” discussed in the former chapter; Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr exemplify the title of the latter chapter. These men not only serve to illustrate treason in peace or war, but they also illuminate self-dealing in public office: 

Let us not be afraid to class [public servants who are corrupt] with Arnold and Burr. [Public officials and employees] may not be able to do as much mischief as these great mischief-makers did. They may not actually kill better men than themselves. But such men as these are all the time trying in one way or another to do what Burr tried to do; namely, to use the government of the city or of the nation for themselves, so that they may make money, or get the offices. Whereas patriots conduct the government for the good of all the people.

The Common Good, that enduring but often vague topic in civic discourse, is a theme throughout Dole’s book. One sees it in Chapter I, “The Things that Belong to Us All” and in Chapter II, “What the Children Can Do for Their City.” In the former case, Dole comments that “Part of the property in town is private; that is, it belongs to some man or woman.” In contrast, a “part of the property in town is public. It belongs to all of us in common,” and “we must all agree to” what we do with it. In the latter case, Dole contends that children can do much to make their “town a fine home for themselves and their friends.” For example, children can “take good care of their own schoolhouses,” not litter their sidewalks and streets with rubbish, and “be respectful to people who wear plain clothes, as well as to those who wear the latest fashions [and to those] who walk as well as to those who [travel] in carriages.” When pupils reach the age of majority, they “will vote to have plenty of good water and bathhouses,” “keep the streets well paved and brightly lighted,” and vote “for true and honest men, who believe in the children and in the schools, and in making a city of real homes; that is, a city of God.” 

The common good is also the subtext of Chapter IX, “The Laws of the Land.” In that chapter, Dole describes the chaos of a school without benefit of agreed-upon rules. In this hypothetical episode, the school, as a form of the common good for everyone’s benefit, becomes a chaos that benefits no one; as Dole explains, 

You see, good rules do not take away our liberty. When the school for a single day suspends all its rules, freedom is taken away. No one any longer can possibly read or study; every one is forced to be disturbed. The rules restore liberty. It is not true liberty [for a person] to be allowed to spoil the school. True liberty is to be free to enjoy the privileges of the school. It is liberty to be able in quiet to read, to write, to study, to recite lessons.

Another strong theme in A Battle for the Soul of New York finds expression in Dole’s textbook, namely how the lack of civic knowledge among the masses of immigrants in New York City contributed to the ease with which it was corrupted. This probably explains the attention Dole gives to the need for a broad program of public education: 

We do not care in what land across the ocean their parents were born or what language they can speak besides our common English tongue. We do not care whether they are rich or poor. Teach them about our history; it belongs to all of us in common. Tell them the stories of our heroes. Show them what kind of a country we are trying to make of America--the land of happy homes, the land of beautiful cities, the land of freedom and justice. Give us plenty of true-hearted boys and girls, thousands and millions of them, and we will have in a few years the very best American citizens.”

Similarly, we

… send our children to school in order that they may learn what the best things are for their city and for America. The more they know, the more they will want the best for their city--good roads, fine water, safety from fire and mischief, honest and truthful officers. The more they know, the better they will see what is good, not for the North alone, or the West, or for New York, or Iowa, but for all the people of America. We want more than knowledge. We want friendliness. The schools teach us not to be mean, stingy, and selfish, but just the opposite. All the children are comrades.

If some of Dole’s perspectives sound quaint to readers of this era, Chapter VIII, “Our Friends Over the Seas,” must seem even more so. Observing that immediately after the American Revolution, “our fathers had joined together, and formed the United States of America, they were afraid of the people over the ocean [especially] the monarchies of Europe, like Spain and Austria … [who disliked] the plan of our great Republic for the people.” Fortunately, Dole continues, “Friendliness has been growing all over the world during the past hundred years.… Wherever we Americans may go we are pretty sure of being treated kindly.” Possibly this sentence suggests the reason: “Nearly all nations like to have Americans come and spend their money amongst them.” Perhaps less cynically, Dole attributes rising European affections for our nation to other reasons. For example, many Americans have relatives in Europe; increased trade creates opportunities for mutual understanding; “We all have the same human nature in us”; and “most of the plain working people in Europe … believe, as we do, in government for the people.” Dole enjoins readers always to remember “our friends over the seas. Let us never insult the flags that float over their heads. While we salute our own flag, let us sometimes salute the flags of other nations. For we are all one, --friends at heart, children of the Heavenly Father.”

Two chapters address citizenship. In the introduction to Chapter IV, “American Citizens,” Dole asks the question, “Who have the right to be called true American citizens?” Thereafter follows a fanciful answer by “someone” who boasts that he has

… the best right to be called an American. My family is one of the oldest in the country. My ancestors came over here when there were only a few Indians on these shores. One of my forefathers came in the famous little ship Mayflower.

The braggadocio continues along these lines until Dole introduces the “Indian chief Massasoit, who helped eat the first Thanksgiving dinner in America,” and who gently rebukes boys and girls who suffer from an inflated view of their citizenship. “Your father [Chief Massasoit might say]

… came here to my land a stranger and very poor. I could have gathered my warriors and driven him and his friends to the sea. But I pitied them and helped them. My fathers had been in this land for countless years. We were the first and true Americans. We owned the corn-fields; we let the white men share the land with us. What right have you boys and girls, whose forefathers were strangers and emigrants, to set yourselves up as better Americans than others?

The immediately following chapter, V, “Who Patriots Are,” recognizes the value of soldiers and sailors in war time, but emphasizes that there “is something wrong in thinking the patriots must be soldiers and sailors.” In 11 pages, Dole introduces the images of 10 patriots--four military personages and six statesmen. Love of one’s country, not merely fighting for it, marks the patriot in the author’s estimation. Bravery is not solely a matter of military prowess: “Wherever we see a brave man, or woman, or child, there we look for a patriot. Whoever is brave to help others will be brave also for the sake of his country. Never forget it: it is better to be brave to help man than it is to be brave to harm them.”

Leadership in a representative republic is, of course, important. Chapter XVI, “Voting, or Choosing our Leaders,” informs readers that “[t]here are many parts of the world where the people have no voice at all in choosing who their mayors or public servants shall be.” Even if someone is “as good as Washington was, we hold that he must never take any office, till people choose him of their own free will.” Such a person, Dole continues, “must be ready to lay down his office whenever his term of office runs out … [including] the President of the United States [who] must not hold his place for more than four years, and then the people must say whether they wish him to serve them longer.”

Cautioning readers that “it makes a great deal of difference whether the people choose their best men to go to the State House, or let ignorant, selfish, and dishonest men … represent them,” Dole briefly describes “[t]he two chambers, the Senate and the Representatives [that] make the Legislature” and raises a provocative question about unicameralism:

Why should there be two bodies of men, instead of one, to do the business for the people? We can only say that this is an old custom. Some think that it is a foolish custom; others say that two bodies of men who must agree about everything which they do, are likely to be more careful not to do foolish things.

Just as a city has a mayor, a state has a governor: “He is the highest officer in the State [and must look out] for all the towns and cities and all the counties of the State.” Thereafter follows a description of the various functions of state government and the governor’s and the legislature’s responsibilities for them, including such services as helping “unfortunate people,” building “great homes or hospitals for them,” providing “great highways to connect all parts of its country,” and ensuring that beaches, mountains, and forests are “kept open to the people forever.”

To some extent, the office of president in the federal government resembles that of the governor of a state. Both bear somewhat similar relationships to the legislative bodies of their respective governments, as Chapter XXII, “The Head of the Nation,” discloses. One difference between the two government forms is that the national government must assist the several state governments, even as large as they are, in discharging some of their duties:

Think of the great railroads and express companies with lines that run across the continent. Think of the great mills and shops that send their goods over all the country. Think of the men who travel from one State to another as agents to sell the merchants’ wares. There must be laws to govern and to assist the men and the companies who go for their business from one State into the other States.

Such matters are part of the “great deal of puzzling business Congress has to think about.” Thereafter follows a discussion of federal matters such as the supreme court, the president’s cabinet, the work of the president’s “Secretaries, or advisors” (e.g., the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Agriculture). To deal with all of this, “The President takes a broad view of public business. He ought to be watching for the good of all the people. He is like a man on a tower, who sees farther than the man on the ground below.”

Two chapters, XVII and XVIII, “The People’s Money” and “The Taxes, or Sharing and Sharing Alike,” instruct readers that money is needed to conduct the business of government. The work of a treasurer, “one of our [government] officers,” is “to take charge of all the people’s money, to pay it out when the town or city needs to purchase supplies, and to keep a careful account of every dollar.” These responsibilities require that “The treasurer must be perfectly honest [and] entirely accurate.” Without the people’s money, schools would close, policemen and firemen could not be hired, and we would not have “a supply of pure water from the distant streams or springs.” However, just as the kings and queens “in the old days” lavished the people’s money “upon themselves and their favorites,” modern cities can “suffer now, as we have seen, if selfish men waste or steal” money from the people. We must not, however, be miserly.

A city is somewhat like a great farm. The city is not poorer, but richer, when its people spend money to keep it in excellent condition. Men hear about such a city, and they come to live in it, and to educate their children there. Strangers come to visit it, and to buy goods and to spend money there in many ways. Its people, being intelligent, do better work and get better pay on account of their schools and public libraries. As Black Beauty, the horse … worked better for being comfortable and happy, so the people are more prosperous for being well and happy, for having parks and public gardens and playgrounds.

Raising the money needed to create the niceties of community life is the subject of Chapter XVIII, “The Taxes, or Sharing and Sharing Alike.” Obviously, “[e]very one is eager to have his share of the enjoyment of what the city offers, of the parks and the library and the highways.… But what shall we say about the work and the cost that must go to make a fine city?” “Public money … comes from the pockets of the people” through the means of taxation. The next point to be resolved is “Would it be fair or just if a poor man in a little house paid as much as a rich man in a big house?” The following imagined incident helps the reader answer the question:

Suppose a party of boys were working hard with spades and wheelbarrows to lay out and level a tennis-court. You would not think that the little boys ought to do as much work and wheel as much earth as the large and strong fellows.… Suppose a big boy could do as much in an hour as a smaller boy in the whole afternoon; you would not think that the big boy would wish to quit work at the end of the hour and leave the little one to toil all day. Least of all would you think that any boy would be so mean as to get rid of his own share of work and so make the others do his work for him.… We say, let us all “share and share alike,” in the fun and in the work too.

Following this explanation, the reader learns more about tax equalization, whether local government should “have property from which they make money,” “[borrow] money and [pay] interest,” and whether it is good public policy “for our country to have a great many of its people always in debt, while others live by lending their money instead of working.”

The Young Citizen offers two views of ideal community life. Chapter XX, “The City Beautiful,” invites the reader to “imagine now the best kind of city, as we should like to live in.” In the first view, we do not see “wretched, ugly, tumble-down buildings and mean tenement houses” but, rather, “houses with little gardens about them, and flowers in their windows … even the workshops and factories will have vines on their walls.” We are also spared from “glaring bills or posters painted or printed on the walks and fences to advertise all kinds of quack medicines and absurd shows.” The citizens neither “blow tobacco-smoke into other people’s faces … [nor] think of eating their lunches [on sidewalks].” The city hall “occupies a great square, and has a garden about it.” The police department building and jail is on a side street rather than in a central location, presumably because so few people are arrested. If one is guilty of some offense, he is sent to a “reform school and farm away off in the country” and can return to the city only “if he is prepared to work for his living like a good and friendly citizen.”

Instead of spending their time in “liquor saloons,” men visit “reading rooms where they can read and write if they wish” and enjoy “smoking rooms” where they “can talk with their friends” or attend “concerts of music.” The music is provided by the city, for it “keeps a staff of public organists and other musicians, out of the money that once had to be spent for supporting idle and harmful people.” “No one thinks of shirking or dawdling” because “[t]he very best men and women choose this city to live in [and] all hold the religion of ‘loving their neighbors as themselves.’”

Having finished our tour of the City Beautiful, we next visit “A Model Town,” Chapter XX. For Dole, a town is an unincorporated place in the country. Our second view of community life is visiting an imagined site to

… count up some of the good things that the country people enjoy. They have the broad fields and the orchards and woods, and maybe the ocean and an ample view of the great sky over them. They can roam about freely, and when the grass is mown and the harvests are in, they can climb over the walls and fences and go almost wherever they please, as if the land were their own. The city boys and girls hardly ever see the cows that give them milk, or the lambs at play, or the young colts frisking in their pastures. The country children can make friends and pets of all these creatures.

Town living has other advantages, including that, although “[c]ity children often do not know the difference between one kind of plant and another, between spruce trees and pines, between maple trees and beeches … country children learn these things as easily as they breathe.” If these advantages were are not enough,

The model town is always looking after better ways of making its people happy. Perhaps the town needs to have a new supply of pure water, and the citizens agree or vote at town meeting to spend money for laying the pipes and pumping the water. There will be lectures and entertainments in the town hall on winter evenings. There will be good and fast trains on the railroad to convey the people who wish to visit the neighboring city.

The difference between towns with these advantages and those without them “depends on the character of the citizens. In some towns the people have a great deal of public spirit; that is, they are generous, enlightened, and civilized. [Citizens with public spirit do] not say, ‘I have a good well and all the water I want for myself. I do not wish to spend money for getting water for other people.’” Instead, “[t]he public-spirited people go promptly to town meeting, and plan together for the welfare of their town.”

Dole wrote his textbook when fewer people lived in cities than they do today. Chapter XV, “The Country People,” therefore portrays differences in the civic life of each of these two settings. For example, “A great many of the boys and girls of the United States never see a mayor. They do not live in a city, but in small villages or on farms in the country.” City living and country living vary in many respects, but of these, the forms of government are distinct: “A city is like a great machine with many cogs and pieces. Whoever uses the simple machine skillfully can soon learn how to handle the larger and more costly machine.” Because of the virtues of life in the country, young people raised in such settings are especially good prospects for leadership in cities.

If “our great cities [are to] have good officers, wise and brave mayors, and honorable and public-spirited council men,” they cannot depend only on their own children whom they are now educating in their schools to become good citizens, but they will also depend “upon the country boys and girls to furnish them with plenty of skilled hands to manage their business [and they will always] have room for the men and women of energy and character.” Where are they to find such people? “History is full of the stories of men who were born in the country and have made their way to great places of honor in famous cities.”

Chapter XXIII, “The Army and the Navy,” addresses these questions: “Why is it necessary for the American people to have an army and a navy and to stand ready to fight? Why should we ever fire murderous guns and try to kill people? Why are not fighting and killing and war always wrong? (p. 170). Essentially, the answer to these questions is that “The trouble now is that many people in the world have not yet given up being savage and brutish.” Indeed, some of these people live in America which is why we must employ police officers and build jails. With regard to warfare, we instruct our “President and Congress … [to] try hard not to have war with our neighbors, the other nations. Be just and generous to them.” We also instruct them to “[l]et no robbers break through the doors of the nation to injure the people.” In the end, the reason for maintaining an army and navy is not for warfare, “but to prevent war, and as General Grant said, to ‘have peace.’”

If we must have an army, let it not be bellicose; we should prefer instead what the title of Chapter XXIV implies, “The Army of Peace.” Where are its enlisted staff and officers to be found? A walk or ride “on the streets of the city of Washington” will disclose immense buildings “filled with offices,” housing within them a “little army of people [who] work in them daily.” Not all of these civil soldiers live and work in the Nation’s capitol; some of them work “[i]n many towns upon the coast and along the borders of Canada and Mexico and elsewhere.” “It would take a long time to tell of all the kinds of work in which our government must employ its servants,” but examples include men and women in the Patent Office, the Post-office, light-houses, “[c]hemists at work for the government, making experiments about soils and plants,” and so on. These soldiers must be “obedient and faithful,” “kind and courteous,” and “fearless and upright” and as “good as the very best soldiers” working “for the sake of the country” to make our country “richer and happier.”

Ch. XXV, “Summary: The Flag,” concludes this book. One finds the American flag almost everywhere, either in the United States or throughout the world. One sees it “floating over schoolhouses and government buildings,” unfurled over “many a house and store and shop,” and gracing the “graves of soldiers and sailors.” It flies in many foreign cities “where American ambassadors and counsuls [sic]of our government may be found by their countrymen.” The flag “with its bright colors” conveys several messages, including that of the “union of all our people throughout all our States and Territories”; moreover, it symbolizes a “mighty government … that will not let anyone be oppressed.” In doing so, it reminds “every one of us to stand by the government” and to honor it as “a sign of brotherhood and the good-will to all nations.”


Reviewing this small book was, in some ways, more challenging than examining larger ones. Dole’s textbook was written so simply and in such a mild tone that it was at first easy to overlook the significance of what he wrote. The book is certainly not an example of deep civic scholarship; this would be inappropriate for its intended audience. Nevertheless, its concepts and the words and phrases used to express them were what one might expect for a treatise written barely a century after the birth of the federal constitution. Although the phrase, “self-government” is rarely used in its pages, in other respects, the book is a manual for that form of government. Its focus is local, its concerns are constitutional, and its sentiments are republican.

The Young Citizen was not intended as an advanced treatment of the details of local, state, and federal government. To some degree, the book belongs to another class of civics textbooks--that of moral uplift. While it contains few stories of notable political figures, or stories of young boys and girls during the Revolutionary period, or tales of heroes or heroines, its message of civic virtue is conveyed in other ways. For example, readers are frequently invited to imagine situations in which they might learn lessons about the need for rules for living together in groups, or taking visitors on tours of cities or towns, or understanding the civic significance of the crimes of “traitors,” or seeing “public servants” at their daily work.

As our reviews of other old civics textbooks reveal, Dole’s book proceeds from the local to more remote forms of government. Many of its illustrations are images of local institutions such as school buildings, lamp posts, fire alarm boxes, fountains in municipal parks, statues of American heroes, bridges, city halls, and libraries. These images are often accompanied by questions about their significance for the daily lives of citizens. One can almost hear the voice of the narrator of the movie Our Town as he turns the pages of The Young Citizen.

Quite likely, as would be the case today, a street-wise young reader on his way to becoming a gang member would have scanned the pages of the book with a cynical eye. A book that portrayed a small town with a staff of paid musicians might have seemed ridiculous to a young reader whose main interest was his standing in a group of street idlers. To the young denizen of New York’s Tenderloin, invitations to stroll through cities and villages of well-ordered streets, to meet young pupils eager to learn algebra and Latin, or honoring the American flag might have seemed irrelevant to his daily life. In such groups, however, one might find one or two adolescents to whom civic aspirations of this kind were more appealing than what they experienced daily. Occasionally, such people aspire to political office, and possibly these and more fortunate young people were Dole’s intended readers. In Dole’s view, decent residents created decent communities, and narrow-minded, selfish people lived in the same kind of towns.

It is surely no coincidence that The Young Citizen, with its uplifting message, was written in an era when corrupt politicians were looting the treasuries of cities and counties throughout the United States and, most spectacularly, in New York City, a metropolis with which, judging by references to it in his preface, Dole was familiar.


Sloat, Warren. A Battle for the Soul of New York: Tammany Hall, Police Corruption, Vice, and Reverend Charles Parkhurst's Crusade Against Them, 1892-1895. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002

August 20, 2008

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