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- Community Civics and Rural Life - 10/88 -
Why? Are they an advantage or a disadvantage to yourself? If they did not exist, would your own conduct be different? Why?
What are some of the rules of good manners that are supposed to control conduct in your school? in your home? in the street? Discuss their reasonableness. Do they enlarge or restrict freedom?
Do the rules of football, or other games, increase or decrease the freedom of play?
What are some of the laws that control conduct in your community? Would most people observe the laws you mention even if they were not written laws, and if there were no penalty for failing to observe them? Why?
THE ORIGIN OF LAW
The following story illustrates the difference between law and custom, or "manners," and how the former may develop out of the latter. [Footnote: "Rudimentary Society among Boys," by John Johnson, in Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, vol. ii (1884). The story as here given is reproduced from Lessons in Community and National Life, Series C, p. 145, U. S. Bureau of Education (Lesson C-18, "Cooperation through Law," by Arthur W. Dunn). ] There was once a boys' school located in an 800-acre tract of land, in the fields and woods of which the boys, when free from their studies, gathered nuts, trapped small animals, and otherwise lived much like primitive hunters.
Just after midnight some morning early in October, when the first frosts of the season loosened the grasp of the nuts upon the limbs, parties of two or three boys might be seen rushing at full speed over the wet fields. When the swiftest party reached a walnut tree, one of the number climbed up rapidly, shook off half a bushel of nuts and scrambled down again. Then off the boys went to the next tree, where the process was repeated unless the tree was occupied by other boys doing likewise. Nut hunters coming to the tree after the first party had been there, and wishing to shake the tree some more, were required by custom to pile up all the nuts that lay under the tree. Until this was done, the unwritten law did not permit their shaking any more nuts on the ground.
So far this was a CUSTOM accepted by the boys because of its reasonableness. But after a while, some members of this boy community thought to get ahead of the other members. One night before frost came they secretly went to the woods and took possession of most of the nut trees by shaking them according to custom. When this was discovered, some of the leaders of the community CALLED A MEETING of all the boys. After discussing the matter thoroughly, they provided against a repetition of the trick by MAKING A RULE (passing a law) that thereafter the harvesting of nuts should not begin before A FIXED DATE in October.
These boys acted very much as men have often acted under simple conditions of community life. The New England "town meeting," for example, is precisely the same thing as the boys' meeting.
THE SECOND ELEMENT IN DEMOCRACY: CONTROL BY THE PEOPLE
We shall study the organization and methods of lawmaking in later chapters. At present we are merely noting WHY we have laws, and the fact that they are supposed to be made, directly or indirectly, by the people themselves. And right here we see the second thing necessary to make a DEMOCRACY. On page 9 we saw that in a democracy all people have certain equal and "unalienable" rights, and that that community is most democratic that affords its members most nearly equal opportunity to enjoy these rights. Now we see further that in a democracy the people make their own laws. Moreover, the laws of a democracy control, not only the conduct of the people, but also the government itself. The government of a democracy may do only those things, and use only those methods, for which the people give the authority. It is only when government exercises power without control by the people that it becomes autocratic.
TWO HISTORIC DOCUMENTS
The purpose of our government is clearly stated in two historic documents. One of these is the Declaration of Independence, which has already been quoted in Chapter I. The same quotation is given here with an additional sentence in italics:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, TO SECURE THESE RIGHTS, GOVERNMENTS ARE INSTITUTED AMONG MEN, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED...
The second great document is the Constitution of the United States, the preamble to which reads:
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, 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.
DEMOCRACY A GOAL STILL TO BE REACHED
It is not to be supposed that our government and our laws are perfect. They cannot be perfect as long as they are made and operated by imperfect people. It is possible, for example, that the boys of the city had a just complaint against the government for not permitting them to play ball in vacant lots, UNLESS THE COMMUNITY AT THE SAME TIME PROVIDED THEM WITH ANOTHER SUITABLE PLACE FOR THE GAME--for every community should protect the right of its boys and girls to play. We are far from having attained complete democracy. It is a goal toward which men are struggling, and have been struggling for centuries--since long before our Revolutionary War, and in other countries as well as in our own. The great world war which began in 1914, and which the United States entered in 1917, was a war to establish more firmly in the world the principles of democratic government. Whether these principles shall be carried out in practice, and whether our governments--local, state, and national--shall fulfill the purposes so clearly stated in the preamble to the Constitution, depends upon the extent to which each citizen understands these purposes, and cooperates with his fellow-citizens and with his governments in support of them.
THE "RIGHT IDEA OF IT"
It is said that in one of the training camps during the war an officer addressed a squad of new recruits as follows:
Boys, I want you to get the right idea of the salute. I do not want you to think that you are being compelled to salute me as an individual. No! When you salute me, you are simply rendering respect to the power I represent; AND THE POWER I REPRESENT IS YOU. Now let me explain. You elect the President of the United States, and the President of the United States grants me a commission to represent his authority in this army. His only authority is the authority that you vest in him when you elect him President. Now, when you salute an officer, you salute not the man, but the representative of your own authority. The salute is going to be rigidly enforced in this army, and I want you boys to get the right idea of it. I want you to know what you salute and why.
It is very important that we should "get the right idea" of what our government is. It is very much the idea that the officer gave his soldiers about the salute. It is the idea contained in this chapter: that government is our own organization for team work in community life. All through this book we shall be engaged in discovering how far this is true.
Do you know of instances in which the national government has helped to secure cooperation among the farmers of your locality?
Discuss the parcel post as a means of cooperation.
During the war with Germany the United States government assumed control of all the railroads of the country. Show how this was to secure better cooperation.
Is the government of your school democratic? Explain your answer. Do you think it should be made more democratic? Why?
Compare the purposes stated in the preamble to the Constitution with the common purposes stated on page 6 of Chapter I.
Show how the pupil who does as he pleases in school may interfere with the rights and liberties of other pupils. Is it right that his liberty should then be restricted? Why? Is liberty the right to do as one pleases? If not, what is it?
Read together in class the preamble to the Constitution and carefully discuss the meaning of each phrase.
Lessons in Community and National Life:
Series B: Lesson 17, The development of a system of laws.
Series C: Lesson 17, Custom as a basis for law. Lesson 18, Cooperation through law.
In Long's American Patriotic Prose:
Lincoln, "Mob Law," pp. 173-177.
Lincoln, "Back to the Declaration," pp. 170-181.
McKinley, "Liberty is Responsibility, Not License," pp. 254-255.
The Declaration of Independence, pp. 67-71.
Beard, Chas. A., American Citizenship, chap, i ("The Nature of Modern Government").
Franklin, Benjamin, Autobiography.
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