Elementary Catechism on the US Constitution (1828)
Note: this blog post is a work in progress...we will be adding to it as time allows.
For the Use of Schools
By Arthur J. Stansbury
Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins
That a people living under a free government which they have themselves originated should be well acquainted with the instrument which contains it, needs not be proved. Were the system, indeed, very cumbrous and extensive, running into minute detail, and hard to be retained in the memory, even this would be no good reason why pains should not be taken to understand and imprint it upon the mind; but when its principles are simple, its features plain and obvious, and its brevity surpassing all example, it is certainly a most reprehensible negligence to remain in ignorance of it.
Yet how small a portion of the citizens of this Republic have even a tolerable acquaintance with their own Constitution? It has appeared to the author of the following sheets that this culpable want of acquaintance with what is of such deep interest to us all, is to be traced to the omission of an important part of what ought to be an American education, viz. the study of the civil institutions of our country.
We prize, then, it is true, and are quite enough in the habit of boasting about them: would it, not be well to teach their elements to those whose best inheritance they are?
The following work has been prepared with a view to such an experiment. It is written expressly for the use of boys, and it has been the aim and effort of the writer to bring down the subject completely to a level with their capacity to understand it. Whether he has succeeded the trial must show. He has purposely avoided all abstruse questions, and has confined himself to a simple, common-sense explanation of each article. It is very possible some inaccuracies may be discovered; and should this be the case, they shall be carefully corrected, should the work be so far approved as to reach another edition.
In the mean time he cannot but indulge the hope, that in laying this little offering upon the altar of our country, he has rendered her an acceptable service.
Question. In what country do you live?
Answer. In the United States of America.
Q. Why is this country called the United States of America?
A. Because it is made up of a number of States which were once separate, but afterwards agreed to unite together.
Q. What do you mean by a State?
A. I mean any district of country whose people are all under one government.
Q. Had then the different States which united together, each a government of its own?
A. Yes; but they agreed to put themselves all under one general government.
Q. Why did they do this?
A. Because it would promote their general welfare.
Q. Is some government necessary in every country?
A. Certainly; without it nobody would be safe: not only our property, but our lives would be in danger.
Q. Cannot all the people of a country govern themselves?
A. If every man was perfectly virtuous, and knew what would be best for himself and others, they might. But this is far from being the case; and therefore the people of every country are and must be governed.
Q. How is this done?
A. Laws are made which all must obey; whoever disobeys them is punished.
Q. Who makes these laws?
A. They are made in different ways, under different governments. In some countries a single man makes the laws according to his own pleasure.