The Making of a Patriot
Times of peace and prosperity are not the best times to make patriots. It is when a nation is in peril, that love of country is developed. A call to arms to defend home, altar and flag — awakens loyalty in every true heart. This is one of the compensations of national danger or adversity.
Yet patriotism is no less a duty in the days of national security and happiness, than in times of peril or distress. Every young person should grow up a patriot. Love of country is one of the great cardinal virtues, one of the essential elements of manliness.
A country needs true-hearted men quite as much in its times of prosperity, as when assailed by armed enemies. There are important battles to fight in times of peace. But every boy, however young, is looking forward to the day when he can vote. Battles are fought with ballots instead of bullets. Great principles are settled oft-times on election days.
A distinguished artist explained his way of preparing his paints so as to produce such wonderful effects, by saying that he mixed them with brains. There is need that the young voters who come up to the polls year by year shall learn to use their brains in voting.
A great mass of citizens merely attach themselves to a party and vote invariably as their party votes. Many men known to be unworthy are carried into office on the party ticket. They are the regular nominees, and even those who know them to be bad men vote for them, rather than fall out of line with their party. One lesson in patriotism which every one should learn is to vote only for worthy candidates. "My party, right or wrong," may be practical politics — but it is not good patriotism, and it is bad morals.
Brain and conscience should unite in deciding how men shall vote. The young men who are looking forward to casting their first ballot should be training themselves so as to be patriotic citizens at the polls, and not the slaves of partisanship.
Another thing in the making of a patriot is to take the right side upon every question of morals and reform. A country without God is doomed. A nation has the divine favor, just in the measure in which God's truth is wrought into all its life. The countries which have the gospel, are the ones which lead in civilization. Someone says, "No nation without the truth of God has been able to invent so much as a four-wheeled wagon, let alone build railroads, launch fleets of steel ships, and hold mammoth expositions of arts and industries." No nation can be great in any true way, whose men are not strong in character and faithful to duty at whatever cost.
Wherever there is disregard of law, there decay is at work. The greatest thing the young men soon to be citizens can do for their country, will be to become men of truth and noble principle, who will always be found on the right side. Let no one suppose that opportunity is lacking in these days of splendid service to one's country. The present days are the very best days the world ever saw. Not all the heroisms are exhibited on battle-fields. There is wide room for heroes these common days in life's common ways.
Another way to be sure of making patriots, is to be sure to make men of ourselves. Really, this is most important of all. It is men that are needed to give a country strength, security and stability. If the citizens of a country are men of noble character, men who live worthily, loving God and their fellow men, striving after whatever things are true, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely — then the country will be great. If men learn to live for the things that are unseen, for right, for truth, for God, instead of for this world, for gain or for personal honor — then they will soon lift their country to enduring honor.
In an ancient fable, an angel was permitted, on one occasion, to visit this earth. From a lofty mountain top he looked down upon the cities and palaces and works of men. As he went away, he said: "All these people are spending their time in just building birds' nests. No wonder they fail and are ashamed." They were building birds' nests to be swept away in the floods — when they might be erecting palaces of immortal beauty to dwell in forever. Thus, indeed, must much of the best of our life and work in this world appear to the angels who look down upon us in Heaven, and see things as they are.
Let the young men so live that they will build, not birds' nests — but something that shall abide when earthly things have been swept away!