Civics lessons from 1913

Here are a few quotes from “The Philippine Citizen”, a 1913 reader on civics for students of secondary schools in The Philippines under American colonial rule.

Popular government. Since the Unites States is a representative democracy and is attempting to create a government of this kind in the Philippines, it becomes necessary to study this form of government with great care.

In the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, the government of the United States is a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” that is, popular government. It is important to remember that not all the people in any democracy take part in the election of public officers and the making of laws. In the most liberal of democracies women, with few exceptions, are excluded from a share in the government. Even in the United States only about one fifth of the whole population is entitled to vote. Popular government differs in degree in different democracies. What constitutes a democracy is not the number of people who vote but the fact that the people are the source of the laws.
It is sometimes difficult to say just how much one should know to be qualified to vote. In the United States, where popular education is so efficient and widespread, some states grant the suffrage to all males over twenty-one years of age. In many of the states, however, an educational or property qualification is also required. This often greatly reduces the number of electors. In the opinion of many, the suffrage should be still further restricted in the United States. It would certainly be a very foolish step to grant unlimited suffrage to people like some of the negroes of Africa, who in many cases know hardly enough to build a hut over their heads.

Woman suffrage. Even in the United States the full rights of suffrage are not granted to women, except in nine states. Many of the women are exceedingly intelligent and possess every qualification of mind and character that the male voters have, but they are not allowed to vote, because the suffrage is not a right but a privilege. This privilege it is not usually considered necessary to extend to women at present. If their votes were necessary to secure civil liberties to the people it would be entirely proper to grant them the suffrage.

6 thoughts on “Civics lessons from 1913”

  1. Yikes.

    I was waiting for the qualifying line, “Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are women and negroes of Africa.”

  2. A lot has changed since then (for one, I don’t think the US government is actively trying to “civilize” any group of people these days except maybe Iraqis), but we have not seen the last of contortionist justifications for American practices.

    I am sure many recent textbooks have similar references to the army’s “dont as dont tell” policy or the debate over gay marriage.

    This attitude seems quaint and hard to understand, but it fits in perfectly with the times. 1913 was the high watermark of European domination of just about the entire earth (the time of Mary Poppins if anyone remembers the movie). None of the powers thought self-determination for Brown People was a serious consideration (they can barely build huts!). The explosion of colony-grabbing in the late 19th century necessitated justifications and civilization was a principal one. Without the white man’s burden of civilizing and Christianizing the heathens some in the home country might find colonization objectionable. In a way we should thank Japan for making the idea of freedom for Asia and the wider colonies an irreversible tide of history.

    Even post-revolutionary France justified its invasion of neighboring countries as a way to bring the ideals of the revolution to all of Europe, though in practice the conquests resulted in puppet states.

    And in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars a stated purpose was to liberate the people from tyrrany, from a fundamentalist regime on one hand and a ruthless dictator on the other. And of course one of the markers for victory in both invasions is seen to be the extent to which “democracy” flourishes.

  3. “In a way we should thank Japan for making the idea of freedom for Asia and the wider colonies an irreversible tide of history.”

    We end up talking a lot about the Rape of Nanking, but arguing that the Russo-Japanese War was one of the pivotal events in human history is the single biggest theme for the Japanese intellectual right. They have a point, but go too far in trying to depict ALL of Japan’s modern wars as part of an unbroken chain of struggle against Western colonialism. Some people just stick with the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, however. Shiba Ryotaro became possibly Japan’s most popular historical author (maybe Yoshikawa Eiji) by doing just that.

    I think that if we had to identify a single high-point for “Western” power, it would probably be the intervention by France, Russia and Germany that forced Japan to return territory that it won in the Sino-Japanese war of 94-95 to China…. so that they could take it for themselves. So that plus the Boer War is probably the peak.

    In any case, white people are a bit more subtle about empire these days – but you have to wonder if what is said behind closed doors at multi-nationals and in free trade debates echoes the above piece.

  4. When you have people like Vikram Pandit and Barack Obama in the room during those meetings it can be kind of hard to light up a cigar and talk about people needing to know their place in the world… but yeah the more things change the more they stay the same

  5. ”When you have people like Vikram Pandit and Barack Obama in the room during those meetings”

    They wait until they use the washroom.

Comments are closed.