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The American Citizens Handbook

The American Creed As It Was Known Before the 1960s

From the Introduction:

"It is a high privilege to be a citizen of the United States. There are those in less fortunate circumstances who would gladly give all they possess for the mere chance to come here to live."

From the Forward:

"To be a good father, mother, brother, sister, or friend;
To be a dependable, faithful, and skilled worker in home, school, field, factory, or office;
To be an intelligent, honest, useful, and loyal citizen, with faith in God and love of fellowman;
To recognize the brotherhood of man and to live by the Golden Rule

These are the aspirations that have brought happiness and achievement to the America we all love. These are the aspirations that must help us find our way to new glory and grace in the midst of worldwide change. A great civilization must have roots in the soil of the past and its branches reaching to the stars of the future. Otherwise, it lacks the experience and motive necessary for noble achievement in the present. Has the nation lost its way? Let us return again to the faith of its youth. This faith is found at its best in the lives and writings of great leaders who have quickened and purified the national spirit."

Reviews of the American Citizens Handbook

"It is a compilation of just about everything that is significant and outstanding about the United States"

"We have in this book the evidence of a nation, and a civilization. Here, the bond holds firm; the salt retains its savor."

The American Citizens Handbook edited by Joy Elmer Morgan is a classic statement of the American Creed contained in original documents and essays. It tells the story of what it means to be an American in order to educate young people and immigrants on why its a treasured title to be called an American citizen. In today's politically correct world, which sometimes views America as a tragedy rather than a triumph and American history as a sad story of race, class and gender oppression, rather than the march of progress toward freedom and opportunity, it is a piece of subversive literature. And like much subversive literature it has been suppressed by those who find it heretical to their beliefs, in this case the original publishers of the book, the National Education Association.

Here is how Jay Nordlinger of National Review describes the interest in the book in the 1980s and the National Education Association's response:

Michael Farris, the home-schooling leader in Virginia, discovered it in the mid 1980s. Then the education secretary, William Bennett, used it in a speech. He challenged the NEA to reissue the book, or, if it would not, to permit others to do so. The association responded flummoxed and embarrassed. One spokesman explained, "The world has changed a lot" (ah, and so has the NEA). Another sniffed, "We've got lots of other books if [Bennett] wants to pay for them."

Some years later, Lamar Alexander, running for president, mentioned the Handbook as a "virtual user's guide to America." Mike Farris tells me that he once met the man hired by the NEA to destroy the final 10,000 copies of the book. Had he been asked to burn them? asked Farris. That would be too good to be true-and it was. The man had buried them.

The American Citizens Handbook was first published in 1941 to coincide with National Citizenship Day and went through six editions ending in 1968. As the excerpt above shows, the book has been rediscovered by conservative commentators who relish the irony that it was edited and published by the National Education Association, now a leftist organization whose leadership no longer believes in much of the creed proclaimed in the American Citizens Handbook.

Many things in this book probably offended the militants of the NEA leadership, but the positive references to the role of religion in public education and government, which is extolled both by the book's editor Joy Elmer Morgan and in numerous articles, was probably the nail in the coffin.  Morgan in the introductory essay "Your Citizenship In The Making" has a section labeled, "Religious Ideals The Foundation." In 1941 that section said:

"The birth of our democracy goes back nineteen hundred years to the birth of Christ. His teachings, gradually permeating the minds and hearts of the people of the western world, building up their self respect, that led to a demand for larger liberty and justice. Let us never forget that our democratic institutions have their foundation in the principles of life that were set forth by the great Teacher." (Emphasis in original)

The 1968 edition waters down that portion of Morgan's essay and changes its emphasis to this:

"The birth of our democracy is partially the result of the teaching of religious leaders going back hundreds of years. Democracy can find its fullest expression in the roots of religion which has ever emphasized the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. For democracy to reach its highest fruition, our society must include that larger liberty and justice preached so eloquently by the Hebrew Prophets and by Jesus."

The NEA leadership introduced many other changes of emphasis to tone down the unadulterated Americanism of the prior editions of the Handbook and its faith in the Constitution and other foundation documents of American democracy and heritage. The one this is most noticeable is on the back dust jacket, which gives a quote from Thomas Jefferson stating the need to periodically change the laws and Constitution, which ends with this sentence:

"We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

And that is probably what the leaders of the NEA thought of the drafters of the Constitution and of all of American history, it was the product of "barbarous ancestors" and should no longer be celebrated as a source of pride and inspiration. And so it was that the publication of the American Citizens Handbook came to an end, and if the stories above are to be believed, the NEA buried their remaining copies lest the words of celebration and pride continue to go forth.

For years we have have been picking up copies of the American Citizens Handbook wherever we can find them, at flea markets, book and ephemera auctions, book stores and on the internet. Below are pictures of all six editions we currently have available with a short description of the edition, condition and price.

A. First edition, second printing, April 1941, no dust jacket, very nice condition. Price: $225

 

    

SOLD

B. Second edition, second printing, March 1942, no dust jacket, library stamp on front endpaper, rubbing to edges, very good condition. Price: $150

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C. Third edition, first printing, December 1946, no dust jacket, United Nations edition, edges rubbed, cover faded, good condition. Price: $95

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D. Fourth edition, first printing, March 1951, no dust jacket, edges slightly rubbed, very good condition. Price: $95

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SOLD

E. Fifth edition, Special 4-H Club Edition, Senior Citizens of America, Mylar covered dust jacket, sticker on front endpaper certifying that named person has been awarded citizenship, very nice condition. Price: $125

SOLD

F. Sixth edition, 1968, National Council for the Social Studies of NEA, Mylar covered dust jacket very good, book condition excellent. Price: $125


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