At the Ref Desk (1/2/18): 1st shift of the year! Waiting for the question: 'Do you have any research articles on 2018?' :-) [more...]

Facts Charles Osgood Ought to Know

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sat, 12/19/09 (12:50pm)

facts_i_ought_to_know.png Charles Osgood indulges in a bit of unjustified cynicism while reporting on an overdue library book that was returned to the New Bedford Public Library after 99 years.

The book is called, "Facts I Ought to Know About the Government of My Country" (Wm H. Bartlett, 1897) and Osgood largely sticks to the facts until this final cheap shot,

Here's a question, though: What would a book to tell you how the U.S. Government works, published 115 years ago, tell you about how the U.S. Government works today? Not very much, I'm afraid...

Actually the book can tell you a lot about how the U.S. Government works today -- had Osgood bothered to think about it or, heaven forbid, even look the thing up.

[more after the jump...]

It turns out, not surprisingly for something written over 100 years ago, that the title is available as a scan through Google Books.

Obvious differences between then and now stand out. It justifies what must have looked like an astronomical sum of $50k which the president got paid at that time by pointing out:

This is a moderate salary for the highest officer of the foremost nation of the world. Great Britain pays for the maintenance of the royal family nearly $3,000,000 a year. p56

Still, things like its discussion of "Duties of the Citizen" are probably something we'd all agree with today:

It should be the aim of the citizen to become well acquainted with the history of his country, the principles upon which its government is founded, and the institutions which have promoted its welfare. He should study the great questions of principle and policy, which divide the public attention, that he may act intelligently upon them... p.97

Furthermore, the basic facts about how government works which is the primary focus of the book -- things like separation of power, three branches of government, etc. -- are no different now than what they were back in the days of Grover Cleveland and William McKinley.

So why the snark from Osgood? Was there no other way of conveniently ending the piece than with the tired old cry of "o tempora, o mores"?

You really have to wonder since the differences between then and now that do exist tend to favor us -- thanks to amendments to the Constitution like the one that gave women the right to vote or the one that allowed for direct election of Senators, etc.

We have a lot of faults, but there's no one I know who would want to go back to the government of that era.

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