One of the goals of education in the early days of this country was to instill a sense of virtue in the young. At that time, most Americans were devoutly Christian. Virtually every family owned a Bible and attended a church. So the concern with rearing virtuous young men and women was the subject of many sermons and tracts.
The American Heritage dictionary defines virtue as “moral excellence and righteousness, goodness,” “chastity, especially in a woman.” “Righteousness” and “chastity” are words only heard in church these days. But back in the early days of the Republic they were commonly used, especially in schools where inculcation of virtue was an important part of education.
I found the 1829 edition of an excellent little book on how to teach virtue, originally published in 1815. The author, L.M. Stretch, collected examples of virtuous individuals from the Bible and the classics of ancient Rome and Greece in order to provide dramatic illustrations of the meaning of virtue. The book, The Beauties of History; Or, Pictures of Virtue and Vice, Drawn from Real Life; Designed for the Instruction and Entertainment of Youth, was the kind of instructional manual that could be used by a teacher in a school. In those days, private academies were more numerous than common schools. On page 45, the author describes “The Character of a Good Son.” It reads:
The good and dutiful Son is one who honoureth his parents, by paying them the utmost deference and respect; by a reverential awe and veneration of them; a filial affection for their persons, and a tender regard for their safety and preservation; a constant and cheerful attention to their advice, and a ready and implicit obedience to their commands. As he becometh every day more sensible of his obligation to them, he grows more willing and solicitous to repay them. He employs his youth to support their age; his abundance to relieve their wants; his knowledge and strength to supply their infirmities and decay. He is more careful of his character and reputation in the world, because theirs depend upon it. Ever anxious for their welfare, and attentive to their happiness, he endeavours by every method in his power, to prolong their days, so that his own will be long in the land. He rests assured, that God will not only bless obedient children here, but will reward them with the blessing of heaven, where it shall be well with him for ever; where we shall all join; son and father, daughter and mother, wife and husband, servant and master; all the relations and connections of this life, to honour one great parent, protector, lord, and master of us all.
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