An Autobiography HTML version

It had been suggested by the Minister of Education of that period that the children
attending the State schools should be instructed in the duties of citizenship, and that they
should be taught something of the laws under which they lived, and I was commissioned
to write a short and pithy statement of the case. It was to be simple enough for intelligent
children in the fourth class; 11 or 12--it was to lead from the known to the unknown--it
might include the elements of political economy and sociology--it might make use of
familiar illustrations from the experience of a new country--but it must not be long. It was
not very easy to satisfy myself and Mr. Hartley--who was a severe critic--but when the
book of 120 pages was completed he was satisfied. A preface I wrote for the second
edition--the first 5,000 copies being insufficient for the requirements of the schools--will
give some idea of the plan of the work:--"In writing this little book, I have aimed less at
symmetrical perfection than at simplicity of diction, and such arrangement as would lead
from the known to the unknown, by which the older children in our public schools might
learn not only the actual facts about the laws they live under, but also some of the
principles which underlie all law." The reprinting gave me an opportunity to reply to my
critics that "political economy, trades unions, insurance companies, and newspapers"
were outside the scope of the laws we live under. But I thought that in a new State where
the optional duties of the Government are so numerous, it was of great importance for the
young citizen to understand economic principles. As conduct is the greater part of life,
and morality, not only the bond of social union, but the main source of individual
happiness, I took the ethical part of the subject first, and tried to explain that education
was of no value unless it was used for good purposes. As without some wealth,
civilization was impossible, I next sought to show that national and individual wealth
depends on the security that is given by law, and on the industry and the thrift which that
security encourages. Land tenure is of the first importance in colonial prosperity, and
consideration of the land revenue and the limitations as to its expenditure led me to the
necessity for taxation and the various modes of levying it. Taxation led me to the power
which imposes, collects, and expends it. This involved a consideration of those
representative institutions which make the Government at once the master and the servant
of the people. Under this Government our persons and our prosperity are protected by a
system of criminal, civil, and insolvent law--each considered in its place. Although not
absolutely included in the laws we live under, I considered that providence, and its
various outlets in banks, savings banks, joint stock companies, friendly societies, and
trades unions, were matters too important to be left unnoticed; and also those influences
which shape character quite as much as statute laws--public opinion, the newspaper, and
amusements. As the use of my little book was restricted solely to school hours, my hope
that the parents might be helped and encouraged by its teaching was doomed to
disappointment. But the children of 30 years ago, when "The Laws We Live Under" was
first published, are the men and women of to-day, and who shall say but that among them
are to be found some at least worthy and true citizens, who owe to my little book their
first inspiration to "hitch their wagon to a star." Last year an enthusiastic young Swedish
teacher and journalist was so taken with this South Australian little handbook of civics
that he urged on me the duty of bringing it up to date, and embracing women's suffrage,
the relations of the States to the Commonwealth, as well as the industrial legislation
which is in many ways peculiar to Australia, but although those in authority were
sympathetic no steps have been taken for its reproduction. Identified as I had been for so