Conscientiousness is the underlying granite of life.--Sir Walter Raleigh
When love of praise takes the place of praiseworthiness, the defect is
When a man is dead to the sense of right, he is lost forever.
Insincerity alienates love and rots away authority.--Bulwer
The value of conscientiousness is principally seen in the benefits of
"Conscientiousness is a scrupulous regard to the decisions of
conscience." When we say a duty was performed "religiously," it is the
same as a duty done conscientiously. Conscience does not _teach_ us
what is right; we learn that from experience, and in many other ways. It
simply tells us to do the best we know, and reproaches us when we do
Some one has well said: "We can train ourselves to be conscientious, to
be responsive to conscience, to obey it; but conscience itself cannot be
educated. It is like the sun. We may so arrange our house as to receive
the largest amount of sunlight; but the sun itself cannot be changed
either for our advantage or disadvantage. As a house with ample windows
is illuminated within by the rays of the sun, so is a well-trained life
filled with the light of conscience." We may therefore define
conscientiousness as the inborn desire to do that which is right and
Conscientiousness, which is, as we have just seen, another name for
justice, is a trait to be cultivated among young people in their sports,
in family life, and in school. A boy is unjust who refuses to "play
fair"; a girl is unjust who deprives a friend of anything properly hers.
Young people may be unjust in their words, in their thoughts, or in
their actions; and the greatest watchfulness is needed to prevent us
from failing in this important matter.
One's sense of justice may be increased by thoughtfulness as to his duty
to himself, as well as to others; and by demanding very rigid observance
of every law of conduct which commends itself as needful to ideal
character. "There is only one real failure possible in life," said Canon
Farrar, "and that is, not to be true to the best one knows."
"I can remember when you blackened my father's shoes," said one member
of the British House of Commons to another in the heat of debate. "True
enough," was the prompt reply, "but did I not blacken them well?" The
sense of right-doing was sufficient to turn an intended insult into a
well-merited compliment, and to increase for him the esteem of his
"Whatever is right to do," said an eminent writer, "should be done with
our best care, strength, and faithfulness of purpose."
Leonardo da Vinci would walk across Milan to change a single tint or the
slightest detail in his famous picture of "The Last Supper."
Rufus Choate would plead before a shoemaker justice of the peace, in a
petty case, with all the fervor and careful attention to detail with
which he addressed the United States Supreme Court.
"No, I can't do it, it is impossible," said Webster, when pressed to
speak on a question soon to come up, toward the close of a Congressional
session. "I am so pressed with other duties that I haven't time to
prepare myself to speak upon that theme." "Ah, but Mr. Webster, you
always speak well upon any subject. You never fail." "But that's the
very reason," said the orator, "because I never allow myself to speak
upon any subject without first making that subject thoroughly my own. I
haven't time to do that in this instance. Hence I must refuse."
Among the list of our great reformers, William Lloyd Garrison must
always hold a very prominent place. The work he did was that of
unselfish devotion to an overmastering sense of justice. He labored for
those in bonds, as bound with them. Faithful, as but few others were
faithful, he worked in season and out of season for human freedom.
After great effort, Mr. Garrison succeeded in establishing an
antislavery society, and he was made its agent to lecture for the cause.
He was sent to England to solicit funds for starting a manual-labor
school for the colored youth. But the whole tone of society was against
him. He was at the mercy of that prejudice which, at so many points,
was ready to adopt mob violence. The discussion of slavery was taken up
in educational institutions where, as in general society, but very few
were found who believed in universal freedom. But still he never swerved
from what he believed to be right. Justice was his plea; justice was his
battle cry; and it came to be said of him that "He was conscience
A beautiful illustration of justice, and fairness of treatment, occurred
at the opening of the great battle of Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898.
When the order was given to strip for action, one of the powder boys
tore his coat off hurriedly, and it fell from his hands and went over
the rail, down into the bay. A few moments before, he had been gazing on
his mother's photograph, and just before he took his coat off he had
kissed the picture and put it in his inside pocket. When the coat fell
overboard he turned to the captain and asked permission to jump over and
get it. Naturally the request was refused. The boy then went to the
other side of the ship and climbed down the ladder. He swam around to
the place where the coat had dropped and succeeded in getting it. When
he came back he was put in irons for disobedience. After the battle he
was tried by a court-martial for disobedience, and found guilty.
Commodore Dewey became interested in the case, for he could not
understand why the boy had risked his life and disobeyed orders for a
coat. The lad had never told his motives. But when the commodore talked
to him in a kindly way, and asked him why he had done such a strange
thing for an old coat, he burst into tears and told the commodore that
his mother's picture was in the coat. Dewey's eyes filled with tears as
he listened to the story. Then he picked up the boy and embraced him. He
ordered the little fellow to be instantly released and pardoned. "A boy
who loves his mother enough to risk his life for her picture, cannot be
kept in irons on this fleet," he said.
Examples by the score crowd in upon our minds as we think more deeply
into this subject, but space permits of only one more before passing to
our special illustration:
When troubled with deafness, the Duke of Wellington consulted a
celebrated physician, who put strong caustic into his ear, causing an
inflammation which threatened his life. The doctor apologized, expressed
great regrets, and said that the blunder would ruin him. "No," said
Wellington, "I will never mention it." "But will you allow me to attend
you, so that the people will not withdraw their confidence?" "No," said
the Iron Duke, "that would be lying."
Enough has perhaps been said to show that conscientiousness and justice
are not simply beautiful traits of character; but that they are
absolutely necessary to the fullest advancement of the individual and of
the race. We proceed to enforce this truth still more strongly, however,
by a closing reference to the career of one of our greatest statesmen.
In using Mr. Sumner as our special illustration of conscientiousness, it
is not because we lack other examples. On the contrary, they are all
about us; and doubtless we could all mention excellent cases in our own
homes, and among our own acquaintances, where conscientiousness has been
vividly illustrated. He was the eldest of nine children, and was born in
Boston, on the sixth day of January, 1811. His father was a lawyer, and
sheriff of Suffolk County, and was descended from the early colonists of
New England. Even in childhood and youth Charles Sumner evinced the
quiet, thoughtful, and serious temperament which was characteristic of
the Puritans. As a boy he took little interest in games and frolics. He
read much, and was reserved and awkward. Society to him, in early life,
possessed no attractions; and while he was always studious and patient
he never displayed any marked talent.
His progress in life was almost entirely due to his conscientious,
persistent, untiring application to the acquisition of knowledge and the
development of all his powers. He was in the highest sense a cultivated
man. His mind became, through conscientious and laborious study, a
great storehouse, filled with the richest materials and the power to use
But he did not seek these treasures of learning and power for the simple
end of glorifying himself. His one great object in life was to benefit
mankind. He said in an address, delivered just after he had begun the
practice of law, speaking of conscience and charity: "They must become a
part of us and of our existence, as present, in season and out of
season, in all the amenities of life, in those daily offices of conduct
and manner which add so much to its charm, as also in those grander
duties whose performance evinces an ennobling self-sacrifice." It was
his own determined and unfaltering devotion to this lofty ideal, that
led directly to the success of his great public career.
Charles Sumner was first elected to the Senate in 1851. Throughout his
brilliant life his lofty character never forsook him; and if we will
carefully examine the measures which he advocated, voted for, or
opposed, from time to time, the discovery will be made that his
conscience was his inevitable guide.
While he dearly loved peace, he was always in the midst of warfare. He
constantly incurred the censure which arises from advocating unpopular
measures. Childlike in his personal friendships, he often spoke about
himself as he would speak of others,--revealing what others would have
concealed. Frank, sincere, and pledged from youth to principles, rather
than to persons, he was obliged to struggle against great obstacles. To
him the slave was a human being with a soul, entitled to every right
and privilege accorded to any American citizen. He devoted his energies
to the cause of freedom down to the very last, and died in Washington,
on March 11, 1874, exclaiming, "Don't let my Civil Rights Bill fail!"
[Footnote: See "Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner," by Edward L.
Pierce, (Boston, 1877), and many articles in the magazines, especially
noting the sketch in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol.
V., page 744.]