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American Legion Boys State
Born of a desire to counter the Facist-inspired Youth Pioneer
Camps of the 1930′s, it continues today as a premier example of learning
about government by taking an active and practical role in its
operation. Through role-playing exercises, participants soon learn that
the individual citizen is ultimately responsible for the character and
success of his government.
The American Legion believes there is no better way to assure the
survival of our republic than to train our young people in the ideals
and objectives of American government. By teaching youth to understand
and appreciate the basic principles involved in the successful
management of a democratic society, America can remain strong and ensure
our freedom for future generations.
American Legion Boys State is a unique summertime educational program
that does not emphasize classroom lectures and textbook learning.
Instead, it focuses on participation and personal experience in a model
state, complete with governing bodies and elected public officials. It
is designed to mirror the structure and operation of its respective
Boys State was founded, and its courses of instruction designed, to
supplement the information taught in high school civics classes. It is
an activity born out of a need for youth training in practical
citizenship, leadership, and to instill a working knowledge of the
structure and operation of state government.
Boys State has the following objectives:
- to develop leadership and pride in American government
- to arouse a keen interest in the detailed study of government
- to develop in the young citizens of Boys State a full
understanding of our American traditions and belief in the United
States of America
- to arouse in the young citizens a determination to maintain our
form of government
- and, from the Preamble to The American Legion’s Constitution:
“to inculate a sense of individual obligation to the community,
state, and nation
- to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of
justice, freedom, and democracy.
Boys State is conducted in 49 states. Hawaii does not conduct a
program. The length of the programs average about seven days and
enrollments range from as few as 25 to well over 1,400.
Most programs operate from campuses of colleges or universities,
although some are conducted on military reservations and other
facilities that offer the space needed for its operation. Boys Staters
are housed in dormitories and dine in cafeterias.
For many of the young men who participate, Boys State offers a
preview of what college life will be like and also puts them in a
real-life situation of decision making and the resulting accountability
of their actions.
Boys State Staff
The success of American Legion Boys State can be attributed to the
professional staff that is assembled to conduct the program. Staff
members are chosen only after a thorough review of their character,
qualifications, and experience.
The supervision of activities at Boys State and the responsibility
for the full program is entrusted to its director. He is assisted by an
Administrative and Instructional staff that usually includes volunteer
educators, attorneys, and other professional people, many of whom are
drawn from the membership of The American Legion. The Administrative
staff has responsibility for providing services while the Instructional
staff consists of individuals responsible for the educational and
recreational aspects of the overall program.
Boys States are divided into subgroups, most commonly called
“cities”, which usually consist of 25-30 boys. Counselors are assigned
to these cities to oversee the physical welfare of the boys.
Legionnaires, students at the major service academies and ROTC students
fill many of these positions.
The Political Organization – Precinct through State
Upon arrival at Boys State, the young men are assigned to one of two
political parties. In most programs these parties are called the
“Nationalists” or the “Federalists”. Such a political organization
results in involvement at the precinct level, the city, county, judicial
circuit, senatorial or legislative districts as well as at the state
The government organization provides for elections at all levels,
party caucses and conventions, platform development, and the organizing
and operation of local government units such as county boards, agencies
The Instructional Program
The effectiveness of the American Legion’s Boys State programs, in
teaching about state government, can be placed squarely on the shoulders
of its instructional program. That important facet of the overall
activity is carried out in three components: limited classroom
instruction, functional activities (learning by doing), and general
assemblies of instruction.
Generally speaking, about 50 percent of the program hours are devoted
to government instruction and practical exercises. Classroom instruction
is held on subjects such as law, civil service, election procedure and
parliamentary procedures. Many states conduct special schools to inform
candidates of the duties of the office they seek. Topics of instruction
include detailed explanation and instruction on the legislative,
executive and judicial procedures of the respective state government.
Functional activities start with a caucus or other method of
nominating candidates for city offices and conclude with the election
and inauguration of the Governor of the mythical state organization.
The functional activities are the heart of the instructional program.
These include such activities as elections, caucuses, conventions,
operation of the courts, legislative assemblies, law enforcement and
public welfare. Tthese activities take a considerable portion of the
time alloted for instructional purposes and constitute the primary means
through which the young men “learn by doing”.
Boys State programs use assemblies as a means to spur enthusiasm and
spirit, inspiration and patriotism, political fervor and a real zeal for
“the American way”.
The bottom line is…
“Every citizen becomes an integral part of Boys State, assuming
responsibilities and performing duties either as an elected or appointed
pofficial, or otherwise fulfilling an assignment entailing the duties of
The American Legion is… the largest veterans organization in
the world, with a membership approaching three million in the 50 Unites
States, the District of Columbia and several foreign countries. All
members are current or former members of the United States Armed Forces
with honorable service on active duty during periods of armed conflict.
The American Legion was founded and organized in 1919 and has touched
virtually every facet of American life, fulfilling its main objective of
service to the community, state and nation. The American Legion also
conducts many programs designed to benefit the youth of our nation.
Notable among these are: American Legion Baseball, Boys State and Boys
Nation programs, the National High School Oratorial Contest, the junior
Shooting Spoorts Program, Scouting and the American Legion School Awards
A network of almost 15,000 local American Legion posts in communities
coast to coast and around the world carry out the programs of the
organization. Working hand-in-hand with the Legion aree the almost one
million members of the American Legion Auxillary and several hundred
thousand members of the Sons of The American Legion.
American Legion Boys State is…
To the participant: … A richly rewarding and educational program
that has provided the motivation for many former participants to seek
careers in public service. Selection serves as a testimony to a
participant’s character and leadership skills and is an experience
recognized by many employers, academy and university admission boards as
an indicator of strong leadership and character traits.
To the Sponsor: … An opportunity to make a positive difference
in that young person’s life. For a few dollars, a sponsor provides a
character-building and educational experience that the participant will
remember for a lifetime. It is also a source of great satisfaction to
To the Parents: … Assurance that their son is participating in a
character-buildig program of rich tradition that is open to those who
have earned the right to attend. It has been said by many parents on
many occasions… “We sent you a boy and you have returned us a man.”
To the School: … A practical educational experience that teaches
young men about state government and how to become better leaders. As
they return to their schools for their senior year, they are able to
take a more active role in student government and serve as a positive
influence to other students.
American Legion Boys Nation
Each year, Boys States select two outstanding participants to
represent them at American Legion Boys Nation, an extension of the
State-level experience. It has similar objectives and goals as that of
Boys State, however, American Legion Boys Nation is also designed to
instill in each delegate a deep loyalty to America while providing
practical insight into the operation of the federal government.
The weeklong program in the nation’s capital combines lectures,
forums and visitations to federal agencies, institutions, memorials and
historical sites in and around the District of Columbia. Actual
participation in the political process is highlighted through the week’s
activities to include the organization of party conventions and the
nomination and election of a Boys Nation President and Vice President.
At Boys Nation, each delegate represents his state as a Senator and
participates in Senate sessions. They organize into committees and
conduct hearings on bills submitted for their consideration. Delegates
are instructed on the proper method of handling bills based on the rules
of the United States Senate. In addition to federal legislators and
representatives of federal agencies, organization and lay leaders of
national distinction participate in the program.