Responsibilities

The United States Census

The U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government take a census every ten years. Citizens are required by law to be counted and to participate in this fundamental aspect of the democratic process. The primary purpose of the census is to allocate seats in the House of Representatives to the states according to their population.

Census badge, 1900

Gift of Mrs. S. Hazen Shea

View object record

Census enumerator badge, 1960

Transfer from U.S. Department of Commerce

View object record

Pamphlet, "Let's Talk Census", 1960

Transfer from U.S. Department of Commerce

View object record

Census Bureau questionnaire, 1960

Transfer from U.S. Department of Commerce

View object record

Military Service

The scope and brutality of the Civil War quickly challenged the military resources of the North and South. The Confederacy and the Union established general compulsory military service. Many considered the draft an infringement on their individual liberty. Critics charged class discrimination, as the North and South draft laws provided financial ways to avoid service. The debate over a military draft has continued ever since. Today all men are required to register for Selective Service at eighteen years of age.

Civil War draft notice, April 7, 1864

Civil War draft notice, April 7, 1864

Gift of Keith Emerson

World War II-era Selective Service registration card, April 27, 1942

World War II-era Selective Service registration card, April 27, 1942

Taxes

The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, granted Congress the power to impose a federal income tax on individuals. The concept of contributing your fair share is widely held, but agreeing on what that is all depends on who is paying the bill.

Income tax return, 1921

Income tax return, 1921

Gift of Victor W. Tatelman

Last-minute taxpayer submitting his federal returns, Des Plaines, Illinois, April 15, 2002

Last-minute taxpayer submitting his federal returns, Des Plaines, Illinois, April 15, 2002

Courtesy of Tim Boyle/Getty Images

A Citizen’s Jury

In a nation based on the sovereignty of the people, the jury system is one of the cornerstones of American democracy. Established under the Constitution is the right to an impartial jury of one’s peers. This right also implies an obligation of citizens to serve as members of a jury.

Jury notice, 2014

Jury notice, 2014

Gift of Butler County Clerk of Courts

Photograph of jury listening to evidence, Louisville, Kentucky, 1954

Photograph of jury listening to evidence, Louisville, Kentucky, 1954

Courtesy of Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The Virtuous Citizen

Of the many core responsibilities of citizenship, the most basic has been being a “good citizen.” The founding generation believed that liberty and freedom could only survive if the Republic and its people were virtuous. For them, and still today, this means respecting the country’s institutions, fulfilling civic duties, contributing to the community, and generally being a good neighbor.

Public service poster, 1971

Public service poster, 1971

Transfer from U.S. Department of Agriculture