The American Legion is dedicated to strengthening America. We believe there is no better way to this end than to work with our nation’s youth in order to prepare them for the tasks they will face in the years to come. The American Legion, through its youth activities programs, plays a leading role in the development of tomorrow’s informed, responsible citizens. The American Legion’s programs of Boys State and Boys Nation are our finest examples of citizenship instruction for youth.
Boys States are quite uniform in program structure through each Department (state) of the American Legion. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia conduct a Boys State program annually and more than 28,000 young men participate in these civic workshops each year. Through the week-long program, the young citizens learn how city, county and state governments function by actually doing the job themselves. Eligibility for all Boys State citizens requires them to be juniors in high school, with one year remaining before their graduation. This allows the young man the opportunity to apply his “practical experience” in government to his senior year in high school, and at the same time endorse and promote the program among fellow students.
A "Learn By Doing" Approach
The purpose of American Legion Boys State is to identify young leaders and instill in them constructive attitudes toward the American form of government. The program attempts to show that a democracy needs an intelligent citizenry and a moral, honest and impartial administration responsive to the will of the people. Boys State should be thought of as a mythical 51st State with the Constitution, Statutes and Ordinances constructed by its citizens to govern themselves. Citizens not only will be required to review knowledge already acquired concerning the political machinery of state and local government, but they will find themselves performing exactly the same functions as real office holders in the everyday world. Every delegate to Boys State will hold elective office. Delegates learn the duties of various city, county, and state officials and introduce and argue bills in their own legislature. Each citizen will have the opportunity to learn for himself that his government is exactly what he makes it. The entire program is non-partisan. Problems will be considered without reference to existing political parties and will be free from propaganda. The sole purpose is to enable the delegate to grasp the meaning and responsibilities upon which he will be called to assume when he becomes an adult. It should be distinctly understood that the selection and assignment of citizens to parties is in no way connected to existing political parties in Mississippi. Boys State “political parties” are called “Nationalist”, “Federalist” and “Independents”. They are purely mythical and none of the principles typifying any of the existing parties will be adopted. In this way, we try to assure a democratic government in its purist sense.
Historical Sketch of Boys State
Boys State was originated by the Illinois Department of The American Legion in 1934. The plan was adopted by the National Organization in 1945 and has since been put into operation in forty-nine states. Although Hawaii does not operate a program, it does send delegates to attend the program of other states. American Legion Posts in the Panama Canal Zone, the District of Columbia, and Mexico have, in the past, sent delegates to Boys State in Mississippi. The American Legion Department of Mississippi incorporated Magnolia Boys State on May 2, 1939 and the first session was held in Jackson, June 11-17, 1939, and every year thereafter, except for 1943, 1945, 1949, and 1970.
In 1955, the name was changed from Magnolia Boys State, Inc. to The American Legion Boys State, Inc. Since the inception of Boys State in Mississippi, over 20,000 delegates have attended these sessions. Those chosen to attend have just completed their junior year of high school and possess qualities of honor, character, courage, leadership, service, and discipline. Each local American Legion Post is assigned a quota by the Department Headquarters and where this quota more than one, the Post usually offers the opportunity of sponsorship to civic clubs, churches, schools, Boys State alumni, civic leaders, businesses, and other responsible organizations. On occasion, when a young man is deserving but a sponsor cannot be located, he may be sponsored by his own family through his local American Legion Post or State Department. The cost to sponsor a delegate for Boys State is $275.00.
The American Legion Boys State program in Mississippi is recognized as one of the most outstanding and successful Boys State programs in existence. Mississippi’s Boys State is known for its leadership development and motivation, its dynamic and energetic young staff, and for the exceptional support the program receives from Legionaries from across the state. Our Boys State was the first program in the nation to include a “College and Military Service Information Day” where representatives from every state college, university, various branches of the Military, and cadets from the U.S. Military Academies actually come to Mississippi’s Boys State to speak to the young men about post-high school plans. It is not uncommon for delegates to actually discover scholarship opportunities while at Boys State.
Every year, the finest young men Mississippi has to offer attend American Legion Boys State. Through Boys State, these young men have the opportunity to meet, work, and form lifelong friendships with other young leaders from outside their own communities. Delegates not only leave Boys State with a wealth of knowledge and understanding of how government works, they are encouraged to use this knowledge to take on leadership roles in their community, state, and nation. They are encouraged to get involved and to make a difference.