When in the latter part of the eighteenth century a group of men decided for themselves, and for their society, to renounce their allegiance to the British crown and to dissolve the political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, subjects became citizens. As citizens, they were entitled to rights and liberties that were not theirs as subjects. As citizens, they were bound to duties and responsibilities to which they were not bound as subjects.
During the ensuing years, as a confederation of states became a nation and a people, as a broader section of the population was granted citizenship, citizens’ rights and liberties were widely debated, with some being adopted into law. Citizens’ duties and responsibilities were less widely debated, and remain addressed largely by implication.
A fundamental distinction between subjects and citizens can be made:
- subjects —
- individuals upon whom government forces are allowed to act, but who are not allowed to react upon governmental forces;
- citizens —
- individuals upon whom government forces are allowed to act, and who are allowed to react upon governmental forces.