In 2004, President Bush and a Republican-majority Congress required every “educational institution that received Federal funds” to hold an “education program on the U.S. Constitution” each year on September 17.
This law was adopted with good intentions. The U.S. Constitution was approved by the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787. This day has been recognized as “Constitution Day” ever since.
Abraham Lincoln often observed that America was “conceived in liberty” with our Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Besides independence, our most important national holiday celebrates the day Americans held these truths to be “self-evident”:
“We are all created equal. We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among us, exercising their just powers with the consent of the governed’.
Our Constitution was adopted eleven years later to “secure these rights”. Sadly, it tolerated the continuation of slavery in some states at first. However, Abraham Lincoln and many others pointed out that this was a temporary compromise. Most of the framers designed our Constitution with the “ultimate extinction” of slavery in mind. They included a mechanism for amendment, a timeline to stop the importation of new slaves, the banning of slavery in federal territories, and the 3/5 limitation on the voting power of slave states in Congress. After a Civil War which killed roughly 600,000 Americans, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added to end slavery. These “Civil War Amendments” recognized and secured the “unalienable rights” of all Americans.
When our Constitution was adopted there was a “scarcity of women” in America. Fewer women than men made the dangerous sailing trip from Europe to America that took anywhere from six weeks to five months. Also, one in eight American women died in childbirth.
“Listen to the Mockingbird” is typical of the most popular American songs before the Civil War. In these “heartbreak” songs, young men grieved over the loss of a young wife, or lamented that their true love married another while they were away earning enough money to support a wife.
At that time, most men and women wanted to be married, and most American women had their choice of husbands. Most widows remarried. Most adult American men and women agreed with Benjamin Franklin that an unmarried adult was “like half a pair of scissors”. They thought of themselves as partners and households, and not as separate units. That changed quickly in the 1870’s. Modern medicine cut deaths from childbirth. Safe, fast steamships brought men and women to America in equal numbers. Finally, the deaths of so many young men in the Civil War left many women widowed and single. The Constitution was amended to secure the vote for women less than 50 years later.
National Cemetery at Gettysburg. More than 600,000 American men were killed in the Civil War between 1861 and 1865. This, together with advances in medicine which cut deaths from childbirth ended the “scarcity of women” in America. For the first time in American history, a significant number of adult women were not married.
Our Constitution was designed to be read and understood by every American, not just lawyers and scholars. Every school and college should teach students that every American has a legal and moral duty to “preserve, protect, and defend” our Constitution.
Every American should know that although our country is not perfect, we have more wealth, opportunity, justice, and safety here, than in any other place in the world. Like all countries, America has problems. However, our culture of liberty and government limited by our Constitution allowed Americans to identify and fix problems quicker than any other nation in the world. That is why so many people want to move here, and so few want to leave.
Our country is great because of the work and sacrifices made by so many generations of Americans to understand, preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution.
September 17, is a perfect day for every school and college to teach students the importance of our Constitution. Unfortunately, most of them, like our own Stockton University, use the day to do the opposite. Every year they instead teach students to hate, ignore, or “fundamentally change” our Constitution.
They do it with these clever techniques discussed in detail in a separate article.