Do “We the People” Really Know What’s in the Constitution?


ON TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, millions of Americans celebrated Constitution Day in honor of the Constitution’s ratification in 1787. Flag-waving parades filled the streets, Americans wore patriotic clothes, fireworks lit up the night sky . . .

Yeah, not exactly.

How many Americans knew Sept. 17 was Constitution Day? Admittedly, I wasn’t one of them. Most Americans don’t celebrate it the way they do Memorial, Independence, and Veteran’s days. They don’t celebrate it at all.

Perhaps, one of the reasons we don’t recognize this event is because most of us haven’t read the entire Constitution. We have general knowledge that it divides the federal government into three branches, characterizes national and state power, and supplies our inherent freedoms in the Bill of Rights and 27 amendments. I’m sure many of us can recite the Preamble thanks to Schoolhouse Rock!

Without this living document, the U.S. loses its heartbeat.

But at Thursday’s Constitution Day Trivia Night, CAB shocked students with surprising details about this 232-year-old document:

  1. The well-known “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” phrase exists in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution.
  2. The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution; Benjamin Franklin said the US is “[a] republic, if you can keep it.”
  3. Public education and separation of church and state are also not mentioned; they are issues reserved to the states.
  4. The Constitution allows a President to serve for ten years; this occurs when the Vice President assumes the role of President because the current Commander-in-Chief cannot fulfill his or her term.
  5. Feelings are not protected. Sorry, not sorry. (Students didn’t actually learn this, but it’s true the Founding Fathers didn’t give feelings much thought.)

Learning what the Constitution says and doesn’t say shapes our arguments when we debate the constitutionality of certain issues. When we claim something is unconstitutional, are we actually right, or do we just assume because of our nation’s principles, our own liberties, and previous applications of the Constitution that certain rights must lie within this document?
The Constitution can’t make the United States perfect; We the People must, just as the Founding Fathers had intended. But how we apply the Constitution often exposes more flaws than the document itself bears. Still, the Constitution provides the means necessary to form “a more perfect union.”

When we claim something is unconstitutional, are we actually right, or do we just assume because of our nation’s principles that this must lie within the Constitution?

And this illustrates why we must treat Constitution Day with the same celebration we give our independence and veterans. Neglecting time of gratitude for the rights we habitually exploit risks their protection.
Without this living document, the United States loses its heartbeat.

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