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Ten Reasons Every American Should Know Their Constitution 1. It belongs to you, and the rest of the people. “We the people of the United States, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” What have you “ordained and established?” If you won't “own” it, someone else will gladly take over for you, and replace your opinions with theirs. 2. You created it and sustain it. “The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will, and lives only by their will.” Chief Justice John Marshall, in Cohens v. Virginia, (1821). 3. It claims to be the Supreme Law of the Land. “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; . ”Article 6, Clause 2, U.S. Constitution. “If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Lawsthe first growing out of the last. A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.” Alexander Hamilton, Essay in the American Daily Advertiser, 1794. How can you respect what you do not know? 4. You may have taken an oath to support it, but what does “it” say and mean? “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution ” Article VI, Clause 3. 5. There are differing views as to what it means, who is right? The 1788 View: “[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects.” James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 6, 1788. The 2010 view: “The federal government, yes, can do most anything in this country.” (Former) Rep. Peter Stark (D-CA), Town Hall Meeting in Hayward, California, July 24, 2010. 6. How else do you put todays headlines in proper context?
  • “NSA eavesdropping program ruled unconstitutional.”
  • “Supreme Court rules Obamacare individual mandate constitutional.”
  • “DOJ Claims International Treaties Trump the U.S. Constitution”
  • “Drug Dogs Sniff Is An Unconstitutional Search”
  • “Presidents actions unconstitutional, say Republicans”
Are any of these headlines true? How do you know? 7. The preservation of freedom requires it. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved ” Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781. One way to improve your mind is to read and study your countrys foundational documents. The Supreme Court says the Constitution is the body of our laws while the Declaration of Independence is the spirit of those laws. You must study them both, they are inseperable. 8. A republic is not self-sustaining, it must be “kept” as Dr. Franklin admonished on 17 Sept 1787. “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” George Washington, First Inaugural Address, 1789. 9. The Founders expected you to know it. “Every member of the State ought diligently to read and to study the constitution and teach the rising generation to be free. By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated, and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.” Future Federalist writer and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, (Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster County, 1777. Jay was talking about the New York State Constitution, but the sentiment is true of the U.S. Constitution which followed.) 10. Posterity depends on our knowing and keeping the Constitution “operating.” “and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” “O Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.” How can we “make good use of it” if we do not know what it says, what it means, and how it works? The good news is that studying and learning the U.S. Constitution is as easy as surfing to You Tube where numerous course videos await, taking a Hillsdale College free online course, reading a good guide book like the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, taking free online quizzes, or, yes, even taking a seminar presented by Constitution Leadership Initiative. Gary Porter About the Author: Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc., a project to inform Americans about the Founders view of their Constitution. Comments on this essay and ideas for future essays should be sent to [email protected].