Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Most Americans confuse the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

The Constitution means different things to different people. While there has been resurgence in the interest and study of the Constitution, most Americans remain ill-informed. Last Constitution Day, the James Madison’s Montpelier’s Center for the Constitution held a celebration that attracted nearly 300 people. Those who attended were asked questions that had already been answered in a national poll. Here are some of the results from the multiple choice quiz:

Only 35% of the general population identified “We the People” as the first words of the Constitution. 85% of attendees selected this answer. 
78% of attendees knew that James Madison was the “father of the Constitution.” In the national poll, only 20% answered correctly and 50% thought Thomas Jefferson fathered our Constitution. 
62% of attendees correctly identified 1787 as the year the Constitution was written. 55% of the national poll respondents thought the Constitution was written in 1776, and only 13% knew the correct answer.
These results illustrate the contrast in knowledge about the Constitutional. Compared to a decade ago, more people understand the origins and content of the Constitution, but these people are still a small segment of the population. The above three answers clearly show that most Americans confuse the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The two documents are tightly linked with our founding, but had entirely different purposes.

Before adoption, the Constitution was approved by the general populous. Those early Americans knew what it said, debated what it meant, and eventually voted for its approval through their representatives at state ratification conventions. For nearly two years, the national debate on the proposed constitution dominated conversations at churches, taverns, and dinner tables. Newspapers printed daily opinion pieces we now call the Federalist and Antifederalist papers. Everybody knew about the Constitution and everybody had an opinion. An entire nation obsessed over how they would be governed. Today is a different story. 

A supreme law can be whittled away because too few pay attention. It is the responsibility of all of those who cherish the Constitution to encourage others to learn more about this founding contract between the people and their government. 

In other words, we need to reinvigorate the first three words of the Constitution.

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