My writing has taken me into a new series called, The Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a collection of books that celebrate the life and work of the people who live in and around the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia and North Carolina. In researching my stories of the books, it has been my privilege to interview a number of people whose roots go back generations. Many small, family grave plots can be seen in the hills. Some have a small flag or stone that reads that the person was a Civil War member of the Confederacy dating back into the 1800’s. They are proud of their history and do not think of their confederate flag as a symbol of racism or bigotry, but of the bravery of the men who fought against those who had invaded their land and homes.
Hearing their stories has brought to mind how tied the people are to their mountains and their history. The “Yankee” troops that marched through these valleys and hills during the Civil War, marched on afterward to return to their northern states.
The people of the South pulled themselves up to endure rebuilding and hardship, becoming a strong part of “one nation under God”. Slavery was no more. The long road to equality began far after the ships arrived with its human cargo from Africa.
As an retired educator, I know the emphasis that I put on history in the classroom, but it has almost become, in recent years, politically incorrect to talk about slavery…even the Emancipation Proclamation which freed them. It appears that the climate of the country is to bury our heads about the past. Remembering it no more must be the road to the future. I think that this way of thinking is wrong for we should learn from our past. In all fairness, the nation must have believed that they had passed racial tensions and elected an African American President twice to follow in the footsteps of Presidents like Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. When we see violence in our streets and children who can’t walk to school in our large cities without the fear of being shot, one wonders if we have learned anything from the strife of the past.
We have a fabric in America that is woven from many different threads and backgrounds. Most school children today probably do not know that there are descendants of Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, who meet each year to celebrate who they are and to tell their stories. Many are highly educated because education was placed as a priority. (See video at end)
Who exactly was Thomas Jefferson? He certainly was a man of great contradictions. A graduate in law from the College of William and Mary, he at times defended slaves seeking freedom, but owned a large number of slaves himself. He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress…drafting the law for religious freedom…served as a governor and became the U.S. Minister to France…served as Secretary of State under President George Washington. He penned “all men are created equal.” and had a strong belief in states rights.
Jefferson also became the 3rd President of the United States. There were many issues to deal with, as there are today, for this nation. Jefferson’s were concerning trade and pirates. He doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase. Not only was there controversy with slavery, but he began the removal of Indian tribes to the newly organized Louisiana Territory….but signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. (Yes, a difficult, but talented man to understand in the midst of a growing, new nation. ) Jefferson’s talents were in mathematics, surveying, horticulture and mechanics.
He was a Christian well versed in linguistics and spoke several languages.”Baptized in his youth, Jefferson became a governing member of his local Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA. Influenced by Deist authors during his college years Jefferson abandoned “orthodox” Christianity. In 1803 he asserted, ‘I am Christian, in the only sense in which Jesus wished any one to be.’ Jefferson later defined being a Christian as one who followed the simple teachings of Jesus.”
He was the founder of the University of Virginia after leaving public office.
(Story behind picture of Lucy Cottrell was the daughter of Dorothea (Dolly) Cottrell, a house servant at Monticello who, after 1826, became the property of George Blaetterman, a professor at the University of Virginia. About 1850 Dolly and Lucy Cottrell went to Maysville, Kentucky, with the professor’s widow, who freed them five years later. In this daguerreotype Lucy Cottrell is holding Charlotte, daughter of Blaetterman’s foster son.)
Jefferson must have taken it literally that all of his hundreds of slaves belonged to him to do with as he liked. After the death of his wife in 1782, he had a relationship with Sally Hemings and fathered at least one of her children. This may have been the beginning of those who now have Jefferson as part of their heritage. Nevertheless, despite the events in his life that makes him controversial, he is consistently ranked as one of the countries “Greatest Presidents”. Presidents are often making decisions to foster their own legacy. History will play out whether the time in office points to greatness or the lack thereof.
Video. Turn on sound and enlarge for best viewing.
The question is have you read it? In this world of learning, libraries and book stores are filled with more than anyone could read in a life time. Yet, we as Americans have probably never read one of the most important documents in history. Yes, I’m talking about the Constitution of the United States.
Recently, we heard a convention speaker ask if a candidate had “ever read the Constitution of the United States?” This was a very good question, especially coming from someone who was not born in this country but immigrated here.
My question is have you read any part of The Constitution? If you are not a citizen of the U.S, you probably have not. You are not alone because The Constitution, which is our most precious document, is rarely taught or discussed in our schools and what parent is going to encourage their child to read it? Probably very few.
I thought the challenge was a good one because I have not read the entire document even though I was a teacher for many years. Bravo to those of you who have. My students discussed it in the context of studying history, but we never read it in class.
Nevertheless, I think it is important to know some facts concerning it. Therefore, I found (on history.com) some excellent questions and the answers, that might be of interest to my readers. If you read carefully the answers you do not know, you will be smarter than you were before reading. Perhaps you can even pass this along to some young person who would like to show some real intelligence in the classroom should the subject of The Constitution ever arise. (Just for fun…close your eyes after reading the question and see if you can answer it.)
- What is the Constitution of the United States of America?
The U.S. Constitution established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington.
- How many amendments to the Constitution are there?
- Which amendment to the Constitution was to lower the voting age from age 21 to 18 and who was President at the time?
It was the 26th amendment and Richard Nixon was President in 1971 when the amendment was passed.
- Which document begins with the words “We the people of the United States…”?
- What is the preamble to the Constitution?
- Did George Washington sign The Constitution. If not, why?
He did not sign The Constitution because in July 1776 he was in New York preparing to defend Manhattan against the British.
- How many states had signers of The Constitution. Was your state representative one of them? (After checking this out, be sure to return for the video below, which is on the lighter side but great to know.)
All Americans should take pride in one of the most treasured and excellent documents in the world. Perhaps you may take the challenge to read more…or all of it. Americans should also remember that during the Continental Congress, the leaders were not afraid to pray about their decisions.
Here is a quote of interest concerning this: “In the Continental Congress somebody wanted to know which one was General George Washington. He was sitting up in the gallery. And a friend said, ‘Well, if you want to see which one Washington is, when Congress goes to prayer, he’ll be the tall man who gets on his knees.’
You may be interested also in James Madison, who wrote most of The Constitution, but he rose above many disadvantages in life and accomplished much! He also wrote our Bill of Rights. He should be an inspiration to all of us.
Does the average person understand or know anything about the document that lays out the very freedoms and rights that he or she enjoys? NOT LIKELY! When the average person on the street sometimes cannot tell us who the Vice President of the United States is or what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, we cannot expect much. The frightening thing is that so many may be our voters.
This blog is for all people who would like to learn more or those who slept through their civics courses in high school. It is also for the intelligent and educated who would like to remind yourselves how difficult it was to draft and ratify our Constitution. I do know that there are also those who will see this blog title and say to themselves..”No, I , don’t care and I don’t plan to be bored. There is no real action here! ” Therefore, we exclude those persons and hope that their freedoms are not gone when the Constitutional rights of all of us are ignored.
Maybe someone will pass this guide, The Constitution, and the book from which I share facts and ideas along to those trying to set up order and freedom in their countries and to those people left in the USA who care about this subject as much as they care about cell phones, emails, Facebook, Twitter and other conveniences of the day.
My information briefly provided here is taken primarily from a fine book, The Framing & The Fathers of the U.S. Constitution by Max Farrand with an introduction by Wayne LaPierre (Privately printed for the members of The Library of American Freedoms)
- WHO WAS THE AUTHOR, MAX FARRAND?
Max Farran lived from 1869-1945 and was a distinguished historian. He taught history at Yale, Wesleyan, and Stanford. Several of his books are known as classics. He tried to make history come to life by retelling in detail the exciting story of the Framers, Debaters, and rugged people who wrote and ratified the Constitution of the United States of America.
- WHAT IS SOME OF THE BACKGROUND LEADING UP TO THE RATIFICATION?
In 1781, the Revolutionary War was mostly over with the surrender of British General Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown. The 13 original colonies, now states, no longer had any allegiance to England, but had their own political freedom. Now the challenge began to see if they were able to establish and maintain an effective government.
(From time to time, we will quote and highlight words from the Constitution even though we may be jumping ahead in a time-frame before it is actually written.) Some of these words referred to the challenge that lay ahead and what it would mean to those who had fought and struggled for this new independence. “…to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
- WHAT WERE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS FACING THE NEW STATES?
In many ways, each state was acting on its own…taxing each other…without concern for the another state. When problems arose, they even considered military action. Each tried to write out some laws to help in governing themselves. The Revolutionary Declarations, or Bill of Rights, were adopted between 1776-1780. The Bill of Rights was Ratified in 1791.
HAVE YOU EVER READ THE BILL OF RIGHTS? READ THESE ARTICLES CAREFULLY FOR THEY ARE YOUR LIBERTY AND PERSONAL RIGHTS!
(Some of these ARTICLES need to be emphasized here in the light of problems in our own government agencies today, and in other countries, especially in the Middle East, that are moving toward a theocracy and not a democracy even though they have taken to the streets and shed their blood to try achieve democracy. They simply do not have the leadership that is willing to look at a plan that worked and continues to work after hundreds of years. One lady who testified before Congress recently said, ” I am terrified that the rights I knew as a child are slipping away.” We pray our leaders will not let this happen. )
THE ARTICLES IN THE BILL OF RIGHTS:
- Government shall not establish a national religion. (We may worship or not worship in any way that we wish to do so.)
- Also in the light of recent possible stifling the press…“abridging the freedom of speech or the press…”
- The right to assemble (Where do we think we got the privilege without fear to have town hall meetings; go to church, synagogue, temples and mosques; demonstrate for a particular cause…political or non-political?)
- Search warrants and acquiring permission from the owner to enter a home or property
- Due process of law when accused and a speedy trial with witnesses
- No cruel or excessive punishment.…(We struggle with the issue of water-boarding and interrogation tactics of non-citizens enemies and terrorists since the USA was attacked as well as many other countries around the world. The recent movie, Zero Dark Thirty gives a graphic view of this disturbing problem. )
- States Rights. which is a separation from the Federal Government.
ALL of which are important to personal liberties that are spelled out in the Articles below. I did not repeat everything…so read it for yourself. Be informed. You may need it someday.
The Continental Congress was formed in 1774 (seven months before the Revolutionary War began) This had been established to protest the British in their “Intolerable Acts”.
- WHAT WERE THE RESULTS OF THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS?
In May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met and drafted the Declaration of Independence and The Articles of Confederation. Thomas Jefferson was the author and his purpose was not only to declare freedom but to reach further into the future with what we today would need to govern ourselves. He had great wisdom and fore-sight. It may be mentioned here also that these men were men of faith and prayers were led and said during this time of searching for the right form of government. They looked not to establish a religion but to acknowledge the God of the universe by Whom they believed they were being led. One might call the Constitution a guide-book or a map to keep us on the right path.
Two extremely important principles to the establishing of a democracy were laid out:
- Government exists for the well-being of the people and not to be their rulers. If a government becomes dictatorial, the people have a right to resist and overturn that government. (Today, we would say “vote them out” since we frown on anarchy.)
- All men are created equal. (Basically this says that “all members of society have full protection under the law and a right to participate in public affairs.” As we know, it was a long time for our nation to catch up to this true meaning… as we waited for the freedom of the slaves; civil rights; women to vote…and now we struggle with the morals of society and what rights people have under the Constitution in the areas of gay rights, gun owner’s rights (Article II of Bill of Rights), privacy rights and more.)
- WHY WAS THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION TROUBLESOME AND DEFICIENT?
The Articles of Confederation was a way for the thirteen colonies to establish what we know as the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Some difficulties were that it did not give Congress the power to collect taxes; make a military; enforce treaties or laws or regulate commerce.
A delegation came to Philadelphia in 1787 and it was not an easy job to design a government with regulations and rules that gave the freedom that they wished for after leaving an oppressive government in Great Britain.. They spent time in serious debate and compromise (unlike, it seems, that our government today is able to do) and they were successful in agreeing on the adoption of the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, which was formally signed and ratified by the required nine states on June 21, 1788.
When you hear someone say, “That is not Constitutional!”, you may now have some idea of what they are talking about from this brief introduction to the making of one of the world’s greatest documents….if not the greatest. Was it perfect? No, and the Founding Fathers knew that there would need to be changes as times changed. That is why they provided for AMENDMENTS.
THE NEXT WRITING WILL BE SOME DETAILS CONCERNING THE DRAFTING OF THE CONSTITUTION AND THE MEN WHO MADE IT HAPPEN.
In the mean time, you may want to look at some of these links. Pass them on to your families and especially urge your children and grandchildren to learn about their country’s liberties and stress that it will some day be in their hands….to protect and honor this great document and those who brought it into existence. Liberty was and is not free and it came at a great cost….in war and loss of life. The young people of today will keep it or lose it. In my title, I asked if most people even “give a flip”? I believe they do, but being vigilant is part of maintaining the freedoms we have. It will not be enough to vote with our emotions, but vote to be certain the ones who run our branches of the government are put there and appointed there with the dedication to preserving freedom and our Constitution.