Trustees | General Education

Celebrating the Constitution on its 228th birthday

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER   |  September 16, 2015 by Orange County Register Editorial

Thursday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day, celebrated nationally as Citizenship Day from 1952-2004, and by many states before then. It marks the 228th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

In honor of Constitution Day, and to remind Americans of the importance of our system of government, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization “committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America’s colleges and universities,” conducted a survey to test college graduates’ knowledge of their government. The results were somewhat depressing.

From the four choices available, less than half (44 percent) of the population identified Elena Kagan as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, while 12 percent chose Secretary of State John Kerry and 13 percent named Judith Sheindlin (a.k.a. Judge Judy). Eleven percent thought the Constitution had to be reauthorized every four years (and an additional 25 percent answered “Don’t know”).

Even among college graduates, barely half (54 percent) knew that Vice President Joe Biden serves as president of the Senate (32 percent picked House Speaker John Boehner), and only 28 percent correctly identified James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution,” compared with 59 percent who selected Thomas Jefferson.

Only 54 percent identified the correct terms for members of Congress (six years for senators, two years for representatives), a mere 42 percent knew that three-fourths of the states must ratify a proposed constitutional amendment to enact it, and 35 percent thought the president, not Congress, has the power to declare war. The latter result is understandable, given that Congress has repeatedly abdicated this authority, refusing to officially declare war in every military conflict since World War II.

“The findings are deeply troubling and underscore how our educational institutions are utterly failing to prepare our next leaders for citizenship,” ACTA President Anne Neal said in a statement. “In a republic which depends on an educated citizenry, it’s crucial that all Americans – especially college graduates – are fully familiar with the rights and responsibilities set out in the Constitution.”

While history has proven correct the “Antifederalist” founders, such as Patrick Henry and George Mason, who criticized the Constitution for creating a too-powerful national government whose threats to individual liberties would not be contained by its “checks and balances,” the Constitution nevertheless represents a noble attempt to restrain the powers of the federal government and preserve freedom. More Americans should learn – and remember – this lesson.


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