Our Revolutionary Constitution
By Kim Childress
The foundation of our democratic system of government, acclaimed by other countries as The Ideal to strive for in a democratic system (#goals), The United States Constitution is a radical document, created after much debate, which has served as our governing principles for 230 years; and the story of the Constitution as well as its creation needs to be taught to young people (and adults), for at its core, the US Constitution preserves our current system of democracy.
Since childhood I personally have had a passion for All Things Constitution and Revolutionary War, which I partially attribute to Schoolhouse Rock Saturday Morning cartoons— which were basically “educational” commercials during cartoon-Saturdays—my “Internet Obsession” growing up, every Saturday. In further self-reflection, I realized my passion for this period in our nation’s history was also stirred by the Suffragette Movement (the battle for women’s right to vote, in case you don’t know), which was also sung about in Schoolhouse Rock cartoons.
The point is, I did not have the Internet as a child, but having worked in publishing since its invention and implementation, I see how the Internet has created a shift in society, in the ways people gather and process information. We actually have the Internet thanks to Freedom of Speech. Also, thanks to the Internet, Schoolhouse Rocks cartoons can now be viewed on YouTube, via SchoolhouseRockTV1.
Carrying my crazy Constitutional passion to college, I studied political science, where I wrote a detailed thesis arguing the Constitution was created for the Common Good of All, as in We the People—not for the personal gain of the Founders. I presented my argument using excerpts from sources including the writings of James Madison, who chronicled everything said during the Constitutional Convention, and The Federalist Papers, essays debating the Constitution. (I got an A.)
Why is it important for kids to learn about the Constitution?
In the words of Juliette Turner, former Youth Advocate for Constituting America and author of Our Constitution Rocks! “It is of utmost importance for kids, the future generation of America, to understand the relevancy of our Constitution, the law of the land. It is America's road map and guide, written without reverence, and without a working knowledge of it, we will lose our country.”
“The Constitution is a necessity to control the selfish nature of human beings,” offers professor of political science and author, Douglas A. Van Belle, in his book, A Novel Approach to Politics, Introducing Political Science through Books, Movies, and Popular Culture.
I rather prefer and have come to believe another viewpoint argued by Thomas Jefferson, that “humankind is ultimately good in nature.” Under the details set forth within the Constitution, it was determined that in situations where abuse of power should arise, no matter which branch of government, those holding positions of power would ultimately be “kept in check” by the people.
Creating a Government
In creating and debating the Constitution, America’s Founding Fathers had to find a perfect formula for freedom—a balance between democracy and a republic. The Founders wanted absolute freedom, they wanted the states to be united, and they wanted the people to have inalienable rights.
The Framers wanted a government with checks and balances that didn’t prohibit the people. To establish their purpose, the opening of the Constitution, known as the Preamble, summarizes what the Constitution is meant to accomplish, and also who we are and what we stand for as a country. As I write I’m singing the Schoolhouse Rock song in my head:
“We the People, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” -Preamble, US Constitution (and Schoolhouse Rock)
At the time, use of the words “We the People” was revolutionary and had never been heard before.
Context of the Constitutional Convention in a few short sentences
After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, America adopted “The Articles of Confederation,” rules written down which formed a system of government and technically our first Constitution, but it had many problems. Each state thought of itself as its own little country. We had no Union.
With instructions from Congress to debate and revise the Articles of Confederation, fifty-five representatives from 12 of the 13 states traveled to Philadelphia in 1787. (Rhode Island chose not to participate.) These great thinkers, since termed Founding Fathers and Framers, realized instead of a revision, they needed to draft something completely new. This Constitutional Convention lasted four months, 100 days, and in the end our Founders established a nearly perfect formula for freedom, the first ever of its kind, in the entire world! And then they all agreed on it!
The Great Debates
Previous governments and philosophies were studied, including John Locke, who first established the idea of inalienable rights (as in, everyone has the right to life, liberty and happiness.). A three-party system was conceptualized and created, and many issues of the time were addressed, such as Freedom of Speech, the Right to Bear Arms, Freedom of Religion, and separation of church and state.
Having just experienced religious persecution, the Founders believed everyone should be free to worship how they chose, the Founders advocated separation of church and state so strongly that they barred the regular practice of prayer before each meeting of the Constitutional Convention. The Founders also postulated that a centralized religion could come to control government policy. Similarly, The Founders were against the formation of political parties, wary of possible sway of powerful individuals and lobbying groups.
Freedom of Speech was critical to the Founders, and as established by the Constitution, enables us to Use Our Voice. These Framers lived during a time of a different “cancel culture,” as in, if you wrote or spoke out against the rulers, you were permanently canceled. The Constitution establishes and protects the freedom to speak out and demonstrates this Freedom of Speech to countries where journalists are regularly jailed and killed.
The Constitution also guarantees We the People a voice in government through Voting Rights. Our ability to vote serves as a way for us to use our voices as well as a “check” on government. Free elections are KEY to our established form of government, and children need to be taught from a young age, “Your voice matters,” and, “Never let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t matter.”
Why it Matters
People need to be educated on their rights and freedoms, which are so often taken for granted, and how we arrived at these freedoms. To take one step further, we must all remember that we have a voice, and the freedom to use it, through our writings and our votes. Freedom of Speech and Press, plus the ability to vote, are extremely important to me, an educated woman, business owner, and registered independent voter since age 18, so I could vote for the most qualified person for the position regardless of party affiliation.
Keeping the idea in mind that the Constitution was created for the Common Good of We the People and not personal gain, the Founders had enough foresight to build into its foundations the ability to make amendments, for new and emerging situations.
What can we do?
As I pen this piece, we have arrived at a time in history when our entire democracy is being attacked. With the advent of new technologies, the Internet and mass media has been found to sway the masses in ways never witnessed before. Freedom of Speech and the Press are attacked with perpetuated claims of fake news; the integrity of our elections has been put in doubt, and most recently, restricted voting rights.
As a result, we need to respond responsibly, journalists and media outlets are responsible for reporting accurately and ethically. While individuals need to claim responsibility to know what is going on in the world around them, to be discerning, and check facts and sources--especially in light of targeted misinformation campaigns being carried out over social media.
What happens as we experience unprecedented life-and-death realities, corruption, injustice and infringement of inalienable rights? Time shall tell, as is what always happens, and one reason we study history. But I hold hope for our America, and in the “inherent good” of people. I believe truth always wins, the innate desire for the Common Good held by most individuals will continue to help overcome what lies ahead.
The United States Constitution remains relevant and vitally important. Fortunately, more resources are readily available for educators and parents to help teach the Constitution to their kids, one example includes Constituting America’s annual We the Future Contest. Additional fiction and nonfiction books on the Constitution and Revolutionary War are shared below, all with excellent homeschool, classroom and applications for educational opportunities. The Constitution remains a required subject to be taught, annually, and these books and many resources exist to help teachers meet this curriculum need.
The Constitution, in Articles One, Two and Three, gives us our legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. It establishes a system of checks and balances. Our Bill of Rights forever protects our rights to live and pursue our dreams. Our system of government must be protected, which includes educating kids and adults, so We the People may understand and reflect on this truly revolutionary document, which has continued to guide our government and inspire other countries for 230 years, making it the oldest, operative, written constitution in the history of the world.
Our Constitution survives because of “We the People,” and it is up to us to rally around and preserve it. If we neglect the foundation of our country, our freedoms will slowly crumble.
About Kim Childress
An award-winning editor and author of hundreds of books for children and their adults including Find Your Future in Art, Kim Childress is a product developer in children’s publishing, book editor for Girls’ Life magazine since its 1994 debut; former middle grade acquisitions editor for Zondervan, an imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, who has maintained a successful career while raising a personal focus group of four children through diapers, doctors, broken bones, college, and plagues.