A Constitution to Die For

© St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tad Armstrong

“Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world,” said Daniel Webster, acclaimed orator and constitutional lawyer. Albert Einstein, a naturalized American citizen said: “The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.” We have memorialized Webster in bronze at the State Houses of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in New York’s Central Park and each of them in the District of Columbia. It seems our nation once thought they had something important to say. 

September 17th will mark the 223rd anniversary of the day the Constitution was approved for ratification. It will also mark the 6th anniversary of the Congressional mandate that the Constitution be celebrated in every school that receives federal funding. While I enthusiastically favor a Constitutional renaissance, this mandate from on high arrived on the doorsteps of educational institutions pregnant with irony.

First, those responsible for creating this celebratory law and nearly all of the American people affected by it failed to know their Constitution well enough to recognize that a federally mandated requirement to honor it is itself likely unconstitutional. Article I grants Congress limited powers (the word “education” is not found anywhere in the Constitution) and the Tenth Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government to the States. Do you believe, therefore, that the federal government should be dictating the curricula of your local schools? And, independent of the constitutionality of yet one more reach for power, do you really want Congress meddling in your children’s education?

Second, Congress apparently believed it necessary to impliedly threaten the loss of federal education money if a school failed to teach the bare minimum required by the Act on one day per year. The Act was either shameless grandstanding to make us feel secure in the knowledge that Congress will take care of our children’s Constitutional education even if our state and local representatives will not, or, if our kids would not otherwise receive even that much education without the heavy hand of Congress, then the Act miserably failed to respond to a very serious problem. That is, unless you believe Webster got it wrong.

Third, schools receiving federal funding (what schools don’t?) must comply, but Congress supplied no help. Apparently, they deemed this education imperative enough to put on the backs of state and local government, but thought less of funding it. Welcome to the growing unconstitutional list of unfunded federal mandates.

In 2008, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute quizzed 2,500 American citizens on basic civics. 1,800 flunked. The general public scored 49%, elected officials 44% and only 27% of them (they are the ones who take an oath to support the Constitution) could identify a right or freedom guaranteed by the first amendment. Little wonder that many of them have forgotten that an oath is a promise. Tell me, how can one “support” that of which he has little knowledge?

Most of us have never experienced the whistle of bullets on a battlefield or the fear and uncertainty of waiting at home while our spouse does in the pursuit to preserve freedom. Face it, most of us have not “earned” the freedom we have been given. It has been purchased with the blood of heroes past and present (over one million of our military since the Revolutionary War) who have died for our right to pursue happiness. I am asking you to “earn” your share of freedom by “learning” something about who we claim to be as a nation. Giving yourself and your family the power of knowledge is no sacrifice at all in comparison.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “A democracy can never be ignorant and free.” In other words, education is required to preserve freedom in a country where the responsibility for doing so rests with its citizens.

This nation faces one of its greatest challenges since our founding. “Earn it, Learn it or Lose it.” Shall we defeat ignorance or be defeated by it? ELL Constitution Clubs challenges you to earn your share of freedom. The new ELL journey will begin on September 17 – Constitution Day – with a most exciting website launch for our nation. Mark your calendars with our new URL (www.ellconstitutionclubs.com). Roll up your sleeves and know that one person can make a difference. With your help and your work, “We, the People” can govern once again.


  1. Tad Armstrong says:

    Thanks, Steve.

  2. Congratulations on your new site, Tad!

  3. Roy Miller says:

    Let us not forget we love to pay taxes for ball stadiums or build them before they even have a team. How about paying those superintendents exhorbant amount of bonuses but turn right around and cut school budgets and lay off teachers and then turn right around and blame the big bad Labor Unions. We need an over haul of our education system. This country is quickly loosing the edge we used to have on education over the rest of the world. If the states can’t do it, then who?

    • Tad Armstrong says:

      Roy, you have the distinct honor of being our very first commentator on the ELL Constitution Clubs website. I really enjoyed all of your comments today. Just one question on your last sentence. I’m not sure what you mean. The states absolutely can and should do it. My criticism is that Congress has no business in dictating the curricula of state and local schools. Thanks, again. Tad