By: Columnist Bob Grafe
Most senior citizens living in the United States are familiar with the country’s Constitution. In fact, many of us have actually read it “cover to cover.”
Remembering what year in elementary or high school that we actually read it may be difficult to accurately recall. However, we do remember reading it … don’t we?
Therefore, we can declare with all honesty that we have “read” the Constitution!
Can we state with that same honesty that we also comprehend the Constitution? That may be much more of a “stretch” for us to answer in the affirmative.
The Constitution actually only contains 4,543 words in the original, unamended Constitution, including the signatures. Average English readers, reading for comprehension, will average reading between 200 — 400 words-per-minute.
Even using the slower rate of the “average” results in the total time to read the Constitution with comprehension to less than 23 minutes. If you throw in reading the amendments to the Constitution as well that pushes the total time commitment to actually read the entire Constitution to 30 minutes or less for the average English reader.
Interestingly, if you are a legal immigrant to the United States you had to pass a naturalization test in order to be granted citizenship — including some questions pertaining to the Constitution.
Here are a couple of questions (and correct answers) from the actual United States naturalization test which is administered in the English language:
Q: What is the supreme law of the land?
A: The Constitution.
Q: What does the Constitution do?
A: Sets up the government; defines the government; and protects basic rights of Americans.
Q: The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
A: We the People.
Q: What is an amendment?
A: A change or an addition to the Constitution.
Q: What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
A: The Bill of Rights.
Q: What is one right or freedom (of several) from the First Amendment?
A: Speech, religion, assembly, press and/or petition the government.
Those questions require some limited recall, but other parts of our Constitution require much more thought process to fully grasp the real significance of the document keeping in mind the prophetic wisdom of John Adams who stated “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Perhaps it is time that senior citizens and others dust off their copy of the Constitution (or just go online and Google “United States Constitution text”) and take a few minutes to regain familiarity with that document that permeates all aspects of our American way of life.
If we just look at the opening words of the Constitution we realize how important this document is to our very existence as a sovereign country and society.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union …”
Our founders had the vision for all of us that we should continually strive to better ourselves and others. This perfect “union” of the states took many drafts and many revisions to the Constitution before it was adopted. Not everyone got everything they wanted in the document; but, everyone involved had a place at the negotiating table during those 116 days during the hot summer of 1787 when the Constitutional Convention took place.
“ … establish justice …”
Even with all of its warts, our judicial system is still the envy of the world thanks to the judicial foundations laid out in the Constitution.
“ … insure domestic Tranquility … ”
This goal continues to be a work in progress as the Constitution seems to mandate that our country’s leaders strive to provide a peaceful atmosphere for its citizens to dwell within — something that is occasionally illusive.
“ … provide for the common defense …”
If not “the” most important provision in the Constitution, it certainly ranks near the top.
“… promote the general Welfare … ”
The founders never intended that a corruption of this concept into today’s “welfare system” would exist.
“ … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity … ”
The Constitution clearly sets forth the responsibility of each generation to “secure” the blessings of liberty for both the current generation and for the generations to follow. The strict reading of this would suggest that it was intended to apply to citizens of the United States as stated in the closing words which are:
“… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
If Thomas Jefferson were alive today he would probably challenge all senior citizens and others to reacquaint themselves with their Constitution. He might even repeat this admonition that he stated while he walked among us: “Say … whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”