Courses in American History at the college usually help students to meet this requirement.
In the 12 years I spent at Southern Tech and for the 29 years I spent at Wentworth I taught United States history every year. And whether the course focused on the early period (pre Civil War) or on the later period (Civil War to the present) I spent at least an entire week on the Constitution.
Copies of the U. S. Constitution are not hard to find. Virtually all United States history texts feature both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in an appendix. There are numerous political organizations that will furnish pocket-size copies of both documents in booklets at nominal cost. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black used to carry a copy of the United States Constitution in his pocket. A lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court knew that he was in trouble when Justice took out his booklet and started to thumb through it to look up what part of the Constitution supported the lawyer’s contentions.
Of course it’s a good idea for people to have actually read the Constitution. Often people talk of the Constitution’s guarantee of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately these words are from the Declaration of Independence not the Constitution. A reading of the Constitution reveals some surprising facts about the American system.
Where in the Constitution does it say that the federal government has the authority to create a Food and Drug Administration or a Federal Trade Commission or the Internal Revenue Service? This authority is to be found in Article One, section eight. This wording states that the federal government can make “all Laws which shall be necessary and proper foe carrying into execution the foregoing Powers….” This is the famous “elastic clause” of the Constitution.
Where does the Electoral College come from? Those who would have the presidential election decided by the national popular vote will have to amend the Constitution as the Electoral College is provided for in Article II. It is hard to imagine that Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and North and South Dakota among other “fly over’ states would ratify the required amendment.
Article lll of the Constitution sets the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and it might come as a surprise to some that Congress has the right to limit the matters that the Supreme Court can hear on appeal. Theoretically Congress can take some matters off the table. An example of this was the furor that surrounded the death of Terry Schiavo a young woman who was killed by water deprivation. At the time some argued that her case be made the object of direct legislation that would move her status outside any court’s realm of appeal.
Article V deals with the amendment process. An amendment must pass by two thirds majority in both houses of the Congress and then be ratified by three fourths of the states. A tantalizing prospect is that amendments could be proposed in a constitutional convention called by three fourths of the state This has never been done and some scholars wonder if another constitutional convention might decide to reconsider the entire document instead of merely posing amendments. Also, what is a reasonable time for ratification. Some say seven years and that seems to work. But consider the 27th Amendment which deals with congressional raises was first put forth in 1789. It was to be passed with the first ten amendments. This never happened and the amendment was not ratified until 1992. Is 203 years a reasonable time?
Does the country need amendments that prohibit discrimination based on gender or sexual lifestyle? All forms of discrimination are already forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment. What is lacking perhaps is the political will to act. And if civil marriage cannot be limited due to gender why should it be limited by number? Why can’t there be civil marriages involving more than two people? If you can self-identify in regard to gender and race doesn’t this mean that I can call myself an Asian-American woman tomorrow?
It can be truly said that the Declaration speaks to the soul of the nation and the Constitution speaks to the rules by which we live. Reading both documents can surely raise some eyebrows.