Why Do So Few Colleges and Universities Require Coursework in U.S. History and Government?

James Wilson, a founding father from Pennsylvania, once said that “[l]aw and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”

And, yet, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the following colleges and universities do not have a U.S. Government or History requirement. Is your alma mater on this list? I’m ashamed to admit that mine is.

We need to prioritize history and civics education not only K-12, but also in institutions of higher learning. The health of the Republic depends on it!

SCHOOLS THAT DON’T HAVE A U.S. GOVERNMENT OR HISTORY REQUIREMENT

On Thanksgiving, We’re Thankful for the Constitution.

Below is a Thanksgiving note I shared with supporter of ConSource this morning –

There is an often-told story that at the end of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman who asked him what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” To keep it, we must teach it. You cannot defend what you do not understand. And so in order for citizens to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they must first understand it.

James Wilson, a founding father from Pennsylvania, once said that “[l]aw and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”

And, yet, countless reports and studies confirm that American citizens of all ages lack a basic understanding of our nation’s history and form of government. A survey released last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that –

  • Only one in three Americans could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while just as many could not identify even one; and,
  • And about one in 10 Americans say the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.

 

Additionally, across the nation, school boards and colleges and universities are cutting civics and history programs and young citizens are, as a result, losing the opportunity to study our nation’s Constitution and history. We are not only failing to teach our citizens about U.S. history and the Constitution in primary and secondary school, but also in college. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that only approximately 18.3% of colleges and universities require even a single foundational course in American government in history.

This year on Thanksgiving, we are asking all those who are thankful for the U.S. Constitutions and the blessings of liberty it secures to consider donating to ConSource to support our important work educating citizens of all ages about the U.S. Constitution and its history. We believe our work has never been more important than it is right now.

High quality life-long civics education is essential for the continued health of the American republic.

Your gift will help ConSource ensure that Americans of all ages value, in the words of Noah Webster, “the principles of virtue and of liberty,” and that we “inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

With Sincerest Gratitude for Your Support!

 

 

On This Day in 1789, New Jersey Becomes the First State to Ratify the Bill of Rights

On November 20, 1789, New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights. The New Jersey legislators ratified 11 of the 12 amendments drafted by James Madison and approved by Congress. New Jersey rejected Article II, which would have regulated congressional pay raises (note: nearly 203 years later, this amendment was ratified and is now the 27th amendment to the Constitution).

The 12 Amendments proposed to the states in 1789 included:

Art. I. After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than one hundred representatives, nor less than one representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred representatives, nor more than one representative for every fifty thousand.

Art. II. No law varying the compensation for services of the senators and representatives shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

Art. III. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Art. IV. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Art. V. No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner prescribed by law.

Art. VI. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon principal cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Art. VII. No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia when in actual service, in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject, for the same offence, to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Art. VIII. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right of a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law; and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

Art. IX. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reëxamined, in any court of the United States, than according to the rules in common law.

Art. X. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Art. XI. The enumeration, in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Art. XII. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.

Ratification of these 12 amendments required approval by three-fourths of the states. Only 10 amendments (now known as the Bill of Rights) were ratified, when Virginia voted in favor of ratification on December 15, 1791 (now known as Bill of Rights Day).

To learn more about the history of the Bill of Rights, explore the legislative history of the Bill of Rights in the ConSource digital library or check out this recorded conversation between me and historian Carol Berkin on the history of the Bill of Rights at the National Constitution Center.

“[G]overnment of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”: Lincoln Delivers His Gettysburg Address On This Day in 1863

On November 19, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers his Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address is one of the most memorable speeches in American history. The short but powerful speech is reproduced in full below –

 

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Event Announcement: Special 225th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights Panel Discussion on December 15 at National Archives

My non-profit The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) and the National Archives are hosting a special celebration of the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The program information, including how to register and/or watch online, is below.
 

The Bill of Rights in the 21st Century 

Thursday, December 15, at 7:00 p.m.
National Archives, William G. McGowan Auditorium

Join ConSource and the National Archives for a distinguished panel of federal judges who will discuss the Bill of Rights in the 21st century, including the impact of technology.
 
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Moderated by Supreme Court correspondent Jess Bravin from the Wall Street Journal, panelists include Judge Thomas Griffith, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit;Judge Patricia Millett, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and Judge Andre M. Davis, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
 

The Founders on Freedom of the Press

Below are a selection of quotes from the Founding generation on the importance of the freedom of the press.

(1) Benjamin Franklin, Apology for Printers (1731)

“Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.”

(2) John Peter Zenger, The New-York Weekly Journal (1733)

The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.  Even a restraint of the press would have a fatal influence.  No nation ancient or modern has ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.”

(3) Massachusetts Constitution (1780)

“The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a State; it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth.”

(4) Thomas Jefferson to Dr. J. Currie (1786)

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

(5) Thomas Jefferson to William Green Mumford (1799)

“[T]o preserve the freedom of the human mind then & freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, & speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.”

(6) James Madison, Report on the Virginia Resolutions (1800)

“[T]o the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”

 

The Founders on Religious Liberty and Toleration

Below are a selection of quotations from the Founding generation on religious liberty and toleration.

(1) Charter of the Colony of Rhode Island (1663)

“[N]oe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments[.]”

(2) Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War (1775)

“[S]piritual freedom is the root of political liberty.

First. Because till spiritual freedom was made manifest, political liberty did not exist.

Secondly. because in proportion that spiritual freedom has been manifested, political liberty has encreased. . . .

As the union between spiritual freedom and political liberty seems near inseparable, it is our duty to defend both.”

(3) John Adams to Dr. Price (1785)

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions . . . shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and powers. . . we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”

(4) James Monroe, Address to the Virginia Assembly (June 20, 1785)

“We hold it for a fundamental and inalienable truth that religious and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction and not by force and violence. The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction  and conscience of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

(5) Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (1786)

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

(6) George Washington, Letter to the United Baptist Church of Virginia (1789)

“[E]very man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

(7) George Washington, Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (1790)

“While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

(8) Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut (1802)

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

(9) Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush (1803)

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of its it the case of others.”

(10) James Madison to Mordecai Noah (1818)

“I have ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect.”