Constitution Day Special: Unpacking our Constitution

Constitution Day Special: Unpacking our Constitution

Welcome to another exciting episode of the Cynthia L Simmons podcast! In this episode, we unpack the fascinating topic of the Constitution, just in time for Constitution Day, which is Sept 17. Our host, Cynthia, is joined by the knowledgeable Paula Key, a doctoral student at Liberty University and a teacher at Colorado Christian. Together, they explore the significance of the Constitution, its evolution from the Articles of Confederation, and its relationship to democracy and a republic. Join us as we journey through history and unravel the connections between our government and its British roots. Get ready for an engaging conversation filled with insights and revelations about the longest-lasting set of laws in history. It’s time to celebrate Constitution Day with Cynthia and Paula!

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Click here to learn about writers of the Constitution

Cynthia:

We are in September again and it is Constitution week. We need to talk about the wonderful Constitution that we have, which is the longest that any country has ever been under a particular set of laws. It was signed in 1787, which makes 236 years. That’s amazing. Today I have with me Paula Key, and she is a doctoral student at Liberty University and she also teaches at Colorado Christian. Paula has also done some academic writing. Welcome!

Laura, can you tell me a little bit about what was wrong with the Articles of Confederation? I just mentioned that the Constitution has lasted such a long time. It’s incredible. But what was wrong with what we had before?

Paula:

One of the easiest ways to understand the Articles of Confederation is by knowing a couple of key terms. Those terms are federation and confederation. And I find that a lot of people are not super familiar with what these words actually mean. Today. Our Constitution in America, it puts us under a federation, which basically means that we’re a group of states that are united under one central government.

A confederation is a group of states that are united but they have more decisive power within the state itself rather than the federal government. Obviously, this can lead to a lot of issues. For example, if each state issued its own currency, we would have to exchange currency every time we cross state borders, which would be kind of a pain. So it just makes sense for us to be more united among ourselves and less divided among our individual states, especially with certain particular issues.

Cynthia:

You say that we are a republic, but we are also democracy and a republic. We obviously vote for our leaders, but what is a republic, and how is that different from just a pure democracy?

Paula:

Right? That’s a great question.

America is a constitutional republic, and I actually put this in the article I have published. It basically means that the highest power in our land is a document and not a person. That means that all of our leaders should follow our document, which is our constitution.

Democracy simply means rule by the people, and that’s our right to elect our representatives. We are definitely a republic. In the classical republican tradition at the time of the framing, our constitution sought to balance the interest of classes or estates, not individuals, which is often different than what we hear today.

I think modern history is really filtered through a lens of race, class, and gender. And so it’s interesting that the founders were thinking of those issues at the very beginning, but that changed as Thomas Jefferson came into office. We became much more democratic, and I think a lot of the people who were in office prior to Jefferson’s presidency, they sort of assumed that their children would end up taking the next positions and it would be a generational thing that would go on.

Jefferson said, no, we need to have more voting. The people need to make more of those kind of decisions. And it sort of angered some of the people who were in office that their posterity may not get the role going forward, but it definitely gave us more power as people. And so Thomas Jefferson is often criticized because of that. It’s very interesting, but, yeah, we are a constitutional republic, we are a democracy, and we are a federation. So all four of those words in various ways go together.

Cynthia:

One of the things that you mentioned is that you said that our form of government with the Senate and House of Representatives is based on Britain’s structure. How is it the same and how is it different?

Paula:

We were based on English law in a lot of ways. The American Revolution was sort of an English Civil War because you had England fighting England. Although we have the English Civil Wars of the 16 hundreds, so don’t confuse those. You can’t really call the American Revolution a Civil war, but essentially that’s what it was.

After we had our formal break from England, we took a lot of those laws and put them into our own constitution. Slavery is a big issue that we talk about today. Obviously, the Founders had that discussion, but there’s a lot of other things.

There’s a really great book by historian Forrest McDonald that talks about the ideological origins of the Constitution, and he makes a great case for international waters. Separation of powers, how that came from Montesquieu and a lot of the ideas of the Enlightenment, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson really leaned on Lockean theory. And Two Treatises of Government by John Locke was a major part of all of that. And you could really even go back as far as the Magna Carta in the twelve hundreds and talk about how English law developed all the way from the Magna Carta through the English Civil Wars and then how we took that and developed it even further to create our own constitution.

Cynthia:

Well see that is interesting because based on the Magna Carta, didn’t the people of Britain have some kind of say in the government?

Paula:

Yeah. So themes of absolutism were definitely prevalent in England and that’s a lot of what the English Civil Wars were all about were those themes of absolutism. And then you had Parliament coming in and trying to make some decisions. It wasn’t extremely democratic, but it got more democratic as time went along and there were a lot of aspects to what was actually going to be democratic. A lot of people want to incorporate things like the Second Amendment and gun laws into that. Well, that really wasn’t part of it in the 16 hundreds, but there were laws about weapons that we can even go back and look at today and kind of link those things together as to why the founders thought that was a good idea to put that in our bill of.

Cynthia:

I know that from my study of Georgia history that the colonists in Georgia did have an opportunity to vote for a kind of a lower house parliament in Georgia, but it didn’t have a lot of power over things that England decided to do. So in some ways, we kind of followed that pattern of the lower house and upper house, which I think is interesting. Of course they had the King and.

Paula:

Georgia was one of the weaker colonies as far as all that’s concerned too. We were the last founded and we were sort of a border protection. They wanted to protect that Spanish border and most of the people here were Tories, not Wigs, which means they were loyal to the Crown. Whereas like up in Massachusetts, in the New England area you really had more know, the Sons of Liberty and that kind of thing. Although we did have our own group down here, I think they were the Liberty Boys.

Cynthia:

They were the Liberty Boys. The reason that we were so loyal to the Crown is that we were protected from the Indians. We were the smallest colony and as people were moving over into the countryside. They were having problems with Indians and they wanted the Brits to protect them. Although there were some further down in Darien, Georgia that had come from Scotland. and They were very interested in freedom. Who authored our constitution and what kind of problems did they face?

Paula:

Well, so the founders saw problems occurring because of the Articles of Confederation and economics plays somewhat of a role in this. There are some historians who argue that if America wasn’t going through the economic issues that they had, we may not have the Constitution at all. I’m not a huge fan of that particular argument in history. Historians often are on each side of the aisle and so that’s one. You can look up the history of events like Shay’s Rebellion and maybe kind of come to your own conclusion about that.

But basically 55 delegates from twelve states gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to solve all these problems and that became known as the Constitutional Convention. Rhode island didn’t send anyone, so that’s why you have twelve. I think they were a little concerned about maintaining state sovereignty as well as some other issues.

In terms of difficulty, I would say that disagreement among the delegates was a major problem. There were a myriad of controversial topics and we kind of discussed that already. Slavery obviously was a controversial issue. Separation of powers. You had theories of mixed government, the economy, salaries, taxation, property qualifications were a big one at the time. You had to own a certain amount of property in order to serve in office. And the President, I want to say in McDonald’s book, he had to be 100,000 away from debt with his property, which was an astronomical amount at that time.  A lot of that dissipated when we get into the early 18 hundreds and of course dissipated even more as time went by.

Cynthia:

The problem with a pure democracy, I understand, is that if you have a pure democracy then all the people voting can vote themselves the money of the rich. How does the constitution protect us from that?

Paula:

We have the upper house and the lower house. So England has what’s the it’s the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Right? And so the House of Lords was sort of like the elitist House and the House of Commons was for the general public and so we have the Senate and the House of Representatives, which is very similar to the setup that they have. And of course, the Senate would be more of our elitist and then the House of Representatives would be more for the common people.

I think by separating things out and then even within the states to take that a step further and this gets really confusing when you go to write your state representative you have a representative for the federal government. You have a representative for your state.

A lot of times the representatives in your state have certain specialties that they work under. So you may write to the representative for your state in your district. Well, they may not handle the issue that you’re writing about. So then you have to figure out which representative handles that particular issue, and it just becomes more specific, which does get confusing. But once you navigate your way a little bit, it really is a beneficial thing because you’re getting an expert in that field that you need help with.

Cynthia:

I did not know that. You could not necessarily write your state representative with a problem, and they might not even know the answer. How interesting.

Paula:

They work together.

Cynthia:

Cynthia:

What are some really fun things that homeschool families could do to celebrate the constitution?

Paula:

So we’ve done a lot of things. I homeschooled my two children for a long time, and I will say I think it’s obvious that they should read it. But that’s rather tedious and not always fun to sit down and read an antique document. Some people really enjoy that, but I think most kids especially find that a little bit difficult. So maybe find an annotated version or annotate it yourself. Go through it and look at it and kind of put it in layman’s terms. Okay, I just read this. What does it mean? And just kind of go through it like that.

Audio constitutions might be good for auditory learners, but I think the biggest thing you can do is once you’ve read it, make it fun, find things to do that are engaging. So you may want to do a mock constitutional convention. If you’re part of a home school group and you have a lot of students, you can assign everybody a role. They can even have a name of a certain founder and kind of research that founder. Figure out how would this person have voted. What was their argument? Then live it and make it interesting.

There’s a curriculum called a Noble Experiment by Zzok Publishing that we really liked. It’s got some great activities, including it’s got an American political heritage timeline that was super interesting. And you kind of go through all of these things and talk about how America gleaned from all of these. So that one’s really fun. And I think iCivics is another one. That’s a website that we’ve used when the White House game is fun on there. If you want to learn how elections.

Cynthia:

Go, it is interesting. I think the Bill of Rights is real important for kids to understand. How could we highlight some of the information in the Bill of Rights?

Paula:

Yeah, that’s a really important one. I think memorizing it is the key and understanding what it means, but I think it’s pretty easy to understand, and memorizing it is the harder part. So I would just play games with that. I think there are so many memorization games out there. You can do a matching game or you can create one online. My goodness, there’s just so much. But definitely memorize a Bill of Rights.

Cynthia:

Okay. Maybe have a trial by jury and try somebody. I think that would be fun. Yeah, argue the case and everything. Religious freedom of religion and speech and press. I mean, all of that’s important for us to know and for kids to understand, especially today.

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