The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past

By Edwin M. Yoder | Go to book overview

The Constitution after Two Centuries

WHEN THE NATION CELEBRATED two centuries of the Constitution in 1987, the American Bar Association, meeting in New Orleans, spotlighted a poll suggesting that "Americans are woefully ill-informed about the content and meaning of the Constitution." Nearly 60 percent of those responding failed to identify the first ten amendments as the Bill of Rights, and 64 percent thought the Constitution established English as the nation's official language. Sixty-one percent thought we needed a new constitutional convention--a strange sentiment if, as the poll suggested, they know so little about the Constitution we have.

Greater constitutional literacy would be preferable. But the poll is otherwise neither more nor less disturbing than a demonstration that 60 percent of Americans fly in modern aircraft without having the foggiest notion of what a fan-jet engine is or how an airfoil functions. There is a puritanical view in some quarters that those who remain ignorant of the mechanics of life do not deserve its benefits. A more charitable operating principle prevails. Desirable

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