An Enlightened, Committed People Who Understand The Principles Of Our Constitution
- The Most Effective Means Of Preserving Liberty
"Although all men are born free, slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant - they have been cheated; asleep - they have been surprised; divided - the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? ...the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it.... It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently free." James Madison
America's Constitution is the means by which knowledgeable and free people, capable of self-government, can bind and control their elected representatives in government. In order to remain free, the Founders said, the people themselves must clearly understand the ideas and principles upon which their Constitutional government is based. Through such understanding, they will be able to prevent those in power from eroding their Constitutional protections.
The Founders established schools and seminaries for the distinct purpose of instilling in youth the lessons of history and the ideas of liberty. And, in their day, they were successful. Tocqueville, eminent French jurist, traveled America and in his 1830's work, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, wrote:
".every citizen ... is taught . the doctrines and the evidences of his religion, the history of his country, and the leading features of its Constitution ... it is extremely rare to find a man imperfectly acquainted with all these things, and a person wholly ignorant of them is a sort of phenomenon."
On the frontier, he noted that "...no sort of comparison can be drawn between the pioneer and the dwelling that shelters him.... He wears the dress and speaks the language of the cities; he is acquainted with the past, curious about the future, and ready for argument about the present.... I do not think that so much intellectual activity exists in the most enlightened and populous districts of France' " He continued, "It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case...where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education.."
Possessing a clear understanding of the failure of previous civilizations to achieve and sustain freedom for individuals, our forefathers discovered some timeless truths about human nature, the struggle for individual liberty, the human tendency toward abuse of power, and the means for curbing that tendency through Constitutional self-government. Jefferson's Bill For The More General Diffusion Of Knowledge For Virginia declared:
"...experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms (of government), those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate...the minds of the people...to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth. History, by apprizing them of the past, will enable them to judge of the future...it will qualify them judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.."
Education was not perceived by the Founders to be a mere process for teaching basic skills. It was much, much more. Education included the very process by which the people of America would understand and be able to preserve their liberty and secure their Creator-endowed rights. Understanding the nature and origin of their rights and the means of preserving them, the people would be capable of self government, for they would recognize any threats to liberty and "nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud." (Adams)
Footnote: Our Ageless Constitution, W. David Stedman & La Vaughn G. Lewis, Editors (Asheboro, NC, W. David Stedman Associates, 1987) Part III: ISBN 0-937047-01-5