Understanding Our Civil Rights, Constitution, and Democracy

We are both blessed to enjoy and trained to defend and guard our civil rights. We applaud or condemn the actions of our Supreme Court. Or our Congress or President. Lucky us to be able to do this protest and criticism so freely and publicly without fear of arrest, assassination, or execution.

How well do we understand the foundations of these rights and the institutions that affect them? Improving our individual understanding as responsible citizens of a vibrant democracy happens both from formal education in childhood and continued study as adults.

An excellent book about the Constitution is America’s Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. He wrote it to address the general public’s need for explanations of each section of the Constitution and why each made it into the final document, due to both logic and politics. The first section I investigated was the Second Amendment about the right to bear arms. A very interesting history that should make all of us reconsider original intent.

Another excellent read about the Constitution’s history is American Creation by Pulitzer-prize-winning (and retired Mount Holyoke chaired professor) Joseph Ellis. How did a group of committed, now-legendary individuals (despite their flaws) battle through several years of debate and advocacy to bring a nation from the document declaring its independence to a document that governs how that nation would be run? One of the most memorable points in my mind is one that is in fact indexed in the book, under Adams. Our revolution was unique among the major revolutions in recent centuries in that it was conducted deliberatively, gradually, and diplomatically. It aimed at the formation of a cohesive citizenry, seeking stability while protecting individual rights, leaving many important but contentious issues to be solved at a later date. This is an approach we can channel now — focusing on our most important social issues to promote cohesion.

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