A Simple Way to Improve Constitutional Literacy

I have a modest proposal that will go a long way to stopping idiocies like this and this, in which Congresspersons and reporters covering national politics demonstrate a basic ignorance of the Constitution.

Please don't laugh, because I am serious about this: the full text of the Constitution should be printed in every US passport.

The US Passport was recently re-designed. What had once had a certain classic simplicity was tarted up with moderately kitschy pictures of “American Icons” and embellished with “inspirational quotes”:

The new passport comes with its own name: “American Icon.” It’s hard to think of one that was left out.

The inside cover sports an engraving of the battle scene that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner.” A couple of lines of the anthem, starting with, “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” are scrawled in what the State Department says is Francis Scott Key’s own cursive.

The short, 28-page version of the passport comes with 13 inspirational quotes, including six from United States presidents and one from a Mohawk Thanksgiving speech. The pages, done in a pink-grey-blue palate, are rife with portraits of Americana ranging from a clipper ship to Mount Rushmore to a long-horn cattle drive.

You can see an animation of the whole design at the State Department's website.

My plan is simple: remove the kitsch, replace it with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (Or, as a fallback, keep the kitsch and at least add the Declaration and the Constitution.)

Travel these days involves a great deal of waiting in line, not least at security and immigration, times when a passport is often in hand and Americans might find themselves studying the Constitution if they have nothing else to read.

In the Constitution they might find all sorts of concealed gems, ranging from the clause providing for the impeachment of all “civil officers,” to the (long) list of Congressional powers and the (much shorter) list of Presidential powers, to that interesting Fourth Amendment — good reading while you are waiting to be frisked at the airport.

More than 74 million Americans have a passport, and the number grows every year. The passport is a great opportunity for a real civics lesson based on the things that make this country great — our real American Icons: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.

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5 Responses to A Simple Way to Improve Constitutional Literacy

  1. dave says:

    A few years ago there was some effort to have an abridged version of the constitution put on the back of the one dollar bill.

  2. Brautigan says:

    Good lord that is f’ing ugly. I’m just glad I got mine renewed before the change.

    This is what you get when you have a government run by people who collect Hummels.

  3. Andy says:

    Yeah, the new passports are beyond ridiculous and gaudy.

    I’m not sure that printing the Constitution on them would solve anything. Only an insignificant few would actually read it. And some might think they have the same rights when traveling abroad.

  4. Michael says:

    After looking at some of the statistics about civic and constitutional literacy, I am convinced that all the historical documents involved in the founding and development of our nation should not only be required reading for everybody, but we should have to take tests on our knowledge of our rights, liberties and freedoms at least once a year, and immigrants applying for citizenship should be required to take courses as part of the requirements of naturalization.

    • Fortunately, a required test for everyone would I’m pretty sure be unconstitutional. (Maybe we should teach it better in schools instead? They get to give tests.)

      We do give a citizenship test to would-be immigrants that does test basic knowledge of civics.

      Which reminds me of an ancient joke, from back in the days when Judges swore in new citizens and applied the test:

      A particularly ancient lady appeared before a judge in Manhattan to apply for citizenship. Wanting to make things as easy as possible for her given her advanced age, the Judge asked the easiest question he could think of: “Where’s the capital of the United States?”

      And, instantly, the lady replied, “Why, in Rockefeller’s pocket, of course.”

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