The Importance of Knowledge of the Constitution

I have the good fortune of living in a house my great-grandfather built and so I am able 
to periodically peruse his library, which he established in the late 1920s. The other day, 
I happened upon a book entitled “The Constitution of the United States—Its Sources 
and Its Application
” by Thomas James Norton. It provides a window into the reverence 
and respect afforded the Constitution in 1922, the year in which the book was initially 
published, and in 1940, the date of the revised edition in my library.

Two things jumped out at me immediately. First, the purpose of the book, according to 
Mr. Norton, was “to make accessible to the citizen and his son, wife and daughter, 
and especially to his children in school, such a knowledge of the Constitution
of the United States as will serve in emergency as a ‘first line of defense.’ Such a 
book on the principles of our constitutional system should be valuable to the thinking 
American just now, when he is possessed with concern about the future of his
Republic.”

He quotes George Washington from his Farewell Address: “In proportion as the 
structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public
opinion should be enlightened.”

The tenor of the book is that all Americans should be educated about the Constitution, 
its historical sources and its current application, in order to become good and valuable 
citizens in the Republic it established. It presupposes that the government founded by 
the Constitution is the most successful governmental framework in modern history and 
that it ought to be defended.

“Democracy is the outgrowth of the religious conviction of the sacredness of every human life.”

Second, the frontispiece of the book, “Our Constitution- Civil Bible of America”, contains a statement signed by President Herbert Hoover, Presidential candidates and statesmen Alfred Smith, Alf Landon, John Davis and James Cox, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, that illuminates the great respect given by these great men and women to our Constitution:

“Menaced by dictators abroad and by collectivist trends at home, we must seek revival 
of our strength in the spiritual foundations which are the bedrock of our republic. Democracy is the outgrowth of the religious conviction of the sacredness of every human life. On the religious side, its highest embodiment is the Bible; on the political, the Constitution. The Constitution is the civil bible of Americans. Next to the Bible, the best book on the Constitution should be in every home, school, library, and parish hall.”

The comparison of the Constitution to the Bible demonstrates the respect these 
illustrious and successful men and women from both sides of the political spectrum had 
for both writings.

In a time when a national news anchor advocates removing the Bible from the hands 
of the Chief Justice as he swears in the President and a law professor advocates 
tearing up the Constitution as an unworkable relic, we would be wise to remember the 
contrary view of those wise men and women who signed off on that statement just a few
generations ago.

David W. Preston is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Wesleyan University Foundation. David was a corporate attorney in Kansas City from 1984 through 2008 and has worked with his family’s investment business since retiring from law practice. He was born in Bartlesville, grew up and attended high school in Memphis, Tennessee, and attended the University of Kansas, B.S., 1980, and the University of Oklahoma College of Law, J.D., 1984. David and his wife Shelley have been married for 31 years and have two children, Sarah Preston Radasky (27) who lives with her husband Marc in Kansas City, and William F. Preston (24) who lives in New York City.

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