Our Constitution

Our ConstitutionOur Constitution by Donald A. Ritchie and JusticeLearning.org.  Oxford University Press, 2006.  256 pages.  Recommended for ages 12 and older.  ISBN: 9780195223859.

I once had a sociology professor who said that the United States is like a baby toy that wobbles but doesn’t fall down. This book gives me a tremendous amount of respect for the men who wrote the Constitution and the first 10 Amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights. They built for us a government with such strong checks and balances and such protection of rights that, although the country has wobbled many times, in 200+ years it has never fallen down

The book starts with chapters that introduce the Constitution such as “Why Was the Constitution Necessary” and “What Rights Does the Constitution Protect.” In this introduction one finds a discussion of two different ways in which the judicial branch interprets the Constitution. Some judges see it as a living document to be interpreted in light of the times.  Some judges look at it and try to determine what the framers meant in writing it. Another discussion makes clear why the framers thought protecting individual rights against the government was so important. In addition, there is an explanation of why slavery wasn’t abolished by the first seven Articles or the first 10 Amendments and a look at how that decision affected and continues to affect the country.

Following the introduction, there is a two-page spread for each Article and Clause or set of Clauses. On that spread, the original wording is presented along with text about the meaning.  Many spreads also include bits of history about the Article and key court cases involving that Article and Clause. Timelines for some Articles are found in separate two-page spreads.

After the Articles, the author turns to the Amendments. Here the author switches to a four-page spread. Just as in the Articles section the author use two pages to pair the original wording with what the wording means. The second two page spread contains a timeline for the Amendment. The timeline, among other things, includes key Supreme Court cases related to the Amendment as well as key acts of Congress intended to uphold the Amendment.

Throughout the book there is plenty of room for quotes regarding the Constitution, pictures pertaining to Articles and Amendments, and text boxes filled with history about the Articles and Amendments. Besides that, the prose is easily accessible.

This book works beautifully as a reference for the Constitution. It works equally well as a textbook on the Constitution. I learned many things that I had forgotten and, in a sad commentary on the public school system, many things I never before knew about the Constitution.

Nonfiction Monday

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4 thoughts on “Our Constitution

  1. Thanks for participating in Nonfiction Monday today! I don’t know much about the US constitution because in school and university in social choice theory our focus was on parliamentary systems and alternatives to First-Past-the-Post systems. But I know you are well-versed in US politics so I wonder what you learned that was new?

    • I learned a tremendous amount. When I went to school, the Constitution was not required reading. We learned about the basic rights the Constitution gives us. And I went to school while Watergate was going on, so I learned a good deal from that episode about how important balance of power is, and about how the Congress and the Supreme Court work to check and out of control Executive Branch. But I’d never read the document. Now I have an appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into writing the document, plus the Bill of Rights. I also learned more about the Commerce Clause, previously only known to me because of Supreme Court decisions I’d heard about. I learned how tightly stitched together our government is, so how hard it would be to actually knock it down. I learned how important it was to the framers that we have the freedoms we have, and how grateful I am for the women who came before me and fought for the right for women to vote. I learned the key role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution, and the importance of prior case law, but also that they can acknowledge a previous error and fix it (Plessy v Furgeson was replaced by Brown v. Board of Education). I could go on and on.

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