The Importance of the Constitution

As your child is working through the instructional unit, it is important to note a few things as to why we are studying the Constitution. One of my presentations, done on Prezi, states that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (political rivals at the time) corresponded with one another in the years after their respective presidencies. It’s so funny: Jefferson, who was a staunch Anti-Federalist, was Adams’ Vice President from 1797-1801. He decided to run against the Federalist Adams in 1800 because he severely disagreed with Adams’ policies (the U.S. was on the verge of going to war with France, after several spies with ties to France were caught in the country; Adams started censoring the press because they kept criticizing his polices…sounds familiar, right?).

The President and Vice President were selected under different circumstances back in 1789. Essentially, whoever placed second in the election would become the Vice President. This is markedly different from today, where the presidential candidate chooses someone as his or her running mate, and therefore that person is the candidate for Vice President. Very rarely today do you see people from different political parties running on the same electoral ballot.

So, two colleagues and rivals, clearly. It must’nt have been a fun electoral season, and indeed, it wasn’t. With the U.S. on the verge of switching control from one political party (Adams’ Federalists) to another (Jefferson’s Anti-Federalists, or “Democratic-Republicans”), there was fear that the country would be embroiled in a violent takeover of power. The election of 1800 was decided by the House of Representatives, who gave the presidency to Jefferson. When he assumed the office on March 4th, 1801, nothing happened. There were disputes over appointments Adams made to his cabinet in the last few months of his presidency, but our federal republican system remained intact.

Which now brings us to the correspondence. Jefferson’s presidency ended in 1809, and correspondence resumed between the two. Their letters displayed their passionate arguments on their respective feelings for how the still-young republic should run. That debate was still going on even when the two men died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826; one could even argue that it is still happening today: given all the changes in the structure of government, what should its role be? Should we still have a large federal bureaucracy? Should Congress be the only branch that declares war even though it hasn’t declared one since 1941? Should we allow the election of justices to the Supreme Court to ensure an activist approach to protect the will of the people?

I think documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberately designed to be imperfect, so that we can continue the discourse regarding their contents. Otherwise, their words are taken for granted and all discussion ceases. However, that discourse can only be done in the school systems, which was something that the founders (especially Jefferson) felt strongly about implementing: who was going to tell the story of the Revolution long after they passed?

Us teachers, along with you, the parents, have the responsibility to do so. For your reference I have included here a link to the Constitution Day website, which has many sources for teachers, students, and parents alike. Please take the time to dive into these materials as we progress through the unit. Constitution Day Website

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