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The Founders understood; too many of us do not

"The Man from Monticello: An Intimate Life of Thomas Jefferson" by Thomas J. Fleming ought to be required reading in every American school.

Obviously, it is not, given present society's general ignorance of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Mr. Fleming's engaging book, though 45 years old, provides evidence of just how painstakingly thorough the Founding Fathers were with each and every word of the 13 colonies' Declaration of Independence in that famous summer of 1776. Indeed, the written word meant something to these brave and noble 56 signers of the Declaration.

The author presents Thomas Jefferson's original text with edits made by John Adams and others. The Founders measured each and every word with the care and precision of a brain surgeon.

For example, in this passage: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…," Mr. Jefferson had used "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable with certain inalienable Rights."

In a later passage, Jefferson's "everlasting adieu" was changed to "eternal separation." (Personally, I like both. But the cynic in me prefers "everlasting adieu!")

It wasn't that Mr. Adams was pedantically inclined – or perhaps he was. More likely, he and other Founders had a full comprehension and understanding that they were about to turn the world on its collective ear and, in so doing, they might as well get it right.

After all, freedom and liberty would depend on this 1776 Declaration and the subsequent U.S. Constitution in 1789. (For the record, our Constitution is not 400 years old, as Democrat Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said recently.)

By the way, this website provides a glimpse of the Declaration of Independence edits by John Adams and Ben Franklin: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/rough.htm.

The Founders' many sacrifices come to mind again as we struggle to understand today's teaching concepts.

When Highland County Press sports editor Stephen Forsha was in Athens this month for the Ohio high school basketball tournament, he brought back copies of The Athens News and The Athens Messenger.

In the March 8 Messenger, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker points out that a new high school textbook includes 213 lines of text about Marilyn Monroe and less than 50 lines on George Washington. (Ms. Parker points out in a footnote to high school students that George Washington was our first president. Who knew?)

Ms. Parker goes on to report on a study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that measures high school students' understanding of the First Amendment and a free press. She shares these findings from the study:

• 35 percent of students surveyed think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights in guarantees.

• 32 percent think the press has too much freedom.

• Only 51 percent thought newspapers should be allowed to publish stories without government approval.

"The lesson we have failed to teach is that without access to information and a free press, there are no other freedoms," Ms. Parker writes. "The alternative to a free press inevitably is totalitarianism, after which come screams in the night." (She was referencing former Communist Whittaker Chambers' book "Witness.")

Not only is it a sad commentary when a sitting member of Congress does not know the history of our Constitution, it's also a sad commentary when a sitting president repeatedly violates our Constitution.

In a Christmas 2013 column published by Forbes magazine (http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/12/23/president-obamas-top-10-constitutional-violations-of-2013/), Ilya Shapiro, editor of the Cato Supreme Court Review, presented President Obama’s top 10 constitutional violations of 2013.

Those violations included:

1. The delay of Obamacare’s out-of-pocket caps. "This may have been sensible — insurers and employers need time to comply with rapidly changing regulations — but changing the law requires actual legislation," Shapiro wrote.

2. The delay of Obamacare’s employer mandate.

3. The delay of Obamacare’s insurance requirements. "The famous pledge that 'if you like your plan, you can keep it' backfired when insurance companies started canceling millions of plans that didn’t comply with Obamacare’s requirements. Obama called a press conference to proclaim that people could continue buying non-complying plans in 2014 – despite Obamacare’s explicit language to the contrary."

4. Exemption of Congress from Obamacare.

5. Expansion of the employer mandate penalty through IRS regulation.

6. Political profiling by the IRS.

7. Outlandish Supreme Court arguments. "Between January 2012 and June 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Justice Department’s extreme positions nine times," Shapiro wrote. "The cases ranged from criminal procedure to property rights, religious liberty to immigration, securities regulation to tax law. They had nothing in common other than the government’s view that federal power is virtually unlimited."

8. Recess appointments.

9. Assault on free speech and due process on college campuses.

10. Mini-DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. "Obama, contradicting his own previous statements claiming to lack authority, directed the Department of Homeland Security to issue work and residence permits to the so-called Dreamers. The executive branch undoubtedly has discretion regarding enforcement priorities, but granting de facto green cards goes beyond a decision to defer deportation in certain cases," Shapiro said.

Then, of course, in his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama stated outright that he was going to enact legislation with or without Congress.

Ohio's Second District Congressman Brad Wenstrup calls this administration an "imperial presidency."
 
“More and more, the rule of law is being trampled,” Rep. Wenstrup said this week.

“President Obama has vowed to simply act without Congress. That ignores the balance of power that’s taught in grade school," Rep. Wenstrup said.

Therein lies the problem, Congressman. It's not being taught in grade school or in high school or in college.

Students today are getting an endless dose of pop culture disguised as curricula. What they are lacking is an adequate antidote.

Reading Mr. Fleming's book would be good medicine.

Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk, at Paperitalo Publications and the owner of The Highland County Press in Hillsboro, Ohio. He can be reached by email at rory.ryan@taii.com or roryeryan@gmail.com.


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