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Read the rulebook

As Congressman J. Randy Forbes points out elsewhere on this page today, the United States Constitution was signed 223 years ago today in Philadelphia by 39 men who had gathered at a Constitutional Convention to discuss the type of organizing document that would help ensure the existence of the young American republic well into the future.

There’s enough to be ashamed of regarding early American history — slavery and the violent interactions with Native Americans come to mind immediately — but two shining documents remain today as proof of the tremendous heights to which that colonial society climbed in its pursuit of a new social and political order.

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution both are snapshots of a society that was striving to be so much more than it had been expected to be, so much more than it ever could have been in Great Britain, so much nobler than portrayed by its enemies. The words and the sentiments in those documents have proven to be so powerful as to have withstood the test of time. They’ve been altered slightly in the ensuing seasons, but the founding principles of our nation remain just as strong as ever.

In order to help people recognize the value of the Constitution, the Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations celebrate this week as Constitution Week, encouraging high school and middle school students to write about the document and its meaning in their lives and promoting reflection on the topic among the general public.

As the founding and guiding document for the American republic, the words of the U.S. Constitution are often used by people of all political stripes to buttress whatever point they are trying to make in the great and continuing debate on the policies of our nation.

Too many Americans enter that debate without having, really, the first clue about what the document actually says. Too many others succumb to the temptation to twist the Constitution’s words to their own ends, rather than adjusting their plans and programs to fit the Constitution.

Some folks who wouldn’t think of signing a contract without first reading it think nothing of being ignorant to their rights and responsibilities as American citizens. Among other things, the Constitution is the most basic set of rules for life as an American and for organizing the government that was created to support this nation.

If you haven’t read the rulebook, take a chance this week to pick it up and do so. You might be amazed at how much your game improves.