Wicker on the Importance of Democracy and Civic Education

Mississippi Students and Teachers Understand America’s Founding

September 23, 2019

September 17 marked 232 years since the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia to create the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution would be ratified by the newly independent American states during the next two years, putting in place America’s governing framework, which lasts to this day. The American founding has since inspired people around the world to build more just governments in their own countries.

The Founding also continues to inspire young Americans. I recently had the chance to join classes at Choctaw County and Gulfport high schools for Constitution Day celebrations. It was encouraging to engage with bright students eager to talk about our nation’s history, politics, and origins.

Democracy Takes Work

The American government was exceptional from the beginning in part because of the process that put it in place. Other revolutionary governments had been founded by victors dividing up the spoils of war, but ours was established after the weapons were put away. The greatest minds in the land then met in what amounted to a four-month political philosophy seminar to devise this new system. Ideas like the separation of powers, checks and balances, and natural rights became realities in our written Constitution. These principles – enshrined 232 years ago – had never governed a free people before. They continue to protect Americans’ God-given rights and guide my work in the United State Senate.

The ability of students at both high schools to talk about these complex issues was truly impressive. They came to the classroom well prepared by their excellent teachers. These educators have the important tasks of covering not only what happened at the Constitutional Convention, but also what came after, including the Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction Amendments, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Era, and how Americans understand the Founding today.

 Parents and teachers are clearly doing something right every day in Mississippi. I left Choctaw and Gulfport high schools heartened by the students. I am also grateful to the educators who teach them and who invited me to join them. When a group of people asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the Constitution would provide, he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The people I met during my visits all play important roles in meeting Mr. Franklin’s charge.

A More Perfect Union 

The 55 people who wrote the Constitution were among the first American citizens. Those who met in their own seminar in 1787 would be pleased to see young people meeting today in school rooms across the United States to discuss, debate, and engage with our founding texts. That spirit of democracy in our classrooms keeps the Constitution alive. 

With these facts in mind, I am sponsoring a Senate resolution to make September “National Democracy Month.” This designation would be an opportunity to reflect on the blessings of liberty here at home and how the United States has contributed to a more stable and free world.

The Constitution is now the oldest democratic governing document on the planet. It has enabled the United States to last through the centuries and become the strongest, most prosperous, and most diverse country in history. Constitution Day and National Democracy Month celebrate these truths. They also call Americans to action as we work to form a more perfect union.