Students should take advantage of Constitution Day programs

Tuesday, there will be a series of events on campus to celebrate Constitution Day.

Martin Battle, associate professor of political science and sociology, has put together an impressive program beginning at 9:30 a.m. on the third floor of the Curris Center and in Freed Curd Auditorium.

Sessions will begin at 11 a.m and 2:30 p.m. in addition to the keynote address by Dana Nelson, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt professor of English and American studies at Vanderbilt University. She will speak on “The President, Democracy, and Permanent War.” in the Curris Center Theater at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday evening.

All Murray State students, yes, each of you, should attend as many of these events as possible. I want to also encourage our beloved international students to attend.

America’s founders, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and all the rest, certainly believed the crucial role that education must play in a republic.

These founders argued that in America, where “We the People” rule, rather than a monarch or an oligarchy, it is crucial that the citizens of the nation, those who rule, be an educated citizenry.

If the people are to rule, then they must be an educated people to rule wisely.

Few Kentuckians know about James Madison’s and Thomas Jefferson’s Bluegrass connections. It was Jefferson who penned the “Kentucky Resolution” in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.

And in 1822, William T. Barry, Kentucky’s lieutenant governor and head of an education commission charged with exploring the possibility of appropriations for a public school system in Kentucky, wrote to former president Madison, then back at Montpelier, his estate in Virginia.

Too few Kentuckians remember that Kentucky led out in education reform in the years before the Civil War, long before the contentious educational reform arguments of today.

Madison’s reply to Barry’s enquiry, written in an Aug. 4, 1822, letter to Barry, was based largely on his close friend Jefferson’s “Bill for the General Diffusion of Knowledge,” a bill that Jefferson defended in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published first in the 1780s as the only book that Jefferson ever wrote. (Notice the very similar terminology on the east facade of Pogue Library.)

In Jefferson’s book, he wrote that the memories of children “may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history.”

Madison agreed, and in an early justification for university study abroad programs, he assured Kentucky’s lieutenant governor that “this is especially the case, with what relates to the Globe we inhabit, the Nations among which it is divided, and the characters and customs which distinguish them.”

“An acquaintance with foreign Countries in this mode,” he wrote, “has a kindred effect with that of seeing them as travelers, which never fails in uncorrupted minds, to weaken local prejudices, and enlarge the sphere of benevolent feelings.

A knowledge of the Globe and its various inhabitants, however slight, might moreover, create a taste for Books of Travels and Voyages; out of which might grow a general taste for history, an inexhaustible fund of entertainment and instruction.”

As a teacher of history, I relish Madison’s description of history as “an inexhaustible fund of entertainment and instruction.”

Madison praised Kentucky’s early attempt in 1822 to improve its educational system, and he connected education to the well-being of a democratic republic: “The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded,” he wrote.

“A Popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or Tragedy: or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

For Madison and Jefferson, freedom and education go together, or as Madison put it, “Liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support.” Why study history?

For James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, we must all study history to ensure the survival and the prosperity of a democratic republic.

Please take advantage of the various sessions of the Constitution Day program on the third floor of the Curris Center and in Freed Curd Auditorium throughout the day, this coming Tuesday, Sept. 17.

You will be better for it.

jbolin@murraystate.edu