I apologize. I missed the perfect chance to write about our U. S. Constitution.

After all, just two weeks ago, we celebrated the day called both “Citizenship” and “Constitution” Day, and the week of focus on that document ended a week ago. Tardy or not, I am going to share some thoughts on this important subject.

On February 29, 1952, our United States Congress proclaimed September 17 as Citizenship Day. Four years later, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed Citizenship Week. The purpose of those announcements was to encourage school children and those of voting age to study the Constitution and to be aware of its contents. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “It is every American’s right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.”

Sorry, T. J., I don’t think many have done that. I cringe these days when people start demanding their “rights” and don’t even know what they are. Current statistics on this subject worry me, and I am not easily alarmed.

When only 37 percent of those interviewed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania (that’s one in three) can’t name a single right protected by the Constitution, we’re in trouble. Another 48 percent recall that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech but they aren’t sure just what that means. Only one in four (26 percent) can name all three branches of our government, and a full 33 percent (one in three again) cannot name even a single one. This is serious, folks.

I carry a copy of the Constitution in my purse these days, imagining that I would whip it out and ask those who claim their rights are being violated to show me just where that is written. I think it, but I would be afraid to do it because of the current violence that such confrontation invites.

I grieve for the ignorance of our populace and I long for an informed public opinion on matters that affect our lives. I first read the Constitution in high school government class. Thanks, Mr. Neis. Can’t say I fully understood it then or now, but I passed a test on its contents. While I have read it since, I don’t have full knowledge of that document so central to our lives. I wish that I had the legal training that would allow more careful interpretation.

While I wish for an educated voting population as we near another presidential election, I bow to a greater truth. Our democracy provides that, educated or not, each of us holds the power of the ballot. I know that is an ideal and that there are still hindrances keeping all from voting but, for the sake of argument, I will contend that we are all equal on election day.

That is the gist and the power of John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1892 poem, “The Poor Voter on Election Day.” I appreciate his old-fashioned words.

”The proudest now is but my peer,

The highest not more high;

Today, of all the weary year,

A king of men am I.

Today, alike are great and small;

The nameless and the known;

My palace is the people’s hall,

The ballot-box my throne!”

Please, people, exercise your Constitutional rights, claim your “throne” and vote.

Margaret Hays is a longtime Osawatomie resident who writes a weekly column for The Miami County Republic.

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