Constitutional Knowledge

"A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both ... A people who mean to be their own governours, must arm themselves with the power which [knowledge] gives."

-James Madison to William Barry, 4 Aug 1822

From the earliest days of our republic, the Founders and Framers recognized that in order for the fledgling government and nation to survive, it would be necessary for the people to be well educated. This was not just a concern about having an uneducated populace. This was an honest understanding that the time-tested principles of good governance are not easily grasped, but rather easily lost. For the maintenance of those principles and the freedoms they protected, America would need wise legislators, sober executives and good judges. In order to have these things in the largest democratic system on earth, the people would need to have the wisdom and understanding to choose such leaders.

 

The data on this dashboard highlights the unenviable place in which we find ourselves today. Despite occasional revivals at the federal and state levels, most Americans lack the basic understanding needed to appropriately engage with our constitutional system. Furthermore, even when current events cause a surge in interest in some areas, those surges rarely survive longer than the often-partisan impetus that spawned them.

These maps highlight two aspects of constitutional penetration into American life: the university and the state legislature. The first map, with data provided by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, shows the percent of public universities in each state where a substantial U.S. History or Government course is required for all students to obtain a baccalaureate degree. In more than 50% of U.S. states, less than 10% of universities require it; in 17 states, not a single institution requires a course in U.S. History or Government. 

 

The second map shows how many legislative bodies have been convened by the various state legislatures. Much like the public universities, more than 50% of states have no formal organization dedicated to monitoring, evaluating, and discussing publically the powers of the state in our federal system.

 

Together these two graphs paint a picture of where we are lacking in federalism education efforts, and where we might begin to look to improve.

The Federalism Index beta is going live.

 

Please help us improve this version of the Federalism Index by emailing support@federalismindex.org