(by Paul Weyrich, Townhall.com) — In 1947, two years after our final victory in World War II, President Harry S. Truman and other prominent national leaders were interested in reminding Americans why our country had fought so hard to prevail against the Axis powers. Truman, along with others in the Federal Government, had hoped our nation would embrace a “rededication” of the principles that underlay the founding of our country. From that desire came the idea of the Freedom Train.

The Freedom Train, for approximately sixteen months, journeyed over 37,000 miles across America. Well over three million people visited the Train to view our nation’s hallowed documents: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights; and the Gettysburg Address. When the Freedom Train arrived in Philadelphia on September 16, 1947, the day before the 160th anniversary of the Constitution, a message was read from President Truman, crediting those documents as representing “our common heritage of freedom.”

Americans again celebrate Constitution Day, with, among other commemorations, school programs throughout the land.

Are American schoolchildren really learning the lessons about the struggles our forefathers endured to bequeath to young Americans the liberty and freedom so often taken for granted?

A survey released in February 2000 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) … surveyed seniors at some of the most outstanding colleges and universities. The findings were disappointing. Questions were formulated from material presented in high school lessons. The survey’s analysis declared, “Four out of five – 81% — of seniors from the top 55 colleges and universities in the United States received a grade of D or F. They could not identify Valley Forge, or words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.” Over one-third of the survey’s respondents were unaware that the Constitution provides for the separation of powers within the Federal Government. We must hope that today’s students in all levels of education, in this post-9/11 era, have a greater understanding of the importance of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

How pertinent those words are for the struggle we are now facing with Islamic fundamentalists, terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, and governments such as Iran, North Korea and possibly China.

The ACTA report calls for stricter standards to be established at colleges and universities, requiring study of the most important documents of our nation’s history. Students and their parents would be well-advised to select a college or university that has a core curriculum which includes intensive instruction in the founding documents of our country. Alumni can use their leverage to establish programs to deepen the understanding of the American founding.

America now faces a threat not as readily apparent as that which we faced during World War II, but one that, in this age of terrorism, is potentially more dangerous.

Each American citizen has a responsibility to develop an understanding of the unique times in which we live and also to place that knowledge in context with the beliefs that have guided America so well for over two centuries. “Freedom,” declared President Truman, in his message read in Philadelphia, “is everybody’s job.” At a time like this the wisdom of the American Founding Fathers is all the clearer to those citizens who care to learn about the principles of freedom and liberty that underlie the governance of our nation.

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. He served as President of the foundation from 1977 to 2002. From 1989 to 1996, Mr. Weyrich served as President of the Kreible Institute of the Free Congress Foundation, responsible for training democracy movements in the states comprising the Former Soviet Empire. He is a founder and past director of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the founding president of the Heritage Foundation.  Read more about Paul Weyrich at heritage.org.

Copyright ©2009 Salem Web Network. All Rights Reserved.  This article was first posted at Townhall.com on September 19, 2006.  Reprinted here on September 17, 2009 for educational purposes only.  May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Salem Web Network.


1.  What is the main idea of Paul Weyrich’s commentary?

2.  Do you agree with Mr. Weyrich’s assertion in the last paragraph: “Each American citizen has a responsibility to develop an understanding of the unique times in which we live and also to place that knowledge in context with the beliefs that have guided America so well for over two centuries”?  Explain your answer.

3.  Take the Constitution quiz and the Civics quiz under “Resources” below.  Ask a parent to take the same quizzes.  How do your answers compare?


Constitution and Citizenship Day was established by a federal law enacted in 2004 to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.


Visit the Bill of Rights Institute “Constitution Day” page at billofrightsinstitute.org/teach/freeresources/constitutionday. (Scroll down for lessons.)

Take ISI’s 2008-2009 American Civics quiz at americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx.

Take a Constitution quiz at billofrightsinstitute.org/teach/freeresources/constitutionday/quiz/quizmaker.html.