“Out of Many, One”: Citizenship and the Constitution

September 17, 2014

September 17 is Constitution Day, thanks to the efforts of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd, who always carried a copy with him on and off the floor of the Senate. Last year, I blogged about the various editions of the Constitution available as Government publications. This time around, I’ve been thumbing through another publication that helps to put the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and a variety of other documents, speeches, and even songs and poetry, into the bigger picture of what it means to be – or become – an American citizen.

The Citizen’s Almanac: Fundamental Documents, Symbols, and Anthems of the United States, a handsome and very useful little book from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services correctly states that “both native-born and naturalized citizens will find important information on the rights and responsibilities associated with United States citizenship.” It’s an extremely useful collection of songs (The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, God Bless America), poems (The Concord Hymn, I Hear America Singing, The New Colossus), symbols (the Great Seal of the United States, including an explanation of that impressive but somewhat mystifying “pyramid with an eye in it” device), complete texts or extracts from notable American speeches (the Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream, Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate), notable Supreme Court decisions (Marbury v Madison, Brown v Board of Education) and much more.

Although the complete text of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other documents are not included, the brief sections on each put them into context so readers can perceive the continuum of American democracy through time. For new and aspiring citizens, a series of brief biographies of famous Americans who were not born in the U.S. makes for interesting reading. In the entertainment world alone, how many of us think of Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, and Celia Cruz in their roles as citizens of the Republic?

The Citizen’s Almanac is a terrific, well-illustrated source for all kinds of information about American history and citizenship. It’s also an interesting read and a book that’s perfect for Constitution Day or any other day when you need information about this country of ours. You can browse through The Citizen’s Almanac here, buy a single copy or a package of 25 for schools and civic organizations, or locate it at a library.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS PUBLICATION?

In addition to clicking on the links in the article above to find the publication, you may find this publications from the following:

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy this and other print publications related to citizenship (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:

Order by Phone: You may also order print editions by calling GPO’s  Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

About the author: Adapted by Trudy Hawkins, Writer and Marketing Specialist in GPO’s Publication & Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, from an original post by James Cameron, former Government Book Talk Editor in support of the U.S. Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov).


The Constitution Annotated: The Pursuit of App-iness

September 17, 2013

follow-the-founding-fathers-david-bowman_computerIn preparing for this Constitution Day blog post, not only did I retake the civics quiz from last year’s Constitution Day post (see Quiz: Are you smarter than an 8th grade Civics student?), I also scrolled through my tablet last night, reading the Preamble to the Constitution and looking up related quotes. Then it occurred to me: if Founding Father George Washington had been alive today, would he have been a PC or an Apple guy? I’m betting our pragmatic First President would be a PC guy. I’m pretty sure innovator Thomas Jefferson would have been a stylish iPad man, and Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the bifocals, would probably be sporting Google Glasses now and tinkering with them.

Image: Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington. Original Illustration by David Bowman from his book “What Would the Founding Fathers Think?”

constitution-annotated-printWhat is clear is that our Founding Fathers were strategic thinkers who realized that a fully functioning republic needed a clear but flexible code of law that evolved with the Nation. Thus, they wrote the Constitution of the United States, which has stood the test of time with over two centuries of amendments and interpretations by all branches of the U.S. Federal Government.

CONAN for the Librarian (and Lawyers)

Since 1913, the Senate has directed that a publication be issued summarizing the current state of the Constitution to date, with all the amendments and the official interpretations, with the analysis today provided by the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service. This publication is called The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation, popularly known as the Constitution Annotated or “CONAN” among the real insiders.

Constitution-of-the-US-Pocket-GuideIn addition, many Americans, including Members of Congress, buy a pocket print edition of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to carry around with them at all times. (Click on image to the left.)

Constitution Goes Mobile and Online

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Constitution Annotated publication, and to celebrate it and Constitution Day, the Government Printing Office (GPO) not only issued the Centennial Edition in print, but has also worked with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Library of Congress to develop and launch both a new mobile app as well as a web publication that make analysis and interpretation of constitutional case law by Library experts accessible for free to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

The new resources, which include analysis of Supreme Court cases through June 26, 2013, will be updated multiple times each year as new court decisions are issued.  Legal professionals, teachers, students and anyone researching the constitutional implications of a particular topic can easily locate constitutional amendments, federal and state laws that were held unconstitutional, and tables of recent cases with corresponding topics and constitutional implications.

The new app and improved web publication will make the nearly 3,000-page “Constitution Annotated” more accessible to more people and enable updates of new case analysis three or four times each year.

Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks said,

“Through this collaborative project, the Library of Congress and GPO are providing the public with timely access to an enhanced, authenticated version of the “Constitution Annotated” through GPO’s Federal Digital System. This is another example of how GPO works with Congress, the Library and other agencies to meet the information needs of the American people in the digital age.”

Keeping our “Complex Machinery” in Working Order

On May 19, 1821, years after the Constitution was adopted, John Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson that:

“A free government is a complicated piece of machinery, the nice and exact adjustment of whose springs, wheels, and weights, is not yet well comprehended by the artists of the age, and still less by the people.”

Even though our Founding Fathers could not have envisioned a digital future complete with the Internet and smartphones, the framework they put in place has been able to roll with the times. Americans know that our system is indeed a “complicated piece of machinery,” with our laws serving as the user manual, but tools like the Constitution Annotated– in print or now online or on your mobile device– now exist to help keep our machinery of democracy well oiled.

George-Washingtons-Annotated-Copy-of-a-Draft-of-the-U.S.-ConstitutionImage: Even George Washington annotated his copy of the Constitution! (seen left). Source: National Archives

How can I obtain The Constitution Annotated?

1) Buy the Print Edition of The Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation, Centennial Edition

2) Mobile app version of the Constitution Annotated

  • For Apple iOS Devices: Download the new Constitution Annotated app for iOS devices for free from Apple’s iTunes Store or via this direct link: http://beta.congress.gov/constitution-annotated/.
  • ·        For Android Devices: An Android version of this app is under development.

3) Constitution Annotated web publication on FDsys.gov

The Constitution Annotated web publication will be available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) www.fdsys.gov as a digitally-signed, searchable PDF that includes a linked table of contents, a linked table of cases, a linked index and GPO’s Seal of Authenticity on every page.

The new Constitution Annotated and a suite of constitutional resources can be viewed at http://beta.congress.gov/constitution-annotated/. The page features links to the app stores, an interactive table listing recent cases of high interest, a bibliography of Constitution-related primary documents in American history and tips for searching the Constitution Annotated on GPO’s website at www.gpo.gov/constitutionannotated.

About the Author: Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Quiz: Are you smarter than an 8th grade Civics student?

September 20, 2012

Flash cards. They may bring back memories of studying for a big exam like the SAT or GRE, or they may remind you of elementary school when they were used as a great way to learn your numbers and letters.

But did you know that the US Government Printing Office produces flash cards for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Office of Citizenship under the Department of Homeland Security?

This week marked an important milestone for all U.S. citizens as the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America.

September 17 is now commemorated annually as Constitution & Citizenship Day, a time to reflect on the rights, honors and privileges of being a U.S. citizen, so I thought it was a perfect time to introduce our readers to the Civics Flash Cards.

Civics Flash Cards are one of the most popular products sold in the US Government Bookstore as a tried and true way for immigrants and to learn about U.S. history and government while preparing for the United States naturalization test.  These easy-to-use flash cards (available in English and now also in Spanish) contain each of the 100 civics questions and answers contained on the United States naturalization test, and are updated when there is a change of leadership in the White House or Congress.

The Civics Flash Cards also feature interesting historical photos and relevant captions, thus providing additional civic learning opportunities, making them ideal not only for use as an instructional tool for U.S. citizenship preparation, but also in standard American social studies classes or home schooling. For example, one card contains a picture of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, while another shows Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American U.S. Senator, elected in 1870.

A description of the Spanish version of the Civics Flash Cards:

Recién actualizadas para 2012, las Tarjetas Flash de Educación Cívica en Español ayudarán a a los inmigrantes a aprender sobre la historia de los EE.UU. y del gobierno mientras se preparan para el exámen de naturalización. Estas tarjetas de memoria fáciciles de utilizar contienen cada una de las 100 preguntas y respuestas cívicas (sobre la historia y el gobierno) del exámen de naturalización estadounidense, y conllevan fotos históricas y leyendas pertinentes a que proporcionen el aprendizaje cívico adicional.

Failing grade in civics for American kids… and maybe their parents?

In 2010, The Department of Education administered the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP test, known as the nation’s report card, to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students throughout the United States.

The New York Times reported that the civics examination results were dismal, as “fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights… and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

Of the high school students who took the NAEP, 75% “were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.”

Reading through the flash cards, it makes me wonder how many native U.S. citizens— parents and children— could correctly pass the test given to immigrants aspiring to become citizens?

See how you compare to these 8th and 12th graders on these questions constructed from information on the Civics Flash Cards

(Hint: I provide the correct answers at the end of this post ;-) since they are trickier than one would think!)


Another question


And finally, some geography:

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of the Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test, either the English Version or the Spanish Version?

You may also be interested in our other Constitution and Citizenship products, such as the pocket edition of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Click here to shop our entire Citizenship Collection.

Correct Answers to the Flash Card Poll Questions:

1)      Which of these does NOT represent one of the powers of the Federal Government under our Constitution? To provide protection & safety such as police and fire services is a function of state and local governments.

2)      Which of these are responsibilities that are only for United States Citizens?  Only citizens may vote in a Federal election, serve on a jury, or run for Federal office such as U.S. Senate or House of Representatives and for most state and local offices. Unfortunately, everyone has to pay Federal taxes, citizen or not!

3)      Which of these states does NOT border Canada? Of all of these, only Wisconsin does not share a border with Canada. All the international border states with our northern neighbor are (east to west): Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania (border on Lake Erie), Ohio (also border on Lake Erie), Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Alaska.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


The Constitution: Pocket and Otherwise

May 28, 2010

Last week a Capitol Hill paper did a piece on the popularity of the United States Constitution as a publication and one of the news services picked it up. Although those of us who work at the Government Printing Office think of the “Pocket Constitution” authorized by Congress as the classic printed version, many other organizations also print and distribute copies, as the article points out. At least one other Federal Government agency does its own edition of the Pocket Constitution: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as part of its effort to encourage immigrants to become citizens. Like the congressional edition, this little booklet throws in the Declaration of Independence as well.

All of this made me curious about how many editions of the Constitution currently appear in Federal documents of various sorts. It turns out there are quite a few.

Note: This is a totally unscientific and partial survey based on what I found in our online bookstore.

For those who can’t get enough of the Constitution and its interpretation, there’s the Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, published every 10 years or so and weighing in at an imposing 9 pounds, six ounces, not counting the supplements issued to keep it up to date.  If you can’t wait to start reading, you can find it here.

For those of us who like to contemplate history’s “might have beens,” you can’t do better than The Constitution of the United States of America as Amended; Unratified Amendments; Analytical Index, which, in addition to the text of the Constitution, details about the ratification of each amendment to the Constitution, and an exhaustive index, discusses six other amendments that were submitted to the states for ratification but not adopted. You can read them here and find out which unratified amendment was the only one actually signed by the President.

Naturally, the Constitution is also included in the procedural manuals of the Senate and the House of Representatives. And don’t forget Interpreting Old Ironsides: An Illustrated Guide to the USS Constitution – oh, wait, that’s a different kind of vessel of democracy.

I think I’ve made my point, and I haven’t even touched on everything in our online bookstore, let alone what you could find through the vast resources of the Federal Depository Library Program. Maybe someone can put a list together before the Fourth of July…


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