After handing out paperback copies of the U.S. Constitution, Central Carolina Community College history instructor Robert Barnes opened a spirited defense of the document -- describing how this blueprint for a new American republic was idealistic and pragmatic, imperfect and changing.
But, most of all, revolutionary.
"The whole text of the Constitution is just 4,400 words," Barnes said. "That's really a surprising, minimal amount of words when you consider this is the basis for the entire American republic ... I've assigned papers that are longer than that."
"The U.S. Constitution: What Is It? Why Is It Important?" was a lecture presented last week on the CCCC main campuses in Chatham and Harnett counties to commemorate Constitution Day. The national celebration is held each year on Sept. 17, the date delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in 1787.
Roaming in front of an audience consisting of college students and adults from the community, Barnes gave a quick-paced overview of the founding document, peppered with interesting facts, probing questions, and historical stories.
The Constitution is important because it establishes a government created by and for citizens -- a very foreign concept in an 18th century world ruled by monarchs -- and because it introduced other revolutionary ideas that have stood the test of time. Ideas like individual rights and freedoms; checks and balances; and the separation of governmental powers as a safeguard against tyranny.
Equally important was providing a way to amend the original text to keep pace with a changing world. "Is this document even still relevant to us today?" Barnes asked. "The answer to that is 'yes,' because this is a living document. This is a document that, by its design, can change. It is designed to change."
Barnes encouraged everyone to delve into history because it provides some important perspective, a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. To make the point, he remained in the Revolutionary period and turned to the familiar childhood song, "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
"Sticks a feather in his cap and calls it macaroni," the teacher said before turning to his audience with a puzzled look. "What does that even mean?"
Barnes explained that the whole song was created by the British to deride American colonists, and includes three terms intended as insults. "Yankee," someone born in the colonies instead of the mother country. "Doodle," an ignorant, backwoods character. And "dandy," an effeminately dressed male. The word "macaroni," he added, doesn't refer to pasta, but to an elite, exclusive club operating at the time in London.
In other words, the verse talks about an ignorant, backwoods American riding into London on a little pony, sticking a feather in his hat and believing he's high society. It wasn't until the Continental Army began winning battles during the Revolutionary War that Americans adopted the song as their own.
"This is why we study history," Barnes said. "Now, you have a whole new way of looking at 'Yankee Doodle Dandy.' You're not going to picture a guy with a hat full of macaroni and cheese ever again. Along the same lines, we're going to look at the U.S. Constitution. The more we know about it, the better our perspective and the more we are informed as citizens."
For more information about Central Carolina Community College, visit the website www.cccc.edu.
'The U.S. Constitution: What Is It? Why Is It Important?' was the subject of lectures recently presented by Robert Barnes, Central Carolina Community College history instructor.
The CCCC Harnett Main Campus recently hosted the lecture 'The U.S. Constitution: What Is It? Why Is It Important?' to commemorate Constitution Day.