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Why do Americans get the Constitution so wrong?

There’s no excuse for misquoting and misunderstanding the US Constitution. But public figures ranging from Nancy Pelosi to Rush Limbaugh do it all the time.

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Today, more than the Fourth of July, honors America’s independence.

On this day, 223 years ago, the U.S. Constitution was born, giving Americans the freedoms that they hold dear, the freedoms that men and women have died to defend.

And yet, despite its brevity (slightly more than 7,500 words, compared to the roughly 77,000 words of the first Harry Potter book) very few Americans know about the document that is the cornerstone of their way of life.

According to a recent survey by the National Constitution Center of 600 students, 58 percent know that Bill Gates is the father of Microsoft, but only 2 percent know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution. About 64 percent of respondents know that “The Club” protects against car theft, but just 25 percent understand that the Fifth Amendment protects important legal rights. A whopping 59 percent can name the Three Stooges, while 41 percent can name the three branches of government.

[Editor's note: The original version of this piece misstated a 5th Amendment right.]


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