In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump climb the West wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump climb the West wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Alaska Voices: January 6 a failure of constitutional and civic education

  • Thursday, January 28, 2021 8:20pm
  • Opinion

The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the legacy of James Madison by funding graduate study focused on the Constitution. The Foundation’s goal is to improve the teaching of our constitutional history and principles in secondary schools by selecting one James Madison Fellow from each state each year to support in their pursuit of a master’s degree in areas of study related to American constitutionalism. In this way, the James Madison Fellowships are intended to ensure that future generations of Americans understand and appreciate our constitutional heritage.

We are Alaska’s James Madison Fellows. We come from different communities, generations and political affiliations, but share a commitment to teaching the principles of the Constitution. We are writing because of our concern following the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Regardless of partisanship or feelings about the outcome of November’s election, all Americans must recognize that an assault on Congress as it carries out its constitutionally mandated responsibility to count electoral votes certified by the states undermines the constitutional order and respect for the rule of law. We also have to recognize that protests against governments throughout history have been the result of perceived failures to adequately address significant societal problems. If we do not acknowledge both of these points, we can only expect continued division, polarization and violence.

This problem was not unknown to the founding generation. In Federalist 10, James Madison argued that an advantage of a “well constructed Union” was “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” In the 1780s, immediately following the Revolution as the states and Congress struggled with the war debt and attempted to establish functioning peacetime governments, the dangers of mob rule and popular leaders who would exploit and inflame public passions threatened to destroy the fragile new Union. Madison’s vision of a successful federal republic assumed that in a large country it would be more difficult for “the influence of factious leaders” to gain the widespread support necessary to “spread a general conflagration” throughout the states. For nearly two and a half centuries Madison’s blueprint has served us well, but it faces a new and unprecedented challenge in the age of social media and the ease with which we can segregate ourselves and shut out all opposing ideas or be shut out of the platforms we use to express ourselves. Those who choose their social media platforms and news sources based on a shared political perspective are as guilty as those who seek to silence opposing voices based on political correctness. In either case, we create and foster the factions that Madison correctly identified as the downfall of democratic government and liberty, while making it easier for those who would divide us to spread disinformation.

As Americans we all share the responsibility to educate ourselves and hold our elected officials accountable for upholding their oaths to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. The advantage of a written constitution is that we can refer to its text. When leaders at the highest levels tell us that the federal government has powers that have never before been exercised we owe it to ourselves and future generations of Americans to go back to the Constitution and demand that they show us the source of those powers. This is especially true when their actions threaten to undermine the powers reserved to the states or our individual liberties.

Being an informed and active citizen, and participating in the preservation of our constitutional order is a great responsibility. Two resources that can help with this are The Constitutional Sources Project ( and Constitution Annotated ( Both of these sites provide searchable digital versions of the Constitution. The Constitutional Sources Project also has a vast collection of other relevant documents, including The Federalist Papers, Anti-Federalist writings, and records of the state ratifying conventions. Constitution Annotated includes detailed explanations of constitutional interpretation over time and references to relevant court decisions.

As Madison Fellows, we have faith in the wisdom, resilience and endurance of our constitutional principles. As constitutional scholars and educators, we also recognize that the preservation of any constitutional system depends on an educated populace that cannot be easily misled or manipulated. The events of January 6th represent the failure of constitutional and civic education at all levels. We can, and must, do better.

Alaskan James Madison Fellows

Donald Davis (1996)

Jill Drushal (1998)

Barbara Marshall (1999)

Jennifer Klaameyer (2003)

Mark Oppe (2006)

Roxann Gagner (2009)

Nathan Walters (2012)

Ruth Sensenig (2013)

Deborah Lawrence (2014)

Leandra Wilden (2016)

Stephen Rosser (2018)

Alyssa Logan (2020)

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