Amherst Magazine

Securing the Blessings of Liberty

By Emily Gold Boutilier

How long does it take to read the U.S. Constitution aloud? In front of Frost Library on Sept. 17, 2012, it took exactly 58 minutes and 45 seconds.   

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Each reader of the U.S. Constitution signed a (somewhat less essential) document.

To mark the anniversary of the document’s signing, 18 campus volunteers read, in portions, the original Constitution and all 27 amendments. President Biddy Martin started the show, reading from “We the People” through the end of Article 1, Section 2. Next was Professor of History and American Studies Kevin Sweeney, who read that the Senate “shall be composed of two Senators from each State.” Gianna Marciarille ’15 then clarified that Congress “shall receive a Compensation for their Services.”

Other speakers included deans Gregory Call and Charri Boykin-East; professors Frank Couvares and Martha Saxton; Marian Kent from Advancement; Peter Nelson and Michael Kelly from Archives and Special Collections; Philip Chapman-Bell from Human Resources; Jan Jourdain and Jane Beebe from Frost Library; Patricia Allen from Public Affairs; Amy Ford from Women’s and Gender Studies; and students Christian Aviles ’14E, Zach Bleemer ’14 and Matthew deButts ’14.

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Michael Kelly of Archives and Special Collections was part of a group that read the U.S. Constitution aloud.

Two readers made special requests. Bleemer asked to read Sections 9 and 10 of Article 1. He chose Section 9 for “its strict regulations on the awarding of titles of nobility by or to members of the U.S. government,” he says, and Section 10 for its limits on state governments.

Couvares, who studies free speech and censorship, asked to read the First Amendment. He explains why: “The First Amendment,” he says, “is the greatest justification for American patriotism that I can think of.”

Now a pop quiz: Do you know when the last amendment, the 27th, was ratified?

It was May 7, 1992, and the amendment states that if Congress gives itself a pay raise, the change will not take effect until after the next Congressional election. This amendment was a long time coming: It was originally submitted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1789.

Photos by Rob Mattson